Tag Archives: Amanda Rogers

Three Tricks for Sparking Students’ Creativity

By Amanda Rogers June 4th, 2014 2:15 PM

For many educators, project based learning can showcase a students’ knowledge of a subject better than any standardized test. However, let’s be honest, we all sometimes struggle to come up with a creative idea or the best way to start said projects. Here’s what I do in my classroom to stir up creative paths and guide students to a finished project.

  1. Start a classroom idea bin. During independent work, some of my students need more direction when it comes to beginning a project. An idea bin is a container, in this case a large empty plastic pretzel container, filled with strips of paper. On each piece of paper there is a prompt for beginning a project. For example, a piece of paper might say, “Crash! What just happened in the street?” The student who picked this prompt would use this creativity starter to jumpstart their own project, thinking of open-ended ideas that relate to the example. While I use this concept for visual art, it can easily be modified for classes in other subject areas. For example, a piece of paper in another class might say, “How can you use only a sheet of paper, scissors and tape, to create the parts of a flower?”
  2. Challenge students daily using creative thinking warm ups. When your students arrive in your classroom, they are coming from many different academic and life situations. Some students may have just nailed a test that they studied for last period, while others may have had a difficult situation at home that morning. Whatever the case, it can sometimes be difficult to light the fire of student engagement and learning. “Daily challenges” are one way to tackle those situations, get my students motivated, and strengthen their creative thinking skills. An example of a daily challenge warm up might be, “Using at least three geometric shapes, draw a symmetrical design.” These warm ups can also be used to review previous lessons and provide the teacher with valuable assessments of student understanding.
  3. Show Your Work! Writer Austin Kleon wrote the book Show Your Work, which challenges people to show off the things that they have accomplished. When people share their ideas and accomplishments, it can jumpstart a creative path for someone else. To do this in your school, set up an area in your classroom that showcases the work of your students. Encourage your students to use it as inspiration for their ideas, which can also be another valuable lesson in borrowing ideas versus copying ideas.

I hope that these three suggestions have sparked some creative ideas for your own classroom.

Follow me on Twitter @necityart

Art Education: The Life Vest Some Students Need

By Amanda Rogers March 26th, 2014 10:00 AM

Good teachers know how to modify their teaching and classroom environment to meet the needs of their students. Great teachers understand that all students learn differently and design their lessons based on student interests and strengths. But, to be realistic, we all know that not every student can be vocal about what they need.

That’s where visual arts comes in.  For those students who lack confidence in academic classes or struggle with certain tasks, arts instruction can act as a life vest. In my seven years of teaching, I have had artistically talented students, but I’ve also had students who see art class as an escape from their regular classes.  These students have asked questions that not only push their thinking, but also my own. These disconnected students are able to feel successful in a new and exciting way in my class and show their academic progress through creating art.

Picture the cave drawings of Lascaux France; what were those early humans trying to record? I like to think that the drawings were a way in which humans realized they could not always put their thoughts into words, but could rely on their hands to share what they wanted to say. Visual arts education also exposes students to the “how’s” and “why’s” of the world. It encourages students to explore paintings and sculptures and, if guided properly, end up with more questions about the piece than when they first looked at it. These questions are important because they push students’ understanding of the world they live in. Learning to unleash these questions on every day tasks creates humans who are inventors, innovative thinkers, and leaders. Think about the evolution of photography and digital media in the past ten years. The industry has exploded due to someone asking “why” and “how” and “what can I do to make this better?”

The constant flow of these questions is essentially the basis of art education. When students are creating or looking at art, they are often internally asking, “how can I make this differently?” or “am I challenging myself to my fullest potential?” Disconnected learners or unchallenged exceptional students often find this mode of thinking refreshing and compelling. Unlike math or language arts, much of the art world does not have a correct answer. Teaching students this mode of thinking empowers them and builds their confidence, ultimately giving them a new way to approach their learning.

Arts education doesn’t need to be confined to the art room, and I encourage general education classroom teachers to incorporate visual arts into their lessons. It can be the outlet and frame of mind that some of our students need. When a child feels that it is okay to ask questions and they can show their learning by creating art, the entire world can be unlocked for them. Offer your students the option to sketch an answer to a question.  Let them observe a painting from the time period you’re currently teaching. Whatever arts integration tools you decide to use in your classroom, I guarantee that you will have more involved students and richer conversations with them about what they are learning.

Follow Amanda on Twitter: @NEcityart

Beat Boredom with a Bus Ride

By Amanda Rogers February 28th, 2014 3:30 PM

“School is so boring.”

“I don’t want to be here…”

“Why do we have to do this?”

As a teacher, I’m sure you’ve heard at least one of these three comments from your time in teaching. If you are anything like me, those comments make your emotions bristle and your blood boil. You respond inside your head, “School isn’t boring! Of course you have to be here! And WHY are you learning this?” Hum, um, wait. That is actually a very good question.

Making sure that your students understand the “why” of what you teach is an essential part of learning. I have found that the best way to guide my students into understanding the “why” of what we are learning is by taking them on field trips. Thankfully, the list of resources that Washington DC has to offer (and most of them free of charge!) is staggering.

One of my favorite places to take my students is The Corcoran Gallery of Art. For my most recent trip, I worked with a docent at the museum to choose a tour that would align with what my students were learning in class. We settled on the “Five Senses” tour, which lets students look at and discuss art using their five senses.  The tour started at a series of stations, one of which was in front of a gallery painting.  At the station, students had the opportunity to touch and observe brushes, paints, and all of the materials used in making the piece. In addition to these art-related themes, the docent and I planned our own special twist to the content of the tour. We added information and interactions with a tour guide that centered on  animal habitats, supporting what students were already learning about in their general education classes.

museum sculpture

To say that the kids enjoyed the experience was an understatement. The students loved every minute of it, even the bus ride! I really enjoy watching my students in a setting outside of their regular school day, and this trip was no exception. I watched the way the students moved through the museum, soaking in all of the new sights and stimuli. I also noticed the way they interacted with the adult tour guide, expressing their interest in the art. I was proud of their questions, their ability to be independent, and their ability to connect the things we were learning inside our classroom walls to something in the real world.

This is just one example of the many, many field trips available to students and teachers in Washington D.C. As I mentioned before, many of the museums in Washington D.C. are free of charge. If you plan ahead, lots of them also offer complimentary bussing for your students. I encourage all teachers to plan a field trip. It exposes your students to things they might never see or experience. It connects your students to the world, and helps your students make connections to understand the “why” of what they are learning.

Please feel free to visit my blog for a recap of our trip to the Corcoran Museum.

Follow me on Twitter: @necityart

Plan your own field trips in Washington D.C here.

Amanda Rogers teaches visual arts at Langley Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

School Partnerships: Strengthening in Two Ways

By Amanda Rogers January 23rd, 2014 6:00 PM

Very often in teaching, my colleagues and I find that we are attached to our routines, keeping the train on its tracks, moving full steam ahead.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. By stepping outside of the routine and seeking out educational partnerships, we can give students authentic experiences with people outside of the educational world and see an enriched learning environment in the classroom.

Amanda Rogers Image 1 In my experience, there are two kinds of partnerships that teachers can seek out to enhance their classrooms and inspire their students; partnerships that provide a service and partnerships that provide a product. Partnerships that provide a service can include activties like therapeutic yoga classes, musical performances by local artists, and science programs with mobile laboratories. Product-oriented partnerships can bring school supplies, modern technology, and healthier local food to schools.

This past summer, when I was researching what kind of service partnership I wanted to bring to Langley Elementary, I knew I wanted it to be mental health oriented. In an age where we are constantly measuring student achievement via test taking, I wanted my students to be able to feel successful before the pencil ever marked their tests. I wanted them to feel confident in controlling their emotions, reflecting on their lives, and using their minds and bodies in a way that the regular education classroom was not teaching them. This is where the non-profit organization YoKid came in.

YoKid is a non-profit that provides instruction in yoga for kids and teens in the DMV area. It was created to help kids and teens confront the complex challenges of living in an urban environment by increasing their self-awareness, concentration levels, and physical activity through yoga.

Fast forward to this October, when YoKid was part of my school’s schedule. Along with ten other students at Langley, I lay on my yoga mat and marveled at how engaged my students were. I could see immediately how beneficial this partnership was going to be for my student’s wellbeing and the overall building environment. The yoga instructor was professional, motivational, and gave the students exposure to an activity that some of them had never even heard of. As Richard Karpel, the President and CEO of Yoga Alliance recently said, “It’s hardly surprising, then, that yoga-in-school programs like the Washington, D.C.-based YoKid.org are widely praised by both teachers and parents.” (Karpel, Richard. “Exercise or Religion? Yoga is for Everyone.” USA Today 20 May 2013)

When it comes to service-related partnerships, I have the most experience with Donors Choose. DonorsChoose.org is an online charity that connects classrooms to the general public who want to help students in need. Public school teachers post classroom project requests on the web site, and individuals can give any amount to the project that they choose to support. When a project reaches its funding goal, Donors Choose ships the materials to the school.

As an art teacher, I am always scrounging for supplies for my students to use. Donors Choose helped my classroom in immeasurable ways, providing my students with simple supplies such as markers, crayons, and paper to more complex materials like clay and digital cameras. Donors Choose is a wonderful partnership for all teachers in need of supplies, no matter what the subject. A well-stocked classroom directly links to student achievement and student engagement.

Amanda Rogers Image 2

So, consider stepping outside of your well-oiled routine to provide your students with a partnership related to your teaching field. Whether it is a hands-on experience like a science assembly or a motivational speech from a local athlete turned professional, find what inspires your students and partner with that cause.

Follow Amanda Rogers on Twitter: @NEcityart

Amanda Rogers teaches visual arts at Langley Elementary School in Washington, D.C.