Instructional Strategies

The Project Doctors (Ep. 035)

The Radio Guys bring former AOE writer, Alecia Kaczmarek, on the show to answer listeners’ questions about those projects that never seem to run as smoothly as you would like. The “Project Doctors” dip into the listener mailbag to take on papier mâché projects, printmaking, perspective drawing, and even some classroom management. Listen for Andrew’s amazing sculpture ideas (6:00), Alecia’s best ways to teach routines (13:15), and why Tim and Andrew both quit teaching perspective drawing a long time ago (18:30). Full episode transcript below.

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Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. With this episode, we’re going to be doing something a little bit different. As you know, Andrew and I always like to talk about the big ideas because we’re out to inspire teachers to think about and reflect on what we do and why we do it, as art teachers. Like I said, the big picture. Too often, we get away from seeing those things that are happening every day or talking what’s going on in classrooms on a day-to-day basis. We decided with this episode we’re going to talk about what happens every day in classrooms.

We’re going to talk specifically about projects that are happening in your classroom. We’re calling this one The Project Doctors because what we did is asked our listeners, via email and Facebook, to send us questions about projects that they either want to do, projects that they have done and that maybe aren’t working so well, and perhaps we can fix them up. We’re going to talk a little bit about just some different ideas, different things that we can cover dealing with print making and drawing and painting and sculpture and even classroom management. We’re going to dive into all of that today. As much as Andrew and I love to think that we know everything, we don’t, so we decided to bring on an extra guest tonight and that is going to be Alecia Kaczmarek. You may know her as Alecia Eggers.

She wrote for The Art of Ed for a long time, she’s an awesome elementary teacher who’s great with instructional strategies, with classroom management, with routines, just teaching in general. Because of that, we feel like we have all of our bases covered with my high school experience, Andrew’s working in the middle school for so long and then Alecia at the elementary level. Hopefully we can dive in and answer questions that apply to just about every level. They are here right now, we are ready to go, so let’s put together the project doctors here and talk about a few different ideas and maybe some things that can help you in the class room. We’ll dive in right now.

Alright, and we are here with two guests tonight, ready to dive into the mailbag and first off, everyone knows Andrew. Andrew how are you?

Andrew: I’m doing wonderful, Tim. Thanks for having me on today.

Tim: All right, and secondly, we have the former Alecia Eggers who just got married. Alecia, I’m going to have you pronounce your last name for us, just so I don’t mess it up.

Alecia: Sure. It is now Alecia Kaczmarek, so it’s kind of a mouthful, but we can just do Kaz for short.

Tim: Okay. That sounds really good. I think we have a good combination here because I have all of my high school experience, Andrew does middle school, Alecia does elementary and I think hopefully, between the three of us we can get some good answers to all of these questions here. We’re going to go ahead and kick it off. Our first question, this actually isn’t necessarily a question but I think it’s worth a little bit of discussion. This comes from Dawn who is one of our listeners in Minnesota. She said this, “I once had students paper mache balloons only to arrive in the morning with half of them deflated with sides sunk in. I’ve since found that helium balloons are more reliable. They’re more expensive, but worth it, and while it’s not as durable as flour paste I like Elmers art paste as it cleans up more easily and doesn’t smell after storage at room temperature, which we know is always an issue.” I’ll throw that our there to you guys. Alecia, you first. Have you ever had an experience like this with paper mache?

Alecia: Yes, and I would say my first experience was pretty successful. We did a newspaper wrapped with masking tape and then did paper mache on top with newspaper strips and then art paste as well. I did have a major Pinterest fail last year with, I tried just normal blown-up everyday party balloons. I don’t know if we didn’t layer them right, but I also had the same issue that they were completely deflated the next day.

Tim: Oh, man that’s bad. What did you do at that point?

Alecia: We kind of talked about all kinds of art, you try sometimes you just have to fail forward and we just kind of moved on from there. We didn’t necessarily try again. If I had had more time, or more time in the curriculum we probably would have, but they were okay with it. They seemed deflated themselves. We were ready to move on together.

Tim: Andrew, did you want to brag about your sculpture expertise and or offer some advice here.

Andrew: Yeah, I have my MFA in sculpture and my thesis was in paper mache, so I have a-

Tim: Seriously?

Andrew: Dude, I did a lot of paper mache. I don’t know what it was. I liked the cheap utilitarian feel of it. One of the things I think that with paper mache, I think it’s all about the layers, and I always tell people to have … I always do a minimum of four layers and here’s why, because I start with newspaper and then I always get the kids to do their second and third layer that first day and I alternate layers so you can see where you’ve been and not been. Here’s what I have done over the years and I think it’s worked really well. First layer newspaper, second layer paper towel strips, third layer back to newspaper, and then the fourth layer back to paper towel strips.

There’s another reason I like that especially if you’re painting with elementary kids in tempera, tempera’s pretty wimpy and you go to paint something and you can see all the car advertisements and sports advertisements and all that stuff coming through with the newspaper. If you’re final layer is paper towel, which is either white or brown, you’ve already knocked down all of that text and stuff. I actually think what probably happened with Dawn was maybe not enough layers. Also, this is really nerdy, but how you store your balloons. I store them fat bottom down on a either paper collar or yogurt container, and then I think as it deflates gravity will help it hold itself up if that makes any sense.

Tim: Yeah, that does makes sense and I do something really similar, just oak tag poster board that color that you’re talking about. Just cut a long strip of, like I said, oak tag or poster board, wrap it in a big circle and just set the balloon right inside of there and that seems to work really well.

Alecia: I love the idea of the actual layer layers of alternating between newspaper and paper towels. I think that would really help communicate the layer thing to my elementary kiddos as well.

Tim: We have a second question from Dawn. She has a question about Styrofoam relief printing with elementary kids, and she says, “What ink should I use for my Styrofoam printing?” Nothing works as well as the Speedball black water base that she uses with her secondary kids, but it’s too messy and creates too many stains for elementary and you can’t switch to tempera because that’s going to leave just terrible results. What do you guys recommend for ink when it comes to Styrofoam relief printing?

Alecia: I actually use the Blick block printing ink and I do use it with my elementary students even as young as second grade. I think it kind of comes down to, yes it can get really messy and I’m a big supporter of routines so we really concentrate on the routine of how to ink your foam, how to make yourself stay clean. But also, if you need a cheap alternative to aprons or you’ve gotten rid of you’re cloth aprons for various health issues, I would say if you have some kiddos who are prone to getting messy, or even … if you’re really worried about them getting messy you even do trash bags- cut a hole out the bottom and put it over like a poncho for a printing day. They might get a kick out of that too, but obviously leave it open at the bottom for some ventilation.

You kind of just have to go with what’s out there and it’s nice to have the quality actual products that you’re going to use that they might use later in later years too, so they can get used to it. Yeah. That’s just my two cents.

Tim: I would agree. I think quality materials are worth it. Even if things are going to stain, even though you’re going to make a mess, I feel like you just need to deal with that because there isn’t really that good of an alternative in this situation because that Speedball ink is just so good. If you’re using lesser materials, I feel like you’re setting you’re kids up for a little bit of failure. Things are not going to go quite as well. Even it it is a little bit of a mess, I think it’s worth it to spend a little bit more and deal with that mess so you can get some good results with that.

We’ll go ahead and move onto the next question. Andrew, I’m going to direct this one to you. Comes from Heath who is a high school teacher in Pennsylvania. He says, “I really struggle to connect with my apathetic high school boys, especially the ninth and tenth graders. Can you give me some suggestions of projects that have worked for you? What might motivate them and actually get them excited to be in art class?”

Andrew: You know, I get that too and sometimes I look around my classes, especially my ninth grade classes because I do ninth and tenth, or ninth and eighth. Sorry. I’m thinking of Heath’s class. It’s like 17 girls and 2 boys, or 18 and 3. What is it about art in society out there that we think it’s a girls only club? That’s probably a topic for another podcast. There’s a couple things I know right off the bat that I think stereotypically connect with boys who are disinterested, and that is technology and something that’s really physical and messy, so that’s clay. If you can get a technology unit, so whether you’re using Photoshop or digital photography or 3D modeling, something where it’s like, “Oh, this is technology and this STEM and this is science.” They sort of get over the whole, “I’m too cool for that” idea. Then I also think ceramics because it is messy and it is physical and you really need to use some upper body strength and some hand strength in manipulating and there’s that part of your brain that’s three-dimensional spatial awareness.

That has really helped me work with kids who two dimensional, let’s draw this beautifully rendered thing, have been sort of checked out. Past those two things, connecting with technology and ceramics, I would say think about subject matter choices. I do try to give a lot of choices, so if what I am pitching out there isn’t exciting to you, what is exciting for a typical ninth and tenth grade boy? Sports, video games, cars. Think about ways that you could tweak or modify some of the subject matter choices to kind of hit on those interests. Specifically, one of the things that I think has worked really well is I do a project called Pop Culture Mashups and they draw two things that you would think don’t belong together, but together. It’s a picture of Lebron James but then it morphs into George Washington dunking a basketball. That’s been a big hit for the boys who are checked out.

Tim: Yeah, that’s cool. I’ll just second that with any of the physical work or sculptural materials where I’ve always had guys who love to make their own canvas, like stretch their own canvas and paint on it. Anything with wire, any type of sculpture, that really gets them in there doing hands-on stuff and that’s good. If you’re just teaching a drawing or painting class, like you said Andrew, going back to subject matter and finding out what they like, what they’re interested in can really go a long ways when you do that.

Andrew: I want to drive another point home because I do think there’s something physical that boys sometimes miss out on. I think about screen printing. You’re standing, you’re pulling, you’re leaning over. There’s something about even just engaging people physically that can get them interested, so I’ve been messing around a lot with removing students’ chairs which was a great article on the Art of Ed recently about getting rid of student chairs. It’s like, “No, you have to paint for the next 15 minutes standing up.” There’s something about that physicality that I think can rekindle or ignite some students’ interest.

Tim: Yeah you can get some good things out of there. I like that idea a lot, but I want to circle it back around. Alecia, you had mentioned just a little bit ago about teaching routines, and I think this question is perfect for that so I’m going to give this one to you. This is from Melissa who is an elementary teacher in Colorado and she said, “I usually don’t have problems with my kids coming into class too rambunctious, but this year I have two classes that come in the room in full crazy mode and seem to stay there for the entire 40 minutes. How could I get them to come in more quietly? I feel like that could really set the tone for the whole class time if I can just get them to calm down before we get started on making our art.”

Alecia: Yeah. You know what? I would say definitely calming them before entering the art room is key. I don’t know, but I’m definitely a believer in the last full moon and our kiddos acting a little crazier, and I feel like they didn’t quite come down from the crazy, so I also have had some very, very rambunctious classes. I’ve kind of been through my toolkit of different strategies of what I can do. We tried this last time, it didn’t work or et cetera, et cetera. I have my basic routines, and that’s having the whiteboard ready with written instructions. I always remind them verbally, but the one thing I do is I actually have my students line up across from my door, in the hallway before they enter the art room. We have to have a quiet line, paying attention, eyes on me, being prepared for art before we enter the room.

Then we walk in and have our normal routine of putting our sketchbooks at our seats, and either with the older kids I have them stay at their spots or if they’re younger, come down to the floor. I keep it the same every single time, but obviously keeping it the same is not going to prevent the rambunctious days. It ends up being a lot of reteaching and sometimes we even practice again. I know that sounds kind of silly, to waste so much art time practicing but they’re going to soon realize, “Well shoot. We have to line back up again, walk back in the room until we can all get quiet.” I do a little bit of that, but then actually I think also one of the most recent articles on Art of Ed too was a couple different ways to have your class come in. I think it was actually today’s from Matt, and it was having different ideas about having the lights off or having quiet videos going or quite music or have a question ready or have a bell ringer ready to go. Actually, I do have one really crazy first grade class, and I have started having just the lights off and then I have, it’s a video that’s kind of gone around, but it’s soap and I think oil and milk or something, and it’s just like these bubbles flowing on the screen. It kind of draws their attention back down to the floor. At first they get a little excited about it but then they just calm back down. I think just really sticking to your routine that you’ve established and if you need to switch it up, switch it up and then practice, practice, practice. Then just keep it consistent and keep your expectations consistent because when you fail to follow those is when the cracks start to break apart even more.

Tim: I think that’s good advice and I want to ask you a question too because I feel like this is where a lot of teachers don’t follow through. If you need to reteach a routine five or six times and waste an entire class period, is it worth it for you to do that?

Alecia: Yes. My flat-out answer, yes. That’s the issue though, too is well how many class periods? You can take that further and further. I am a firm believer in teaching the routine, getting it right and keeping my expectations consistent and actually following through. Just having those consistent high expectations, eventually the kiddos are going to realize they’re missing so much art time or the other classes are ahead. Just also making sure that you’re providing something that they want to be a part of, too. That’s one of the big things Michael Linsin classroom management guru, is that you have to keep it interesting as well.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s good advice because I feel like so many teachers will say, “Oh, I retaught it a couple times and it’s not perfect, but I think they get the idea.” No. You need to keep going through it until they get it right, and if it does take an entire period, the only time you see them that week, that’s unfortunate but it’s going to make you’re next 15 times that you see them so much better. It’s worth it.

Alecia: Yeah. It’s never too late is what I say. Go for it. Teach and reteach, and if you want to teach a new routine, teach it too in the middle of the year. Doesn’t matter. In fact, most routines need to be retaught anyway, obviously multiple times, but back from winter breaks and spring breaks, et cetera.

Tim: Yeah. I think that’s some really good advice. All right now, Andrew. This one’s coming your way. Again, we’re trying to get kids involved and get them interested. This comes from Denise who’s a middle school teacher in Florida. “How do you make perspective drawing interesting? I enjoy teaching it but I bores my kids to death. I’ve done city scenes and castles and a dream house, which I feel like every art teacher does, but there really isn’t a good way to get kids interested and excited. What do you do with perspective drawing?”

Andrew: You set me up on this one. Denise, don’t hate me when you hear this, but I’m going to give you some tough love advice and then I’ll try to sugar coat it after a while. If you are doing a project that does not and cannot and will not connect with kids, maybe we need to question whether we need to keep teaching it. That’s my tough love.

I actually have not taught perspective drawing in many, many, many, many years. I think part of the reason why I don’t teach it anymore is because I don’t draw that way. I’ve learned how to draw from observation and I feel like I don’t benefit from it, my kids weren’t into it, so I abandoned it six, seven years ago.

Here’s where I’m going to sugar coat it. If you actually want to keep doing it because you see value in it and you enjoy it and you think you’re students will get some value out of it and you just need to sweet talk them and coerce them into it, I think there’s some things you could do. Number one, I would say your one-point and your two-point perspective, make that be a one-day mini lesson exercise. Don’t turn it into a whole big blown out project.

Number two, I would venture into three-point or four-point perspective and really challenge them and look at the art of comic book illustration. Then you can do whatever you want with it. It could be a color block, it could be a Lego, it could be whatever. Then I think even to build on that is, look at some of the video games that kids are playing and connected with these days that are like, a ball is running over a maze and that maze is in perspective. There’s a game that I play called Stack where you just have to stack these stupid blocks on top of each other and it gets faster and more challenging. That is in perspective.

To maybe outsource a little bit of, “Okay students, where do we see perspective?” Then let that build how you’re turning it in to a bigger, longer project. I think you’ll connect a little bit more with them. Whether it’s video games or whatever they can bring up or comic books, I think there are some ways to make it be a little bit more exciting, but also just question if you still need to be doing it.

Tim: Yeah. I was actually excited to drop the bomb that I’d quit teaching perspective drawing too, but you beat me to the punch. That’s all right. I will say one point that the always awesome Ian Sands brought up once upon a time. I remember him talking about perspective drawing and he said he did in high school and hated it in high school and then never used it again until he had to teach it. You spoke to that same point and you’re like, “I don’t think it’s all that relevant.” I think we teach it because we learned it but it’s really tough to give a good example of where artists use that on a consistent basis.

Andrew: I want to throw another bone to Denise if she really does like this. I’ve seen some artists out there who will do large scale, giant perspective drawings on the wall with tape, so you’re getting like, “How do I draw these objects, these castles, these buildings”, but doing it as a temporary mural with painter’s tape on the wall. That might be another fun way to get your kids up and moving and physical and still give them that same idea that they’re learning and mastering perspective drawing.

Tim: Yeah, for sure and I think you can also do things like forced perspective photography or you can do foreshortening drawing or painting projects and just show some of the alternatives. Alecia, did you have something for this too?

Alecia: Yeah, I think too, as I reevaluate what I think my purpose is as an elementary educator, I pull way, way back and think about the bigger picture, like what is the point of teaching perspective? Is it to teach about space and foreground and background? If that’s the case, then there’s so many other ways that that can be taught, like you guys just discussed, like those awesome murals or the forced perspective. Ian’s quote that you brought up got me thinking. Why do we teach perspective if in turn I’m just going to reteach it again? If they they even eventually become it. Maybe thinking about the bigger purpose of why perspective is taught, and if that’s, like I said, to include space then teach something about space or foreground background, et cetera.

Tim: Yeah, and like you said, there are are a million ways to do that that go beyond just our regular one-point and two point perspective, so hopefully we can move on and try to incorporate some of those new ideas. Guys we’re up against it. It is time for us to get out of here, so Andrew and Alecia, thank you both very much. I feel like we should get together and do this again sometime.

Alecia: Absolutely. I would love to.

Andrew: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Tim: All right. Cool thank you guys. We’ll talk you you later. All right. That was an awesome conversation and a big thank you to both Andrew and Alecia for coming on and talking all sorts of different ideas for your classrooms and different ways that you can help your projects, help your classroom management and all that day-to-day stuff that makes your life a little bit easier. Now, two things for you if you were interested in this conversation. Number one, we would love to hear from you. We had a lot of fun recording the episode and we would really enjoy doing another one if the audience is there.

Like I said at the beginning, we spend a lot of time with this podcast talking about the really big ideas, like Andrew just last week was talking about how he needs to save in education. That was an awesome episode, but at the same time we need to address the things that are going on on a daily basis, so if you would love another episode of The Project Doctors, shoot us an email at and let us know and we’ll see if we can put another one together.

Secondly, if you enjoy all of these strategies, all of these ideas I am going to recommend The Art of Ed’s Instructional Strategies For Art Teachers course. You can go the and check it out. It lasts five weeks, it is a three credit hour course and it is perfect for all kinds of ideas on improving your instruction, improving your lessons, how you present things, how you demonstrate things and how you go through your classes on a day-to-day basis. There’s so much with new media, the ways you present it and all of the different ideas that you can bring back to your classroom. It is absolutely one of my favorite courses to teach and I know everyone who takes it gets so much out of it. Again, if you like these ideas and are looking for new ideas and new ways to demonstrate things, present things, introduce things in your classroom, Instructional Strategies For Art Teachers is the one for you.

Like I said, I’m going to go ahead and wrap it up, but we would love to hear from you and we would love to know what you thought about The Project Doctors, so shoot us an email. Maybe we can more often on this podcast address those issues that are so relevant, are so important to the way your classroom runs on a day-to-day basis.

Art Ed Radio is developed, produced and supported by The Art of Education with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Like I said, we’d love to hear your feedback so email us at and let us know what you thought. While you’re doing that, tell us that you want to be part of our email list. We’ll put you right on there. Those come out every Tuesday and they’re hilarious, along with the new episodes of Art Ed Radio. If you need to see more, check out or go to and and click on the podcasts tab. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you again next Tuesday.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.