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One of the biggest challenges art teachers have faced throughout this school year is how to teach three-dimensional art during hybrid learning or distance learning. In today’s episode, Tim talks to art teacher Karen Kiick about how she navigated the end of last year and how she is adapting to this new school year. Listen as they discuss hybrid learning, teaching ceramics and sculpture from a distance, and the challenges that this year holds. Full Episode Transcript Below.
Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University. And I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
One of the biggest struggles for a lot of art teachers this year is figuring out how they’re going to teach 3D projects from a distance. It’s a struggle for teachers for so many reasons, from materials to logistics, to just figuring out how to teach a media that’s so hands-on without actually being hands-on. So we’re going to explore that topic a little bit today. We have a first time guest on this episode, an art teacher named Karen Kiick. She is a teacher from New Jersey who teaches ceramics and sculpture, and she has been doing some really good things with her students through distance learning and hybrid learning. Now just one quick note before we get started, we had some technical difficulties and we needed to use our backup audio. So Karen may sound a little quiet in parts, but I hope you give it a listen, because she has a lot of good ideas and a lot of insight that you need to hear. So we’ll go ahead and start that interview now.
All right. And Karen Kiick is joining me now. Karen, how are you?
I am doing well. Thanks for having me.
Tim: Oh, well, thanks for coming on the show. I’m really excited to talk to you. Since you haven’t been here before, can we maybe just begin by having you introduce yourself? Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from, where you teach, and anything else that you think we should know?
Karen: Sure. This is my 31st year teaching. I’m currently teaching high school ceramics in southern New Jersey at Haddon Township High School. It’s a small high school. Each graduating class is about 150, give or take 20, a year. So it’s intimate. And this year, personally, I have 75 ceramic students full year. And I also teach a seventh grade cycle class that happens on a rotation and it ends up accumulating to be about seven hours of instructional time. And then they’re gone. Poof.
Tim: Okay. They’re Quick.
Karen: We move on to the very next cycle.
Tim: That’s all right. You can make it memorable for them, right?
Karen: That’s what we’re trying to do, yeah.
Tim: That’s good. Well, I wanted to have you on so we could talk about how you’re teaching ceramics in this crazy school year, but can we start by, maybe just going back to last school year? When things closed up in March, can you talk about what that looked like for you? What did you do with what you’re working on then? How did you transition to distance teaching back then?
Karen: Well, I’ve often wondered if it was similar for people. I think it was similar for lots of people everywhere, but for us, our last day of school was Friday the 13th. So appropriate. We were told it was going to be a two week, “We’ll get this under control and then we’ll come back.” I saw the writing on the wall. I knew something was going to go down. So something made me just plan ahead. So I gave kids a pound, pound and a half of clay, a plastic spoon, a little paintbrush, and one quarter of a clay sponge, because that’s the materials that I could give and not have to worry about getting back. So they’re looking at me like, “What? Why are we…” And I’m like, “Look, I don’t know anything. I just know that there’s a really good chance that this is going to happen soon.”
And sure enough, we got the call that Saturday that we were not coming back. And I was so relieved that they had clay in their hands. It is a ceramics class, so it felt meaningful. We had two days, that Monday and Tuesday, to do some planning. Other than that, we were completely unprepared. We had nothing prepared. So we spent those two days planning for two weeks. So we focused on 10 class periods. And that’s when I had the kids use… I arranged it for them to use their kit to make an expressive, wide mouth soap or sponge holder. So I tried to keep it kind of relevant, “Keep your hands clean.”
During that 10 days, I was rollercoastering. I was taking in sketches so that I could communicate with the kids to make sure that they were on track. And there were some days, we were right at the same time when we were having to submit our evaluation portfolio, so everything that I had prepared for it, I’m reading it. I’m like, “None of this matters. None of this matters.” So I was diving deep, deep, dark places. And then the kids’ projects came back. They sent me the pictures of what they did and I just melted, because it was everything that they had learned, done independently, giving a reflection back.
So I peaked with distance learning in March. Because that’s when they had things closed. Everything else, we were still kind of hoping that we would go back. The governor was holding us at like every 30 days. So we had no forward knowledge. And every state did that differently, but they didn’t make the call that we were out for the rest of the year until May. We still held on to a little grain of hope. But after we finished with our clay assignments, we switched to what I was calling, “Cardboard is the new clay.” I had kids saving their packaging, but we still had kids at that point who were wiping down their mail. I had a couple kids say, “We don’t save anything. We let it sit on the front step.” And everybody was at their own different level of feeling comfortable working with like stuff that had been in the outside world. They didn’t seem to have a problem with clay. “Okay, yeah. We’ve all been touching this. But, yeah. It’s all right.”
But anyway, so basically, we were at a decent spot for transition. We were working on relief tiles. So it wasn’t a huge waste of clay. And some kids were at… We were just finished with this really cool project that was going to be a collaboration, but all of those just, poof, they’re gone. I’ve still got last year’s work in my room.
Tim: Yeah. That’s a tough one. So I guess I wanted to ask you too, on that whole roller coaster of, these clay projects are awesome versus what are we going to do next versus my kids don’t want to touch cardboard, what kind of things did you take away from that whole experience? What did you take into the summer as you were planning for this year? What were you thinking about what your students needed and how you could deliver for them with this school year?
Karen: I knew we needed clay at home. That was my main focus. I was organizing ideas for my take-home kits, and I had them kind of prioritized and broken down with materials before the school year even ended last year, because I was fully committed. And I had the support of my district to do that, which I’m very, very grateful for. I was a little nervous that kids wouldn’t want to take home a bag of clay and working on it. I knew that everybody doesn’t have that kind of life. Families are living in apartments and, how can they do that? But I was very forward from day one this year. So they knew what they were getting into. I kind of thought I’d lose a bunch of kids along the way, but that didn’t happen. I have more kids now than I did then.
One of the things that I felt like the kids were saying that they learned from this whole experience, and you probably know this with your own family, that they don’t want to take things for granted. They missed it. They missed school in a way that no one would have thought, because they’re just kind of cruising along, and then to have it just, boop, stop on a dime. One of the things that I felt like was a huge shift was that we had went from a three-dimensional life to a two-dimensional life. And we were building with cardboard, but still, everything, we’re all just flat in the boxes. And there’s still very much truth to that. But what I’ve learned through applying it with a little bit of this year is that our sensory experiences are changing.
I was just telling the other day, I was like, “Well, I can’t see because my glasses fog up, because I’m wearing a mask, and I’m talking to kids on Zoom while I’ve got kids to my room.” I had a kid the other day say something, and I’m looking at Zoom, and my speaker’s pointing the other direction, and I couldn’t hear. So I’m like, “Oh my God.” I can’t see. I can’t hear. And I’m not allowed to touch anything. And the kid was in the room, and I was thinking that they were in Zoom. Our senses are just out of whack. And it’s just so obvious to me how much we need this right now. Kids touching things, kids seeing things in their minds, and making something become a reality. That’s providing a link to some of the sensory experiences that we’re all just-
Tim: Yeah, that we’re missing right now.
Karen: Out of touch with. Yeah.
Tim: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s an excellent point.
Karen: I miss hugs.
Tim: I know.
Karen: Makes me grumpy.
Tim: No, I understand. And my own kids, I’ve luckily been able to return to school and stay safe, knock on wood, but they just feel like they’re so much happier. There’s so much more connected when are able to see kids in person, just experience what it’s like to be around other people. And I just, I feel so bad for the kids who are still doing distance learning or still don’t have that opportunity.
Karen: I agree. It’s a little scary to be doing what we’re doing, but I so value my district’s commitment to… At first, like over the summer, I just thought, “Oh my God, I’ve got to get back into school. I need to see the kids.” And then as it got closer, I’m like, “Ahhh.” Because that’s when we found out that we were going to be doing it, sort of this split, that all… I was like, “Okay, where are the benefits? And will the benefits outweigh the risks? And will it be worth it?” It’s so totally worth it. Even under these bizarro land circumstances, it’s totally worth it.
Tim: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So can I ask you about that then? Can you talk a little bit about what this school year has looked like for you? Like how things started out and how things have gone throughout the course of the year for you, at least so far?
Karen: Yeah. We are a hybrid, half-day, so we have kids physically coming in, like alphabet, like A through L, E, X, or something. And then they switch. So I’ve got the same kids coming to school Monday and Thursday, and a different group coming to school on Tuesday and Friday. And we’re fully remote on Wednesday. And our governor has given people the option to remain fully remote. Out of my 70, 76, 75 students that I have, I have 18 that are fully remote. So I have never seen them three-dimensionally. Everything is communicating through photographs and through them showing me on the screen. So today was the 27th day of school, because we started on the 8th of September. I have seen the kids, I did the math just for my.. Because I like data. So I have seen each cohort about 11 times. And I was afraid, like in March, I was so glad that I had already known the kids. And I thought, “Oh my God, thank God it’s not September.” Because I never thought that it was going to happen.
Tim: Right. And then we get to September and we’re still doing it.
Karen: And here we are. Yeah. Yep. So that part has been interesting. My district has… They have a team that comes in at night and atomizes, it seems like, an enormous amount of expense. We have sanitary wipes. I’ve got plastic partitions between my tables, with the art tables the kids are end to end. They’re far enough apart. I am definitely closer than six feet to kids. You can’t not be.
Tim: Well yeah. It’s tough to be a teacher and not, yeah.
Karen: So I wash my hands a million times a day, which I would anyway.
Karen: Luckily. Ceramics and I have a sink. It’s been crazy, but it’s been absolutely, absolutely worth it. We’re not big enough of a school, I think to… I don’t know, to be honest, if we’ll go back as a full day, because we can’t socially distance in our cafeteria. I don’t know about in Nebraska. You’re in Nebraska, right?
Tim: Yes, I am.
Karen: We just opened indoor dining at like 25% capacity, and I don’t think we do same lunch.
Tim: Yeah. Yeah. It’s tough. My kids at school, they have these weird lunch rotations where some days they’re in their classrooms and other days they’re… And kids are going to lunch anywhere between 10 o’clock and 1:45. And it’s-
Karen: Just to keep them spread out.
Tim: Yeah, the logistics of everything is… It’s just crazy right now.
Karen: They have run so many different scheduling plays. The elementary schools in my district would not be able to go, could not apply this schedule that they’re using right now into some kind of future transition. The high school and the middle school were following the same periods. We could expand or move it around a little bit, but it’s almost like they’re going to have to redo it. It’s a task.
Tim: It is.
Karen: The administrators that I don’t envy.
Tim: Yeah. It takes a lot of creative thinking and just a lot of effort to put that all together. But if I can shift us back to the art thing really quickly here, I know you mentioned a couple of clay things that you’ve done, some cardboard stuff, but can we talk more specifically about projects? Could you share a couple of lessons or a couple of concepts that have worked really well for you, or just things that students have really enjoyed or really engaged with?
Karen: We’re still so early on, with our 27 days, but I started… We created rattles. Normally, on the first day of school, I put clay in their hands.
Karen: So that didn’t quite happen that way this year. I needed to know that their schedules were settled into place and all of that. So it wasn’t that much longer, but we started the year similar to how we ended with a small kit, because my clay didn’t come in.
Tim: Oh no.
Karen: So I had this grand kit with 12 and a half pounds of clay, and I didn’t have it yet. It ended up being fine. So they started off with kind of the same one and a half pounds. But this time they had tools. So they got their at-home tools and a little bit of leftover clay that I had from last year.
And they created a rattle, and it was a more involved project than I would have ever done by putting clay in a kid’s hand that has never touched it. But man, and they did all right. I had them think about themselves and their characteristics, perceived positive characteristics about themselves, and perceived negatives. I had students who put the same for both. So I have one student who listed sensitive as a positive and as negative. And I asked him, I’m like, “Did you do that on purpose or did you [inaudible 00:19:08]?” And he’s like, “Oh, no, I did it on purpose. And they really took it. And not only were they figuring out, “How do I use this stuff? This stuff is weird,” but they were making something that had meaning. And I wanted them to think about how they would use the rattle. Would they use it to celebrate themselves? Or would they use it to shake away all the… Like, shake it off.
And some of them had sort of wanted to use it for both purposes. So they’re starting to come back. The kids are photographing them. And we started… The next assignment that we’re working on right now is, they created a template. So they’re making a cylinder with a template that they made, so not everybody’s cylinder is starting the same.
Karen: And because everybody moves back and forth, well, the majority, some of them are home the whole time. So they have two things happening at home. And then I have kids making something in school, and which, then, making something at home. So they’ve got this sort of parallel thing happening, which I think is kind of nice, and it’s helping them kind of understand what the clay wants to do. So we’re kind of talking about it. I want them to learn about clay, but I also want them to learn from it. So they are developing some of the awareness of what the limitations are, but also what the limitless potential is. So we’re still so early on, but so far, it’s going.
Karen: It’s going pretty well.
Tim: Good. I guess on the flip side of that though, is there anything that you’ve struggled with or that your kids have struggled with?
Karen: So many words, Tim. So many words. I used to redirect a kid, solve a struggle that I saw them happening with no words. And now I’ve got my face to the screen. I’m trying to make them big and show other kids and help us all learn together. And it is a huge amount of words for something so tactile.
Karen: It’s interesting. It’s kind of a challenge, which I oddly am liking and hating at the same time. But it’s interesting.
Tim: Yeah, for sure. It’s a whole different world. Then I guess one last thing to just kind of wrap up, for people who are listening, do you have any advice? And people looking for ways to teach ceramics or sculpture, whether they’re in a hybrid model like you’re doing, whether they’re doing distance learning, what would you say for people who are looking for a good place to start with some 3d activities, projects, ideas, or just some good ideas that might work for them?
Karen: I think the kit idea is going to be successful for lots of teachers, because I know lots of teachers have done it. Depending upon the length of time that people have… I’m lucky, my ceramics kids, I’ll meet them all year. My seventh-grade cycle classes-
Tim: Not so much.
Karen: So not so much. So I’d say, I guess my advice is to try to keep assignments simple. I think kids are getting a lot coming in, and I think teachers are getting a lot coming in.
Tim: For sure.
Karen: And we have to make sure that whatever we’re asking and receiving, we can process, so that it’s purposeful and meaningful for the kids to have done it. So I’m really leaning heavily on synchronous instruction in a way… I thought I would do more prerecorded, and share it with them and kind of flip it.
I wanted them to watch it in advance of the class so that they could use their entire 25 minutes. But I feel like the kids want to be connected. And the best way for them to be connected, especially with a material like clay or anything three-dimensional, is to really see it. I have three devices logged into my Zoom every day. So I’ve got my down view as a participant. I’m Karen Kiick, Karen Kiick, Karen Kiick three times in my Zoom. And none of them have their audio on, so there’s no weird feedback, but I have my phone and I’ll just walk around. So I get up from my desk, make sure that everybody at home is good. And then I let them see what the kids in the class are doing.
Tim: What everybody else is doing.
Karen: That’s been nice for them. We laugh, and they get to see each other, because they’re the class. They should. So logistically, it’s tricky, but philosophically and physically, it is possible. And it’s important… Though, I guess my advice, the long and the short of it, is to just keep going, keep doing it. We can’t let our three dimensional lives become flat, in the literal sense and in the figurative sense. It matters.
Tim: Yeah. That’s very well said. I think that’s a good note to leave it on. So Karen, thank you so much. It’s been great talking to you. I hope everyone has enjoyed hearing from you, but, yeah, it’s been a great conversation. So thank you.
Karen: Well, thanks. Thanks for having me.
Tim: Thank you to Karen. It was interesting to hear her talk about, well, all of that. But she really got me thinking with that idea of how our 3d world has changed into a 2d world with so many things that we’re doing with our students, and astute observation and something that is, I think, worth considering for a little bit after this episode is over. But that was a long chat. So I will go ahead and wrap things up now. Of course, make sure you check out the Art of Education University website.
And I will make sure that we link to a couple of good articles in the show notes here that also explore ideas of how we’re teaching 3d art in an unfamiliar situation. I will also put links in to make sure you can follow Karen and see everything that she’s doing on social media. All of those things along with, hopefully, this entire conversation can maybe give you a little bit of guidance, a little bit more confidence, and maybe a few new ideas as we navigate this exceedingly difficult school year.
Art Ed Radio was produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, and we will talk to you next week.
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.