Relationship Building

Using Mediums as Motivation (Ep. 182)

This time of the year is always difficult for students, even in non-pandemic times. Which makes it the perfect opportunity for teachers to break out the exciting tools and mediums that will engage their students. Listen as Nic discusses her favorite mediums to motivate kids, some great lessons she teaches, and why she thinks teachers might need a little bit of motivation right now as well. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Nic: Being an art teacher is one of the best jobs in the whole school. I’ll tell you why. We’ve got a magic trick up our sleeve. It’s the mediums that we use in our classroom. It’s a motivator for most students. And this time of the year, we need all the motivation that we could use. I don’t know about you, but my students need this extra motivation right now, just this time of the year, no matter what. Even during a pandemic, it turns out they need that extra motivation. So today we’re going to talk about mediums as a motivator. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

I recently wrapped up my time with a student teacher. Ms. Kara Mullin was in my classroom for eight weeks in her elementary placement. The first lesson that I asked her to do was clay. She looked at me like, “Okay, clay, I think I can do that. I’m excited to do that.” She was excited and I was too. The reason I wanted her to do this lesson was, well, a little selfishly because I’m allergic to clay, but more so because I knew that we would have fewer behavior problems with a medium that was so just wholly 100% engaging. Clay is one of the most engaging mediums that we have as a tool as art teachers. It truly ended up being a wonderful medium for the students and the kiddos just absolutely loved working with it and were very proud of their project. Within the eight weeks, we were able to make, fire, decorate, and wrap and take home the project, so it was very satisfying for Kara to start and finish that clay project, have them out the door and back into the hands of the students and the families that they belong to.

It was just the beginning of this new idea of mediums for me. It’s a new old idea, let’s go with. We were coming back from distance learning, full distance learning this year in about February. Mid-January we invited our kindergarten through second grade. And then in February, we’re just going to start with February, the beginning of February, all of the students, three through five, joined the younger students, and they all came back from distance learning, except for some of the classes that remained distance learning. And these are the students that chose to stay distance learning. So I’m also teaching them as well. I feel like I have to go through this every time, just so that you know, the full scenario of what my teaching looks like this year.

So I’m teaching in the beginning of February, all these kids coming back, and actually we had to go over all the rules again. What does it look like to behave? Where are we going to sit? What are the expectations of the classroom? How are we kind? What are the expectations of mask wearing? All the things had to go over again. So it was kind of like that uncomfortable or redundant, whatever you’d like to call it, beginning of the year protocol for a second time in the year. We quickly covered that in all the classes, but you could see their eyes kind of glazing over, And they were like, “Ms. Hahn, we just want to get to business. We have been working on our computers for months and can we just get back to business?”

Well, at home, I had the students in three through five I’m going to talk about working on something called character camp. I worked with Lisa Bardot last summer, and actually she’s doing another, it’s called people skills with Procreate, and she is doing another lesson that you could do with her step-by-step learning how to use Procreate and drawing people. But the one that she did this summer was learning how to use Procreate and drawing a character. So she had us working on noses and she had us working on eyes and she had us working on the shape of a body and developing this character. I chose to use that idea for my students. So every week they had a new thing to work on. They’re going to work on accessories for their character, and they’re going to work on the clothing for their characters and so on.

Well, when they came back, because we didn’t know how long at home learning was going to happen, when they came back, I wanted them to put together all the things that they had worked on to create their final character. Then I decided, well, what are we going to do with this character? Well, for the third grade, I wanted them to be able to play. So their final character was drawn on a very sturdy piece of paper, and what we did was we actually made the characters so that they could stand and we made clothing for them and they made paper dolls. You guys, talk about a simple motivator. We were still just using simple materials, we’re using paper and pencil and crayons and markers, whatever they had in their toolbox, and scissors to make the cuts. But all we’re doing is we’re taking it and flipping it up on its side. We’re turning that flat piece of artwork into a sculpture, and then we’re accessorizing, allowing the students to create different clothing for it. This was a hit. The kiddos loved it.

Now third through fifth grade did this same project. They all did character camps. So I decided to flip it up a little bit, switch it up. I didn’t think that the fourth and fifth grade would love the little paper dolls as much as the third grade did. And I cannot stress enough how much the third grade really enjoyed the paper dolls. And I have examples on my Instagram, so buzz over there and check them out because even one day we had indoor recess and I was sending back the paper dolls and they were like, “Ms. Hahn, I’m so excited that we have indoor recess, because we can just make more clothes for our characters.” I was like, “Yeah. Yeah, you can.” It was really cute. But for the fourth and fifth grade, I wanted to test out… I wanted to give them more tools, I guess. Even though we had been working on the computers with at-home learning, I wanted to give them the tools that I could also use with my distance learning.

So we made our final character in our sketchbook and I had them take a picture of it, and we used an online resource called photoscissors, with an S, .com, photoscissors, all one word .com. allows you to make… I’ve been calling it a digital sticker, so you can crop out very minutely the areas that you don’t want to see anymore. So the students went through and they cropped out everything except for their character. And they have the opportunity to either purchase in a download or download with low resolution. For what we’re doing downloading with low resolution was perfect. So that was one day after we created our characters.

And then our district has the opportunity to give each of our students something called WeVideo. WeVideo, there is a free version, so you can certainly do this without purchasing, and all it does is it has pretty much a lot of the same things. It just has a watermark on your final product. WeVideo allows students to do a lot of photo editing and it allows you to do a video, a GIF, I’m actually doing my podcast on it right now. It gives you a lot of different options. I was having them do a GIF, or a dot G-I-F. Some people call it a Jeff. Not going to argue it. We’re all right. We’re all correct. So we’re using WeVideo and I taught them how to find a background or use a background from their sketchbook. And then they took their photo sticker in and they created this GIF. So they created simple animation of their character, maybe coming from the background to the front, or maybe walking across the background, something like that.

I thought this was amazing because that’s all I showed them, but they ended up using text on top, they ended up using some transitions and some built-in animated backgrounds. It was really fun for them. So that became a huge motivator. Only for one day. That exploration got very silly on the second day, so I would recommend whatever fun thing you give them, make it limited. I think it doesn’t have to be one day, but don’t give them too much time with whatever you’re introducing because boredom can occur, I guess, very quickly in our young learners, I’ve discovered lately. I’m just going to keep working my way down and we’re going to move down to third grade where I was inspired by Kit Lang.

Kit Lang is an amazing art educator from Hong Kong. I will put her information in this lesson in the podcast notes. She did this really cool transfer print project with beetles. She was using calligraphy ink, and it just was a stunning project that she was able to do with her. I believe it was kindergarten and second grade. And I wanted to take that idea and bring it into my third grade. Instead of using calligraphy ink, all I did was changed the medium, and guys, it was amazing. First of all, I showed them the… I used the same idea that Kit did and her classroom where I, I printed off some full color beetles, just a top view of beetles. And then I cut those pieces of paper in half and I laminated them. Then each student received a half of a beetle. They folded their piece of paper in half vertically in their sketchbook. So imagine their sketchbook. They fold their piece of paper in half vertically. And then they placed down half of the beetle on one half of their page.

On the other half, they took their pencil and they drew their half beetle. They’re doing the contour line of their half beetle. Then they come back to the carpet and I reveal the medium that they’re using. If you’ve taught, you know that this is the reaction. I said, “All right guys, today we are going to use oil pastel.” I say it just like that. And they go crazy. They get so excited. I don’t know what it is when I say the word oil pastel, or if it’s just something that they don’t get to use often or is it because it gets their fingers messy. I don’t know what it is. I gave them one black oil pastel, and they freaked out. They were super excited.

So they grabbed the black oil pastel. They head to their spots. They drew over the top of their pencil line, so it’s just, again, still half of a beetle. And then they folded up their page again. Using a popsicle stick they rubbed on the back of their paper when they folded it, and the oil pastel transfers to the other side and a slightly lighter version, but they end up having this transfer, this symmetry that occurs when you do so. They loved it. It was a quick one hour, very exciting project because it was one brand new medium, one single medium in their hand. Yes, that’s what I’m looking for. It had huge impact too. We were able to talk about symmetry, we were able to talk about the medium, and we were able to talk about the word transfer, transfer prints, what that looks like.

Fourth grade. Fourth grade, after we finished up our character camp, now we’re moving into… Again, I love to build that anticipation in my classroom. So I decided to splurge. I have next to nothing this year for my budget. I mean, really, really low. It is the lowest budget that I’ve had, yes, in my whole entire career, which is very frustrating, but I digress just slightly there. I decided to say, “You know what, fine, I’m going to do the things I love.” So I bought embroidery hoops, little tiny embroidery hoops, and that pretty much ate up most of my budget. But I had some things that I can use already. So I have some fabric that I had purchased prior and had been donated, so I announced to my second or fourth grade, we are going to sew. Oh my gosh, their heads exploded.

And some were a little hesitant because this is what I heard, and this is called riding the wave. When you announce something like that, you have this cheering and this excitement, you don’t want to say, “Now be quiet class. Be quiet.” You don’t want to definitely smush that excitement. You ride the wave. You let them kind of celebrate. And then once it’s kind of wrapping down, you might hold your hand up with the number five and say four, three, two, one, until you get them to calm down. And then as you’re doing that, you’re listening to their words. They’re saying things like, “I’ve sewn with my grandma. My grandma’s going to love this.” “Oh, I’ve never gotten to sew before. I’ve always wanted to.” “I don’t want to sew. That’s going to be really hard.”

So then you know where to take that conversation. Well, I’m super lucky because I get to take my conversation in this direction. My family sews together. So I get to talk about the quilt that we are making as a family. Actually, we’re each making a quilt, but we’re doing one square at a time, and we are doing this one square a month type of a deal. Me, my daughter, my husband, and my son are all doing a quilt. And I tell the story of how my daughter does it to humor me, my husband does it to humor me, but they would much rather be outside playing softball with each other or basketball. My son loves to play football on the high school team. My son loves to play baseball on the high school team. But one of his favorite things is to sew with me.

So in the future here, in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to get him to do a little video explaining some of the things that he’s sewed, and I think that will be a good motivator for my class as well. Just seeing someone that possibly might be an influencer in their life to talk about how exciting it is to sell. So if the motivation of the medium is not… It worked for a majority, but you also need to make it a safe environment for the students to celebrate and to be exciting. Fifth grade, we’re moving into metal tooling. If you haven’t ever used this, it is a really great medium to use with your students. Metal tooling comes in a roll, or it can come in sheets. I’ve found in a roll is a little less expensive, but a little bit more work to prepare.

I wasn’t able to use it from last year because we went into lockdown before I was able to use it. And so we draw with some wooden tools onto it. It creates a low relief. I haven’t even introduced this to the students yet, but I know that it will be a motivator. And then second grade. Second grade, second grade. I can’t wait to tell you about what we just wrapped up with second grade. Let me just remind you, you do not need to take these notes as you are listening today. I will have everything in the show notes. There’s lots of information coming at you very soon here. So second grade in my building does a unit, a big unit in the homeroom based on Australia. And we try, as specialists, to work that into our curriculum as well. We can still hit our concepts and just have that be the subject.

And we’ve done this in the past, but it’s never been more important to me as it is right now, and I say that because two years ago… So last year we didn’t even get to that subject of Australia because of the shutdown, and this year we get to, and I’m really excited because two years ago, my husband and I, two summers ago, my husband and I went to Melbourne and we went for 19 days to Australia, and then we spent part of that time in New Zealand as well. It was amazing. It was a bucket list thing for me, and I fell in love. I fell in love. And what I have discovered since then is this kinship with Australia overall. I have followed tons and tons of teachers on Instagram, so I knew exactly where to go to find some contemporary artists to take a look at for this unit. Music class is going to be doing this performance and I’m going to be doing something that could hang on the wall behind or maybe just support this big, huge thing that we’re doing as a team all together.

So the first person that I went to is Kate Driscoll. She is a teacher in Perth, which is West Australia. Her Instagram account is Art_Teacher_Life. There’s a couple of lower dashes in there. And again, it’s in podcast notes, so don’t worry. Kate is really… I think what she’s best known for, or at least from my perspective, is that she uses local. She uses local artists from Australia. She uses local nature. So local botanicals, local animals as her subject, not always, but quite often. So I went to her to find out what is authentically Australian. I looked at her lessons and she led me to an artist that I thought would be perfect for the start of our lessons.

The artist that she led me to was Tracy Keller on Instagram, she’s TracyKellerArtist, And she has these beautiful animals with bright, vibrant splotches of color on top. Very energetic. You’ll have to check it out to really get the feel for it. But it was perfect for the lesson that I wanted to do with the students, which was a secondary lesson, kind of a assessment for if they knew their warm or cool colors, which they learned with Ms. Mullen, our student teacher, the week before. So here was the motivator. I introduced the artist, which was already a motivator because they thought it was really cool, the colors that she used. And then I introduced that we were going to be making cockatoos, which they were super excited because they’re learning about cockatoos in both music class and in their homeroom. So they’re on edge right now plus they have their paint shirts on, so they know something cool is going to happen later today.

And then I said, “Okay, we’re going to draw these cockatoos. And this is what you’ll need. Follow me with your eyes, but not your bodies. We’re going to walk over here to get a pencil.” Excuse me. This is what we said. “You’re going to walk over here to get some hand sanitizer. Once you get the hand sanitizer, you’ll get the pencil. Once you get the pencil, you’ll get this small piece of paper.” It was not small at all. It is 25 inches by 25 inches. It’s a huge piece of paper. And all of them go, “What? Ms. Hahn? That’s not small.” “Oh yeah, you’re right. You’re right. That’s a large piece of paper.” That in itself was a motivator and super exciting. In fact, one of the kids when she got the piece of paper from me said, “Ms. Han, I feel like a real artist today.” Well, if big paper makes you feel like a real artist, awesome, great.

And what we did was we drew out our simplified cockatoo. Then, after it was drawn with our pencil, we signed it up in the corner with our signature and we used something called an ink dauber. It’s kind of like a bingo dauber. You’ve seen them out there. They’re round, they’re small, they fit into smaller hands, which is nice. We talked about not squeezing them because if you squeeze them, the ink kind of squirts out. I purchased them from Nasco. I think you can buy them from other places. And then also from Nasco I bought Nasco brand Indian ink to fill each of the daubers with. They were able to, because it was such large format, this creates a very thick, bold line. They drew on top of the lines with their ink dauber and it dries fairly quickly if you don’t have big globs. And some kids did have some globs, we talked about that and how to get it to the drying rack safely when needed. So they redrew all the lines. They were excited. That’s where they needed the paint shirt was for this Indian ink that they were using.

Then we came back to the carpet and we talked about choosing a palette of three colors and they were going to use… These are called paint sticks. I’ve used many different brands of paint sticks, so I’m not going to even say which one I did use, because they all pretty much act the same. And actually Tara KB from Instagram, she commented on my post and she said, cart life is perfect, so she’s art on a cart. She said cart life is perfect for paint sticks. So even if you’re on a cart, paint sticks are an excellent tool to have in your classroom on a cart. These are a great tool. They’re nice and contained. They’re big, bright, bold. So we used a pallette of three colors and then they proved to me they knew their warm or cool colors. It was a huge motivator, because again, this was a medium that they don’t use often, and they were super excited. This lesson was a one day lesson, a one hour lesson. It was really fun. It was really engaging. It was all because of the magic of the medium.

Well, sorry. The podcast went a little long today, but as you can see, maybe the new mediums aren’t just a motivator for the students. Maybe they’re a motivator for me. What do you need to motivate yourself for the rest of the school year? Maybe it’s not just about the kids. Maybe you have to get excited about what you’re doing as well. So think about that. Think about your teaching situation. What can you bring into your teaching situation? Is it just that simple one oil pastel? Or can you go a little bit more extreme, bringing in maybe some embroidery hoops or some metal tooling? What can you bring into your classroom that’s going to engage those students and possibly engage you?

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.