On Wednesday, October 19, 2016, J.T. Lambert Intermediate School, recognized “Unity Day”. This is a designated day within our school that promotes collaborative activities and invites students to take a pledge to stand up to bullying. Our students and staff are encouraged to wear orange and participate in group activities throughout the morning. These activities include class door decorating, paper “pledge chains”, walking the track and our annual chalk mural.

Last year, the art department decided to develop a creative project that would allow students to work collaboratively while expressing the message of Unity Day. My smART partner and I brainstormed different ideas that would demonstrate to students how art can be used to make a difference, take a stance on the bully topic and get people thinking about their role in the problem. We decided that a large-scale chalk mural would be a fun, interactive way for students to share a message and also create a huge impression on those who saw it.

While students knew the meaning behind Unity Day and that it was a day to “take a pledge against bullying”, we wanted to get students thinking about how they could do that every day, not just on Unity Day. We needed to learn some statistics on the impacts of bullying to really make our message important to our students. I did some online research and found out that 1 in 4 students will experience bullying between kindergarten and twelfth grade. This was a number that stuck with me. My students sit at tables of 4. Often times students are put into groups of 4. Students can easily identify themselves amongst a group of 4 friends. Students would understand that this was a number that impacts them every day.

My smART partner and I came up with the mural theme based on this statistic. We would have the students work in groups of 4, to really help our statistic resonate. We were going to have students trace the outline of a student’s body and repeat that step 4 times. Our intent would be to create a visual “paper doll chain”. Students would then decorate 3 of the bodies and leave the fourth one blank. This “blank body” would symbolize the victim. We shared this theme with our students in art class in order to prepare them for Unity Day.



While many of the students were excited to get right to work on the chalk mural, other students took some “extra-support”. It was interesting observing which groups immediately decided amongst each other who would lie on the ground, who would trace and who would start decorating the bodies. Other groups stood around, complained about having to lie on the ground, etc. Fortunately, we had extra teachers assisting, so we were able to help the groups divide up the roles, provide some encouragement and direction as to where to work and give the students some ideas about patterns and designs to make the murals stand out. Some teachers even got into the chalk mural themselves! Here is our Physical Education teacher, Mr. McCracken, showing off his art skills…

The students rotated through the chalk mural project in groups, accompanied by their homeroom teachers. The homeroom teachers assisted by having the students already grouped into “fours”, so we could quickly explain the project and the statistical basis. We had a visual to show, as well, just in case students couldn’t envision our idea. Throughout the school day, we took our art classes outside to continue the mural project, as well as fix up some “bodies” that may have lacked color or didn’t look complete. We even added the written statistic, “1 in 4”, as well as words of kindness, to embellish the mural project.


It was a beautiful Fall day to spend outside with the students. The feedback we received from our administrators and other teachers in the building was very positive. The kids seemed to really “get” the message and we furthered the conversation in art class by showing a couple of great “You Tube” videos that talked about overcoming the experience of being bullied, as well as a powerful video on Cyberbullying. The students shared personal stories and talked about ways they can stand up when they see a peer being bullied.

The chalk mural serves as a visual reminder of the alarming statistic of “1 in 4”. Hopefully our students will be a little kinder to one another and keep in mind that they can be part of the solution. Finally, we extended our art curriculum outside of the classroom and demonstrated that art can be a powerful voice that can be used to create awareness and promote change.


Hopefully, my students will look back on this day and remember their art teacher for providing a memorable experience to empower them to be the change in this world and make it a more positive place. After all, we ALL can make a difference and help to promote unity in our school, community and this great, big world we live in.

-Mrs. S


Multi-tasking in the Art Room


We have a saying in the art room that refers to the classroom space as “controlled chaos”. It is a place where students are talking, creating, moving around to get supplies, sharing ideas and still learning how to interact socially and appropriately. To a visitor, it might look unstructured, however, the quite the opposite is happening and it takes a special person to be able to manage an art room.

As a teacher, you are responsible for all sorts of tasks on a daily basis. You are navigating behaviors, assignments, emotions and whatever administrative demands that may arise that day. There might be an assembly, a fire drill or a condensed schedule due to testing that affects the daily routine and you still have to make things work in the classroom. You might have announcements that interrupt your lesson, a child that needs to go to the bathroom right as you are doing a review of the lesson objectives or someone who has left their books in their last class and “needs” to go and get them “right now”. Let’s not forget phone calls to your classroom to pull out students or a request for a student pick up something from the security desk that was brought in from home. Oh, and let’s not forget about new students, absent students and late students. Only another teacher can empathize with the amount of daily “hijacking” that occurs on the road to educating our students.

Many teachers see their students on a daily basis. In our middle school, students see their academic teachers on a daily basis. This means that students can catch up on assignments pretty quickly when something goes amiss. For “specialists”, we only see our students one or two days out of a 6-day cycle. Fortunately, in our school, most students have art two or three times during the cycle. However, when students are frequently absent or class is disrupted due to other school events, it is likely that some classes will fall off track and you will have students at all different points of a project. Add in the different ability levels and pace that students work and one finds certain times in the lesson that you find everyone appears to be doing something different. How do we do it?

1. TECHNOLOGY. Our students each have their own Chromebook this year. While they cannot take them home (yet), the Chromebooks have been very helpful for managing students that are doing multiple projects at one time. Students are able to look up information, research images to draw from, explore some really neat online drawing apps and programs or do lessons I create in Google Classroom. While I have not used it yet, “flipping the classroom” by recording videos for student viewing can be a great use of technology and keeping students caught up on lessons. The chromebooks have also been a great opportunity to extend a lesson further, as well as offer students choices, which brings me to the next point…

2. CHOICES. There are all sorts of “choice-based classrooms” and varying levels of “choice-based teaching”. The basic premise is that the teacher allows students to guide the learning through exploration, discovery and creation using different materials and work spaces. Lessons are not teacher created, but student driven. In my art room, I encourage a choice-based environment after the student completes the curriculum-based project. The “choice-based approach” encourages further exploration and discovery, while building on skills and techniques learned from the main lesson. I brainstorm (with the help of my smART partner!) all sorts of approaches to a “bonus assignment” that students have ownership of. For example, our 6th grade students are finishing a Zentangle Name Design, so our “choice-based assignments” focus on allowing them to use zentangles in their own creative way, however if they are ready to move away from zentangles, they can choose an alternative technology activity or create an entry for one of the contests that are currently running.

It’s all about having lots of “quality” choices for those students that are finished with their project, while others are still working on a project. Everyone stays actively involved and on-task during class time. Students are exploring and even learning from one another, as they choose an exploratory extension of their learning.

3. SKETCHBOOKS. In our middle school art program, we require students to keep a sketchbook. We spend the first two art classes setting up a folder that will hold drawing paper and any handouts and information we use throughout the school year. Students personalize the sketchbook covers to create a special place where they can keep their artwork. The idea is to get students drawing outside of class and to allow the students the freedom to choose what they want to draw. While we do provide a list of “ideas”, we encourage students to explore what they are interested in. We require students to complete 3 monthly drawings. I find that the students really enjoy having a special place to create. I love seeing what they draw. Some students even include paintings and collages they create.

Lately, we have been allowing students to use technology to create one of their required drawings. That option really “hooked” some of our students and I am receiving Minecraft creations, Google Drawings, Pixton comics, etc. In the end, the sketchbook becomes a visual journal of their year in art. It is also a great tool to use when students complete a project early. The simply get out their sketchbooks and draw.

4. “CATCH-UP DAYS”. It’s funny because I feel guilty for these days where I give the myself the “day off” so students are able to catch up on whatever they owe me in art class. Obviously it isn’t really a “day off”, but it feels like it is because we start class off by going over what everyone owes me and then the students get right to work. We listen to music, everyone is moving around the room, getting different supplies and doing different things. Although it feels like it is unstructured because there are so many different things going on, the fact is that everyone is accomplishing something. Each students has a goal for that class period.

“Catch-up Days” only happens once or twice a marking period, so the students feel like they “luck out” when they get that extra day to work on a project or assignment. Students that are all caught up also enjoy these days because they have the freedom to explore some new art apps or websites, do some online coding, help me curate artwork for a display, change the art displays around the school and help get materials ready for the next project. Which brings me back to the term, “controlled chaos”…

Today, my students are trying to finish projects. It’s almost the end of the marking period and we have a lot of assignments due. I have students clipping up work and peer critiquing to get feedback about what is successful and what could be improved. I have students completing reflections in Google Classroom. Some are typing, some are creating videos. I have students evaluating their work using rubrics. I have students creating “Doodle4Google” entries. I have students working on digital sketchbook assignments. I have students zentangling and shading with colored pencils.

So, as you tell, the art room is a dynamic place. Things are always happening. Things are always changing. Kids are moving, talking, sharing and collaborating. I’ll admit, they are allowed to listen to music on their Chromebooks now (I issue “music passes” to students that turn in all their work), so the classroom is a bit quieter than it used to be, but the underlying creative chaos is still there and I wouldn’t change one thing about it.

Happy Friday!

-Mrs. S


Dot Day 2016 “Rewind”…




September 15th was “International Dot Day”.

This day is designated as an opportunity to inspire students around the world to “make their mark on the world”. The inspiration for this day is from the children’s book, “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds. The story is about a student who is frustrated that she just cannot draw. Her art teacher encourages her to “just make a dot”. She does and the teacher asks that she sign it.  The following week her dot is displayed in a golden frame for all to see. The student decides that she “can make a better dot than that” and thus, she starts a creative exploration of dots, which also leads to inspiring others. If you have never read the book, it is a great story about the power of making a difference in the world through a simple act. The book has grown into a celebration of creativity, inspiration and self-expression around the world.

Last year, my smART partner and I came across “International Dot Day” through social media, but since it is celebrated very close to the start of the school year, we were not prepared to embark on doing a big project with our students. This year we started the school year with “Dot Day” and September 15th in mind. We brainstormed lots of “Dot Day” ideas and how to get all of our students involved. We also registered our school on the official website, http://www.thedotclub.org/dotday/register, so we could download resources and information to share with students and parents.

Our plan was to have students create a visual interpretation of “their dot”, but also use that dot as a symbol of how they will “make their mark on the world”. As an introduction to “Dot Day”, we read aloud “The Dot” to our students and discussed the symbolism in the story. We then shared some inspirational videos of children that have made an impact on the world. We hoped these stories would get our students thinking about how they can make a difference in the world we live in.

The next day, we greeted our art students with enthusiasm and donning “dots”, as Miss Chris and I made our own special “Dot Day” t-shirts! We passed out a small paper plate to each student as they arrived and let them sit in groups at large tables. We had an assortment of art supplies at each table, in baskets, for students to embellish and create their dots. We included pom-poms, constructions paper, assorted patterned papers, pipe cleaners, stickers, magazine scraps, feathers, etc. I think the only thing we left in the craft closet was the glitter!


In order to add a collaborative aspect to the”Dot Day” experience, we decided to connect online with the art teachers in other buildings within our school district that were celebrating “Dot Day”. Using “Google Hangouts”, and with the help of our district’s Technology Team, we were able to live stream our students working, as well as watch the other art classes create their dots. Students shared their artwork, talked about their inspiration and talked about how they will “make their mark” on camera between buildings. It was such a fun experience seeing our middle school students connect with the middle school students at a different campus, as well as connect with kindergarten students and hear about their dot creations.

It kind of felt like a craft supply closet exploded in the art room by the end of the day, but the overall experience was really spontaneous, creative and fun for the students and us. The technology component added a new level of interaction which I look forward to using again. The feedback we got from students was great and our “dot display” quickly decorated the halls just in time for Open House! We even managed to get our local news stations to show up that day and interview the students and myself.  You can watch it here: http://www.pahomepage.com/news/happy-international-dot-day-leave-your-mark-on-the-world

I was quite proud of how memorable the day turned out. I am already looking forward to “Dot Day 2017”!

-Mrs. S

Yin to my Yang…

Balance. It is an amazing word that we all strive for. Maybe it is finding the balance between work and play. Perhaps it is finding the balance between responsibility and freedom. It could be delegation to some and letting go for others. As educators, we strive to find balance. It could be the balance between paperwork, lesson planning, grading and professional responsibilities while still being an effective teacher. It could be the the balance between doing what is comfortable in the classroom and taking new risks. It could simply be learning to say “no” when you just can’t do one more thing for someone else.

Over the past year, I have been fortunate enough to be across the hall from an amazing art teacher. While I have the experience of teaching middle school art for almost two decades, my colleague comes from a high school background full of not only studio experience, but also a background (and enthusiasm!) for technology. This is fresh and exciting! I love that I can talk about a new idea that integrates technology and my pARTner will help make it happen. More than that, I appreciate how we truly BALANCE each other out.

For every new idea, we are able to make sure it still meets our curricular intent. We debate, we rework. We question and test. We both want OUR art program to be successful and it’s a team effort to the finish line. When my pARTner and I brainstorm new ideas, lessons, and strategies, we are able to quickly prioritize, take charge based on our own individual strengths and make it happen. Sometimes the idea gets put on the shared “to do” list via Google Docs or sometimes we surprise one another with the updated rubric, all typed and ready to go (and shared of course in Google Drive!). Other times we just decide to toss it out the window and re-start. The most rewarding part? We truly are a team. We push each other. We challenge each other. We have big dreams and goals for our middle school art program.

Balance. It’s a powerful word. I have spent many years looking for it. I finally found it in the little art rooms, separated by a shared closet. Sometimes crazy is on one side and we escape to the other just to find a moment of peace. Sometimes we run full force through the closet in our “a-ha” moment. It’s being a cheerleader when we feel beat down. In the end, it all comes back to balance…the “yin to the yang”.

-Mrs. Shemanskyimg_1992