Classroom Management

Using the End of the Year to Try Out New Ideas (Ep. 090)

As we approach the end of the school year, we are always on the lookout for what we are going to fill that time. There never seems to be a perfect solution, so why not try something new? Today, Cassie talks about why unexpected lessons keep your kids engaged, ideas for new lessons you can try, and why finding success with new methods can build your confidence.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: If you’re like me and you have been in school since what feels like the beginning of time otherwise known as August 1st, then you know you are getting near the end. And, you might find yourself doing a little bit of a countdown dare I say . Now your girl right here, I have an art show, wait for it. The week and a half before school is out. You know why I have an art show a week and a half before school is out? Because, I am the queen of procrastination, which has rubbed off on my students, which means we are literally working on art until the week and a half before school is out, which is super duper, but super stressful. And it also means that I have done a countdown. I’m in the midst of countdown, but it’s the art show countdown. And since it’s so close to the end of the year countdown, it’s kind of being a kind of sort of end of the year countdown too.

So do you find yourself in that place? Are you counting down the days? Are you getting a little restless in a need of some summer vacation? Well, to kind of keep all of those feelings at bay, I have some suggestions for you. The end of the year is the perfect time to try out new ideas. That’s right. As crazy as it may seem because you’re probably thinking about how you’re going to pack up, put supplies up, get things tidy for the end of the year. I’m going to say instead of doing that, maybe use the end of the year as kind of like a giant Petri dish to really explore all of the different things you’ve thought about trying out throughout the year. Today, I’m going to share with you my top 10 reasons why the end of the year is the perfect time to try out new ideas in your art room. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Okay, so let me just share with you my top 10 reasons why you should try new ideas at the end of the year. I know you’re tired. I know your kids, your students are just ever so slightly rambunctious and getting on each other’s nerves. But, I think that maybe the solution might be trying out some new things. So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about why trying out new things just might be the answer to ride out the end of the year on a really awesome and lightning, eye opening and fun note. So thing number one, it keeps the kids engaged. Trying out new things when they’re not expecting it is really going to keep them interested. It’s really going to keep them working hard in your room as opposed to being bored and gazing longingly outside looking at those kids on the playground. There’s a reason I have curtains on my windows. “Why are they outside and I’m in here?” Because it’s art class and we’re having fun.

So let’s talk about some of the things you might want to try. Projects that I’ve done in my room that are surefire hits that you might not have tried yet, that will definitely keep your kids engaged. And I have blog posts on all of these. I have a little search bar on my blog where you can search and seek out these different ideas to try in your room.

If you have never tried shaving cream marbling with your students, that is always a huge, huge hit. It’s messy, but messy is what keeps them engaged, and it is a lot of fun. Shaving cream it turns out is like the magical elixir of the art room. My students love shaving cream. So with shaving cream marbling, if you’ve never tried it, you’ve just got to score yourself some Dollar Tree, Dollar General, dollar whatevers shaving cream, squirt a little bit on the kids’ table. They flatten it out, but with a finger just kind of smooth out the surface of the shaving cream and spread it out.

They can paint directly onto the surface of the shaving cream with liquid water color, or basically whatever supplies you have that you’re running low on but you want to get rid of. You could even try pan watercolor, paint on the surface of the shaving cream. Take a piece of paper, press it on top of the shaving cream, peel the paper off, and then wipe off the excess shaving cream. If you’re wondering what do I wipe it off with? What I do is I take a styrofoam plate or a butter dish lid, cut in half styrofoam plate, cut in half and use that as a squeegee or a way to remove the excess shaving cream. And voila, you have a really cool marbled print.

Another thing we do in my room was shaving cream is we do some drawing contests. This is also a way that we clean our tables. My third graders did this at the end of the year when they were in second grade last year. They have asked me at least every other art class, if we can please do it again at the of the year this year. You just squirt a little bit of shaving cream on everybody’s spot on their table. They wipe it all over their table to give themselves a nice white surface, and they draw. And we had little drawing contest. It can be timed. Let’s see who can draw the best dog, who can draw an awesome looking cat, who can draw an imaginary, this, that, or the other. The end of our class, use that as your soap to clean the tables.

Here’s what I do. I put a tub of water on the tables, not filled very high. And a sponge. Then the kids just squeegee or wipe off the excess shaving cream, place it in the tub, and then squeeze the sponge out with some clean water and wipe the tables down. I even go so far as to give my students little plastic cards, like a Starbucks gift card that’s been used. I hoard all these things. Hotel plastic key cards. I give them those to also then scrape the tables down. And then your room smells like a really handsome man and is so sparkling clean, and the kids had a blast. If you’ve never tried bubble printing, super fun, check it out. Great activity for going outside. It’s so warm and beautiful out this time of year, your kids are itching to go outside, probably like literally if you can tell, I’m having a little bit of sinus problems. Thank you pollen. And so probably several of them are itching and scratching their noses. But get them outside. Have them do some chalk drawing on the sidewalks. If you’ve never tried chalk prints, now’s the time.

One thing we did last year that was a huge hit was I got giant pieces of white bulletin board paper. I used my Bingo Dobber to draw designs all over it. I wrote things like, “Welcome back to school. We’re happy you’re here.” And I drew things like pencils and boxes of crayons, basically school supplies. And when my students would come in, these giant banners were laying on the tables with a paint tray and some paint brushes. And as they came in I said, “Okay guys, go to town Charlie Brown. You can work on painting these big banners.” The added benefit of that, they loved doing it by the way. But the added benefit was that when they were finished, I had these really bright, happy, cheerful banners to hang up at the beginning of the school year. At the beginning of the school year when the halls are so boring and so drab, we were able to decorate them with these massive welcome back banners. Keep those kids engaged. That’s at the top of my list of my top 10 for why you should try out new ideas at the end of the year.

Number two, use up all of those art supplies. If you’re like me, you’ve got oil pastels that are the size of a fingertip. You have paint trays that are left with only, watercolor pan trays that are only left with certain colors in them. There’s no more yellow, there’s no more blue. Apparently those are the two most popular colors that bite the dust first.

So use up those extra art supplies. Here’s some ways to go about doing that. If you have excess paper, or scrap paper, or even the copy paper. I love to pinch the used copy paper from the office, take that back to my room, cut it into a square shape, and have origami centers for my room. That’s another thing that I do a lot of at the end of the year, especially when you’re short on supplies. Create centers throughout your room.

You can have a painting center. You don’t have to give them every color. Give them what you’ve got and tell them it’s a challenge. What can you make, kind of beautiful masterpiece can you paint at the center with this limited Palette? You’ve got origami instructions. I usually get really simple origami instructions off from the interwebs, and I laminate them if I’m feeling fancy or a slide them in those clear plastic containers, or sleeves. Let them go to that table and create origami with that recycled or upcycled copy paper.

Some other things that you could do to use up supplies. Have the kids have a Chopped-like competition. So by that I mean every table gets just a mountain of whatever supplies you want to put on the tables. A roll of tape, five paper towel tubes, anything that you’ve got a little stash of, not enough to do a project with, not enough to save for next year, but enough for them to do something fun with. Throw that on the tables, give the kids a challenge, set the timer, and let them go to town. They will have a blast. For more on a project like Chopped, just search on Google. I don’t have this on my blog, “Art teacher Chopped,” and you’ll see that there’s been a lot of art teachers who’ve done things very similar to this. Create a makers space for your students with all of these extra supplies. Like I said, if you set it up like a center, here’s a building center with a bunch of recycled objects that you can use. Here is a painting center with whatever paint I have on hand. Origami Center. Letting them just explore those things especially if you don’t run an open center classroom or choice-based center classroom like I don’t. This will give you the chance to see what tiptoeing into that might look like, especially if that’s something you’re interested in.

Number three. I think trying out ideas at the end of the year is a great way to learn about yourself as a teacher. And when you’re learning about yourself as a teacher, you can grow as long as you take what you’re learning and actually apply it. Be gentle on yourself. Notice the things that you like and you don’t like. You can actually grow as a teacher and become better as a teacher. When you get stuck in your ways and do the same projects the same way year after year, you’re not growing anymore. You’re not engaging anymore, and your students won’t be engaged. But if you try these new things, especially at the end of the year when you don’t feel like it, I think you’re going to find that you’ll learn a lot about yourself as a teacher.

So think about what have I not tried out in my art room that I’ve been curious about, that I’ve been thinking man, I’ve seen another art teacher do that. It looks so amazing. I want to try it. Why not? You don’t have to try it with every class. And if it fails, it fails. Who cares? It’s the end of the year. Did the kids have fun? Then it didn’t fail. Did they use up those supplies? Perfect. It wasn’t a failure. Failure I feel like, like I said. Who cares? Take it, learn from it, then it’s not a failure at all. It was something that you are growing from.

So if you do bomb out on something that you try out in your room, you could take it and learn what would you do differently. If you decide that you want to try shaving cream again next year because it bombed this year, but you saw some potential and you saw the kids were interested, how could you go about doing it differently so that it is successful the following year? The thing that I sometimes get hung up on is if something doesn’t work, I will just assume well then, this isn’t for me and this isn’t for my students. Now not necessarily. You just need to think of a way to go about doing it differently. And trust me, I have bombed out on lots of projects, lots of lessons, lots of experimentation. And it’s fine. It happened just last week, and it’s totally fine because I learned from it. I switched the script. We did something new. It worked out great. So I think that the end of the year is a great time to really reflect, learn about yourself, try new things, grow as a teacher.

I think it’s also a great time to expose yourself to new ideas. I know you’ve probably been pinning things away on Pinterest. If you’re like me, you’ve been screenshotting things that you see on Instagram, or thank goodness they created that feature where you can actually save images and create pages. Did you know this? Just like Pinterest. If you’re feeling a little stagnant, if you’re feeling a little stuck, it’s the end of the year, scroll through your saved images. Let it inspire you. Try out a couple, or at least one. I challenge you to try just one thing that you’ve been thinking I would love to try this, but I’m not sure how to go about doing it. You’re never going to find out how to go about doing it unless you give it a shot. So expose yourself to those new ideas and give it a go. It will really prevent you from doing the whole countdown to the end type deal.

I think you can also discover what you like and what you don’t like. And what you could change after trying something out to make it so like I said, it works a little bit better in your room.

For example, something that I really do not enjoy teaching because I have found that my students don’t enjoy doing it, is self portraits. I have done this lesson. It’s a Romero Britto lesson. You can find it on my YouTube channel and my blog. It’s a self portrait lesson I do with my fourth graders. I didn’t do it this year. I love the results. The kids learn a lot along the way. The groaning, the moaning, the, “I don’t like mine. It’s not looking perfect. It doesn’t look like yours.” Oh goodness, it is painful. I do a lot of pep talk. I do a lot of bringing them up, trying to uplift their spirits. “It’s looking great you guys.” But there’s something about that age, fourth grade and up, where they are so stinking hard on themselves that if they even get one little line that they decide is out of place or wrong, they stress. Y’all know what I’m talking about, especially those of you that teach middle schoolers.

Here’s what I did recently, a lesson I did recently with my students. It was a self portrait lesson. My fourth graders have flippin’ loved it, and I’m so glad I tried it out. We’re doing a pirate themed art show. And as a part of the pirate themed art show, my students are drawing themselves as pirates. It’s been a guided drawing lesson, much like the Romero Britto lesson. But because that element of making it look like you has been removed and instead replaced with get really creative, get really fun and funky with it, they have loved it. It was meant to be a sub plan video that I created for my students. When I came back, we weren’t working on it again. We were going to push the pause button on it and work on something else.

And I had a kid mutiny on my hands. They loved those pirate portraits. “Why aren’t we working on them? Can we work on those today? They were so much fun.” I learned a lot from that, and I’m so glad that I tried a realistic portrait, but with a spin with my students again.

Recently on Instagram, another art teacher posted how it’s difficult for her to do printmaking with her students because she just couldn’t figure out a way to make it an enjoyable, not so crazy, not so messy experience for her and her kids. And I’ve done a lot of printmaking projects with my students, and I think that one thing when you’re testing out these ideas at the end of the year, figure out what it is that you have a difficult time teaching. If it’s printmaking, okay. Let’s start there. And then let’s start thinking about a different way to approach printmaking that’ll make it a more enjoyable experience for you and your kids.

If you’re doing printmaking with younger students like I don’t know first grade, which you deserve all hands on you if you’re willing to go down that road. I don’t do print making until we hit second grade. If you’re struggling with that, then think about a different way to approach it. For example, try marker printing where the kids color on a piece of styrofoam that they’ve incised with ink pen lines. Rub a damp sponge on a piece of paper. Flip the marker colored styrofoam plate down on that paper. Rub it really hard with the back of your hand. Peel off, and voila. The marker leaves a print on the dampened paper. No mess, no printing ink. If the kids smudge it, smear it, whatevs. They simply color it again and try it again.

So you could totally discover what you like, what you don’t like. Take what you don’t like. See how you can turn it into something that you do enjoy teaching, like my self portraits, or like this printmaking deal. Another thing you could do is think of the end of the year as your test ground for the upcoming year. Do you do themes? I do themes. What theme are you going to have for the next school year? What unusual lessons will you try now that can inspire your lessons for next year?

Something else that you could do as a test ground for next year is really, really change things up at the end of the year. Here’s something I do. I told you my art show is really close to the end of the year. For the art show, we use all of our tables. The art room becomes a place for parents to come and see my students’ sculptures. It’s going to be this year, the pirate themed portion of the art show, ’cause our theme for our art show is pirates.

So all of the tables are going to be moved. They’re going to be covered with clay projects. There’s going to be massive displays. When the kids come to art the following day, there is no way we’re going to be able to have our usual art class. We’re not going to be able to file to our seats, and there won’t be supplies in the middle of the table. There’s clay projects everywhere.

So what I love to do is I pack up all of the chairs. They’re gone. The tables, we’re no longer using them. It’s the end of the year. You can sit on the floor wherever you want. You can lay on the floor if you want to. You can roll around on the floor if you want to ’cause now we have the floor space. Use this end of the year to test out different things. Move your tables, get rid of your chairs, allow the kids to pick their own seats, or you change the seating arrangement up. Let them sit on pillows.

My students for some reason love taking off their shoes. Let them kick off their shoes, leave them outside of your room. Surprise them. Keep them guessing, ’cause that’s what’s going to keep them engaged. Get rid of the monotony of the everyday, especially at the end of the year. ‘Cause you know they are so beyond over it. And then just use these little nuggets of things that you notice the kids really responding to. Tuck that in the back of your memory. Take a little note of it, whether it be mental or jot it down and use that next year. If your kids flip out over the whole taking off their shoes thing like my do, my students do. Perhaps use that as a reward if you do rewards in your class, the following year. Take those things you really notice that they’re responding to and use that as an incentive.

Another thing, another reason you might want to try out new ideas is because it really will boost your art teacher and confidence level. When you try something new and you succeed, you’re going to feel good about it. When you try something new and you bomb out, but you learn from your mistakes and you get back on that bike and you try it again and you succeed, you’re going to boost that confidence level. When you see other teachers doing things that you think look amazing and you try it, and what do you know, it worked? You just uplifted your confidence level. Do it. Try it. Why not? It’s also going to expand your perspective on art teaching, and it’s going to expand the kid’s perspective on creating. Creating, if you’ve been doing it the same way like I have all year, my students all year have been coming in. We sit down on the floor, we have a little chat.

My students go to their seat and they create. What if you switched the script? What if you do something like a Chopped and it’s a competition, or they kick off their shoes and they have to walk in backwards? I don’t know. Change things up because then the kids will see that the creative process doesn’t always have to look and be the same. You don’t always have to hear the teacher give instructions and then go follow those instructions. You can actually work as a team to do a timed kind of creation or create something unusual with different supplies you never get to use. So allow them to see that creating doesn’t always happen the same way. It can happen in many different ways with many different supplies.

Here’s something that I learned from a teacher my first year’s teaching, and I loved doing it. My kids really respond well to it. Use the end of the year also after you’ve tried out a couple of these new things, even if it’s just a handful, even if it’s just one new thing you tried. Take a kid survey at the end of the year. Here’s what my kid survey looks like, and I do this kid survey with my third and fourth grade students. You could even do it with second grade, or first grade even. But my third and fourth graders, they’re a lot more introspective and they really respond well to the survey.

So my survey is just a half sheet of paper. You could even write the questions on the board so you don’t have to type it out and make copies. You can use scrap paper, whatever you’ve got laying around. Here’s usually what my survey entails. Number one, what was your favorite thing that we did all year? Before giving the survey, I go over with the kids everything we’ve created throughout the year so that they can really reflect back on that. Otherwise, they’ll just name off the things that they most recently did. So remind them of all the things they’ve done throughout the year before giving out the survey. “What was your favorite thing that we did this year? Tell me why you loved it so much. What was your least favorite thing that we did this year? Even if you loved everything, what was that one thing that just wasn’t quite your favorite? What was your favorite art supply that we got to use this year? If you were the art teacher, what would you teach? If this was your art, what would you let kids do? Is there anything that you wish were different about art class?”

Now you’re going to have to read these and not get all butthurt about it because some kids are going to be brutally honest, but you can grow from that. Some of them are just going to be outrageous. “I wish we got to have pizza everyday.” Well that’s not gonna happen. So you might even want to go over that with the kids too. Some realistic things. And let’s just keep it so that I can actually use these ideas in my room. But taking a survey is so enlightening. And honestly, it will make you feel so good to hear about all the things that they just absolutely love doing with you.

And I think that the most important reason to try things out at the end of the year is because it’s going to keep you excited until that very last day. I know that the last time I saw students in my room last year was on field day. Field day is already bananas crazy. And I was in charge of some sort of outside chalk station, whatever. It sounded horribly boring. So I approached the people running the field day and I said, “Look, can I just have the kids come to my room and I’m going to plan some things out?” And they were like, “Sure, whatevs Stephens.” So that’s what I did. They had 15 minutes, they would come in by class, and I had painting stations for them. Remember those great big welcome back banners I mentioned? That’s what they worked on. We also did a couple giant collaborative paintings and things that can be hung up at the end of the year, which looked great for the beginning of the year. So keep yourself excited. That’s one of my main reasons to do things totally different at the end of the year.

Let’s take a quick little dip into the mailbag since I jibber jabbered so stinking long about why you should be trying new stuff in your room. All right. This question comes from Jess. Jess says, that was really hard for me to say. “I am in the unique position of having to move classrooms to a temporary building while my school is being rebuilt. The room is very small and it lacks storage space, and it has just one sink. The building is basically going to be a bunch of temporary portables or trailers, which that was my first teaching room, while our new facility is being built. We’re going to be there for about two years. What I don’t take with me that the school is moving will be put in storage or taken home by me.” Her question is, “What are the absolute bare essentials that I should bring it to the temporary building in terms of supplies, and what things should I send to storage? I still want art to be as enjoyable as possible for my kids, even though they drive me absolutely nuts sometimes.”

Jess, I love you first of all. Okay. Basic supplies because let’s be honest, you’re not going to be able to take all the really beautiful, quirky, great decorating things you might want. Although, I would still try to take them because you’re going to be there for two years, so that’s a long time. You don’t want to be in a trailer that looks like a trailer for two years. You still want it to feel like home. So I would definitely take those things that you cherish and love. For example, if it were me, a lot of the things that I have hanging on my walls that I love like the artwork that I have framed. I have a little gallery wall of artwork from other art teachers and artists that I have hanging up that me and my students love to look at.

I have my giant color wheel. So basically all of your teaching, your visual teaching tools. Like your color wheel, your line charts, your elements and principles of art. Posters of artwork that you love to share with your students. Make sure you take those important visuals. Hopefully you’ll have some sort of document cam and a way to share videos with your students too. So if you do have a way to share online resources, then you won’t necessarily have to take so many visuals with you.

Now let’s talk supplies. One sink really limits you obviously. So if it were me, I would definitely take oil pastels, markers, sharpies, chalk pastels because I love chalk pastels. When I use chalk pastels with my kids, I use Sta-Flo to keep the chalk pastels at bay. If you guys don’t know the trick with the Sta-Flo, check out my blog. It’s the best thing ever. I would also take water color. So for two years, you’re still going to want to give your kids tempera paint. But with one sink it’s going to be tricky. So I would definitely get some watercolor paint. My favorite is the Crayola mixing colors set. Really, really great paper. I always recommend to people to get 90 pound white paper. Then you never have to buy watercolor paper because this paper is so thick and great. It doesn’t wrinkle. Construction paper, scissors, glue, Model Magic clay. And that’s the kind of clay that I think I would use. It’s a little on the pricey side, but it’s great stuff, especially since you’ve got one sink. When kids are using Model Magic clay, they don’t have to wash their hands afterward.

So I’m thinking that since you have one sink, it’s not going to be a great time to use super duper, messy supplies that are going to get your kids messy all the way up to their elbows. Like paper mache, like kiln fire clay, doesn’t even sound like you’re going to have access to that. So still make sure you’re using all those really beautiful, bright, happy supplies that your kids love. But just keep in mind for the fact that they’re not going to be able to wash their hands. So that’s why I was thinking more model magic.

But I still think that you could have a really great experience and the added bonuses. And in two years you’re going to be in hopefully a brand new beautifully renovated room. Jess, thank you so much for your question. If you guys have a question for me, feel free to ask. You can reach me at

One year at the end of the year, I found myself to be the very proud owner of 1,001 toilet paper tubes. I’d asked for a donation at the beginning of the year, and then people pretty much tapered off bringing them. But there was one family that was still bringing me in garbage bag after garbage bag, and I just couldn’t part with them and I felt really bad saying, “Look, I don’t need these anymore.” Because the little gal bringing them in was just so excited to help contribute. So with that and about five rolls of masking tape and some used poster board or just cardboard I got from the recycling bin, my students made marble mazes. They worked as teams to tape the toilet paper tubes to the cardboard, and they had to work together to think of a way to have their marble go through these tubes. And then we timed each. Whatever team it took the longest to have their marble come through the tube won. What did they win, you ask? Why a handful of toilet paper tubes. Yep. Look around your room. Look at those things in your room. Think of something fun, funky, unusual, something you’ve wanted to try. Give it a go. You and your kids will have the best time until the very end. Have an awesome week you guys.

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.