Image result for Spotted Lanternfly art at Penn State Lehigh Valley

Some of our 6th, 7th and 8th grade students had a very unusual experience connecting art with science by taking an up-close look at the Spotted Lanternfly this past fall. If you haven’t heard of this invasive bug yet, it has been spotted in our area of the Poconos (in Pennsylvania) and you definitely want to kill it because its impact will be devastating to our economy and recreation.

Our students learned about the spotted lanternfly as part of an art contest being sponsored by the PA Department of Agriculture. This art contest was asking students to create awareness posters to be included in a calendar for 2020, so we wanted to educate our students about the bug and the impact it has had, and will continue to have, on our economy. This bug originally was spotted in Berks County, PA in 2014 and has been moving into other areas of Pennsylvania, as well as New Jersey and New York. The bug feeds off of fruits such as apples, peaches and grapes and also wreaks havoc on certain trees. The economic impact of this bug will impact farms, the lumber industry, as well as winemakers and the hops needed for the beer industry.

Through social media, I discovered a friend from my younger days was involved in an art project at Penn State-Lehigh Valley that was centered on the spotted lanternfly. We started sharing information about our artistic endeavors with our students and she reached out to me in regards to having our students help with a unique project called, “Spotted Lanternfly Zones of Syncopation” (SFZ). This multi-layered and cross-disciplinary project is being led by visiting artist, Elsabe’ Dixon, in partnership with Penn State Lehigh Valley arts administration degree program and science faculty and staff. The goal of the project is to create a large data map, entirely made from spotted lanternfly wings at the end of their life cycle.

Image result for Spotted Lanternfly art at Penn State Lehigh Valley


My friend, Elizabeth Flaherty, associate teaching professor of art history, coordinator of arts administration and co-coordinator of the honors program at PSU-Lehigh Valley, is one of the people spear-heading this ambitious project. She was a major player in our students; involvement with this large, collaborative project. She was able to coordinate an opportunity for our students to work with the lead artist in a workshop at our school where students learned how to carefully take the wings off the dead bugs (you freeze them to kill them, yet preserve the wings!), separate the wings by color, and pin them carefully in a circular pattern on the pre-cut templates.

We were fortunate enough to have our local news stations capture this memorable day with our students, which you can check out here:

The final collaborative artwork was unveiled in December on the campus of Penn State-Lehigh Valley and will be a moving art display throughout the region in 2020. I am proud that our students had an opportunity to help create art that promotes awareness about the bug, yet uses its natural beauty to create a collaborative piece that is visually mesmerizing.





We are more than halfway through our second month of school and I can say we have officially completed our biggest art project yet…2 painted plows! Yes, you read that right. 2 PLOWS!

In the state of Pennsylvania, our Department of Transportation (PennDOT), sponsors an annual contest in several different counties to promote safety and awareness about “crowding the plow” during the winter months. To help promote their message, PennDOT asks schools to paint on a plow with a specific message to educate the local community and create awareness. This was the first time the “Paint the Plow” contest has been done in Monroe County in many years and we were eager to participate. Yes, my smART partner and I are quite crazy like that…always up for a new challenge.

We committed to participating in the “Paint the Plow” contest at the end of the 2017-2018 school year and reached out to our school district for monetary support, as we had to purchase the materials to paint the plow and we had already submitted our 2018-2019 Art Budget based on our Curriculum. We were pleased to have our district’s Curriculum Office agree to purchase the materials for the participating schools within our district.

When we returned to school to start the 2018-2019 school year, we announced the contest to our students and asked them to submit a design for the plows. Their goal was to create an image that would promote the message, “Stay Clear of the Plow”. Students in 6th through 8th grade submitted designs for the contest and then we had the difficult task of selecting the winners. To our advantage, (and to prove we really are the overzealous Art teachers!) we wound up taking two plows for our school, so we selected two designs that would fit the shape of the plow, as well as promote the message in a fun, visual way.

One of the designs showcased a huge monster in the center of the plow, balanced by our school district logo and the state of Pennsylvania. The other plow design featured a “JTL” plow coming down a street with a snowman getting ready to be knocked out of the way. They both were fun, whimsical designs that meshed well with our Middle School artists.

By mid-September, PennDOT dropped off the two plows on the front lawn of our school and our awesome custodial staff power-washed the plows to ensure they were clean and ready to paint. After obtaining the necessary supplies from a local building supply store, including metal primer, enamel paints, brushes, paint thinner and sealant, we were ready to get to work.

We prepped the plow by painting a coat of “clean metal primer” on the plow and sketching the design onto the plow using black chalk pastel. Students then began blocking in colors and trying their best not to get the paint on them or their clothes. We had plenty of smocks handy and a container of paint thinner to rinse paint off of their skin. As careful as we were, there were still some spills. Thank you, Mr. Reichl, our extremely supportive principal, for handling the spills on the pavement with a chuckle. Fortunately, the spills were gray and black and make a subtle “artist statement” on the sidewalk.

All in all, the students had a memorable middle school experience. They were able to see the entire process of the plows evolve from a plain yellow plow, to a sketched plan, to a colorful artistic piece that required patience and collaboration in order to come together.¬† The students learned to overcome the challenges of a rainy Fall and the muddy ground that they had to deal with. We even learned that students will go to great measures to keep their sneakers clean…hence the plastic bags over their shoes in some of the pictures! We learned to try and stay calm around the bees and bugs when we were outside on the nice days and how to deal with the wind and cold once the temperatures dropped. The friendships that evolved between groups of students that didn’t have class together was an amazing thing to watch as a teacher. The pride the students had in their work each afternoon (which was also during their free time) was a wonderful thing to see. We even got some press through our local television news stations and it was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of our students shine on TV.

I am so proud of my students and their hard work on this HUGE project and I can’t wait to see how we do in the competition against other schools in Monroe County!

-Mrs. S

Looking Back at the Halfway Mark!

Well, it is still the start of a New Year and 2018 is already keeping me moving! It has been a very busy school year and I have to confess that my blog has been neglected, but I hope that by sharing what we’ve been up to in the art room so far this school year, you will understand.


Ah…the start of a new school year! Eager students, a new principal and several events that were previously planned back in August are already underway. We celebrated International “Dot Day” by painting our “Kindness Rocks”. Students painted two rocks, 1 which will be part of an outside installation in the spring and the second rock was for sharing with the community. We had a great time, the local media came, we participated in a “live-stream” with an elementary school and our north campus intermediate school and we spread KINDNESS THROUGH OUR CREATIVITY!

Next event, “ConFLUX”! By mid-September our 7th grade students were given the opportunity to learn about 3D printing through East Stroudsburg University. College students and their professors brought a 3D printer and iPads to the art room so students could have a first-hand experience watching the design and production process, while also gaining some career education in a fun way.

This workshop was in conjunction with the maker-fair, “conFLUX”, an annual STEAM driven exhibit that students could participate in. We had a few students share their skills by creating homemade hovercrafts, animation projects and STEAM challenges. I took my 8 year old son and couldn’t get him out of there-it was so cool!

We also unveiled our first “FAB LAB” Challenge of the year, “The Paper Airplane Challenge”…making a paper airplane that can carry pennies and travel as far as possible by flying it down the hall (art, math, physics and measuring-how fun!)

We started STUDIO PROJECTS in our classes, introduced sketchbooks and the first theme of the month, “Fashion Design” and allowed STUDENT CHOICE (something new!) giving students the option to complete 3 drawings or a project that reflects the theme each month.

I also hosted our first K-12 Art Department meeting and had the district art teachers participate in a “Newspaper Hat Challenge”, which helped us better understand our own learning styles and how our students learn.


October’s focus was “Unity Day” in which our school participates in different activities to promote unity and anti-bullying. JTL Art ran the annual chalk mural where students visualize bullying statistics.

The second part of the day was spent designing “kindness messages” that we plastered on student lockers in a “surprise attack” during classes. The reaction of the students making and receiving was so positive, that this will be on my “to do again” list!

Later that month, we had a visiting artist come and speak to our 7th graders about make-up design. He is an actor/artist at a local Haunted House and transformed himself from Mr. Pennino to “Father Time” using latex, make-up and costumes. The kids LOVED that!

We were also getting some really great sketchbook projects from our students…this theme-based “STUDENT CHOICE” concept was working…YAY!

Oh yeah…and we were still doing ART!!! ūüėČ


Did I mention we also do art? 6th Grade had a blast conducting experiments with watercolors and various materials as they made predictions, tested their hypothesis and made inferences based on these experiences. This was a really fun STEAM activity that students incorporated into their Zentangle Art.

7th grade finished up their Name Design projects and participated in PEER REVIEWS and created written or video REFLECTIONS using QR CODES. Any chance to incorporate technology into the arts, we take!

We continued our theme of “KINDNESS” by having students make handmade cards for a terminally ill boy, make handmade cards for a local State Trooper that was injured in a stand-off and participate in a “Turkey Day Challenge” that focused on GRATITUDE.


Finally, winter break is on the horizon, but that doesn’t mean rest yet! Students participated in the INTERNATIONAL HOUR OF CODE this month, where students coded their own games, art and Google Logos through¬†

We also participated in a Districtwide Art Show, called “WINTERFEST”. Students in grades K-12 had art on display in a gallery setting during this community event.

If you made it this far through my post, I appreciate it! As you can see, we have really been busy and this doesn’t even cover many of the cool art projects the students have done so far. JTL Art has been working tirelessly to showcase the talents of our students both inside and outside of school. Students have been participating in contests, exhibits and sharing their work on social media. Personally, I am on a local arts committee and embarking on advocacy endeavors to showcase our district’s art program, while providing leadership within our department in regards to STEAM, technology and trends in Art Education.

Follow “jtlart” on Twitter and Instagram to get a daily dose of our creative gig….we’d love to have you see what is going on in our art rooms!


-Mrs. S


DOT DAY 2017

What a fun week we had in the JTL art rooms! We celebrated “International Dot Day” with our 6th and 7th grade students. This has become an annual tradition for the art department to recognize how our students can “make their mark” on the world. We connect with other schools in our district, too. It’s a great way to make connections beyond our classroom walls.


Dot Day is an international day of celebration in honor of Peter Reynold’s children’s book, “The Dot”. ¬†The story is about a young student who doesn’t think she can draw. The teacher tells her to just make a mark. She furiously smacks her marker on the paper and leaves a mark. The teacher asks her to sign it, so she does. The next week the dot is in a beautiful gold frame, which makes the student want to make an even better dot. And so the story continues with a small act of encouragement leading to a huge boost of confidence. The young student is then given the opportunity to “pay it forward” when another young child inquires about being an artist, but not being good enough.

This story serves as the catalyst for “Dot Day”. Dot Day serves as an opportunity to encourage our students to “make their mark” on the world. You can learn more about Dot Day here:

On Dot Day, we remind our students that one small act can have a huge impact on the world around them. Thus, our “Kindness Rock” project came to develop.


Inspired by the “Kindness Rocks” movement, my fellow smART teacher and I decided to have our students paint rocks that could be part of a permanent installation on our school grounds, as well as contribute to our local group, “Pocono Kindness Rocks”.


To prepare for Dot Day, we asked students and teachers to bring rocks into the art rooms. We also took some of our classes outside on our school’s nature trail to collect rocks. It was a perfect opportunity to teach our students that artists often gather materials in order to create! The rocks were then rinsed off and painted with gesso to provide a “white canvas” for students to paint on.

Students were instructed to paint their rocks in any way they desired. This was their chance to “make their mark”! We showed them lots of examples of painted rocks and emphasized important painting skills and tips such as maintaining tools and materials, how to sketch and plan a design, avoiding too many layers, etc. Finally, it was time to paint. The kids did an awesome job!


We realized that most students needed a little more time to paint then we expected, so we will happily extend Dot Day into next week. We would rather the students create rocks they are proud of than feel pressed for time. Once the rocks are complete, my smART partner and I will spray the rocks with a clear coat to preserve the paint in the outside elements.


Our goal from this project is to create an outdoor rock garden for our students, faculty and community to enjoy. Our principal is very excited to display the rocks outside of our school for the students, parents and community to enjoy. We decided to wait until Spring to create the outside display due to some construction and landscaping goals (stay tuned!). In the meantime, our talented Tech. Ed. teacher built us a display stand so we can showcase the rocks within the school and for parents at Open House next week.

The students painted 2 rocks. One rock will be part of the school rock garden, but the second rock is intended to be hidden and shared with others. The students are very excited to surprise someone with their special rock and I cannot wait to see the reactions as our kindness rocks pop up in unexpected places!

Dot Day was truly a success and you have two very proud art teachers! What a perfect end to the week!

-Mrs. S

What Your Art Teacher Does in the Summer….




It’s funny how the first days of summer arrive and we all catch up on our sleep after turning off the alarm for the next couple of months. Instead of living by a school bell schedule, we can start to enjoy our days by the rise and fall of the summer sun. While many of you may be attending summer camps, playing video games and catching up on your favorite You Tube channels, do you ever wonder what your art teacher is doing during the long days of summer vacation? Guess what? I am making art! There is a difference though. Instead of doing student driven art and focusing on curriculum based lesson plans for middle school art, I get to make art for myself and others. It’s “my time” to reignite my own creative passions. Perhaps by sharing this with you, it will inspire the artist within you to try something creative during these last few weeks of summer vacation?

1. MAKING TIME FOR CREATIVITY.¬†This summer I decided to use a book that I purchased for use in the classroom called, “Dare to Doodle: Creative Exercises for a Healthy Noodle!” Each page features part of an image or drawing with a prompt to complete it. I love doodling, but find I am sometimes lost for inspiration, so this was a great way to incorporate some focused drawing time into my daily routine. While I enjoy my morning coffee, I can turn on some music and doodle away. Before I know it, time has passed quickly.

Looking for some drawing prompts? Check out “The Giant List of Sketchbook Ideas” at¬†

I find it very rewarding to start the day off with some creative “me-time”. Plus, daily drawing will get your ready to use your sketchbook in art class when school starts in the Fall. The more you practice your craft, the better you will be at it!

Looking for other ways to incorporate some creativity into your daily routine? Try some of the adult coloring books. This link provides a great resource of many different coloring pages to challenge the artist within you:

Here is a coloring page that was shared with me via a local business, “Ray Price Stroud Ford”, looking to inspire creativity within our community,

I will be sharing their monthly coloring pages with students throughout the upcoming school year, as I know many of my middle school students enjoy the intricate designs and patterns on these coloring pages. 

2. NEW DISCOVERIES.¬†Our summer may have started out like some of your’s. Going to camp. I enroll my son in “Camp Invention” every summer and this year he was super excited to go. One of the best parts of the camp is the “take apart” workshop where my son gets to take apart an old device or appliance and then re-create it using some of its parts in new ways. This year they also created bubble blasters, alarm boxes and other fun creations. The exciting part for me as an art teacher is the “upcycling” of lots of different materials into new inventions. My son created a “medi-bot” concept where a small “bot” would be implanted into a person when they are sick or hurt. The “bot” then turns into a germ ninja, a bone builder or whatever else can help a person heal. I thought it was a great idea! What creative ideas do you have that can help the world?

CODING. While you may be gaming away and playing on your tablets and computers, I am trying out some new technologies this summer, too! In June, I took my son to the local library to practice his coding on

This is a super student-friendly way to learn the basics of coding and how certain lines of code work together to make games and apps run. He had a lot of fun using the Minecraft and Flappy Bird programs. While many of my students have used during December, when we participate in the worldwide “Hour of Code”, there are lots of options that take coding even further based upon one’s interest and learning level. It’s a great way to learn new skills through gaming!¬†

PLAY.¬†A great “toy” we bought this summer was the “Makey Makey Go”. This is a portable invention tool that allows the owner to turn just about “anything into an interactive something”. I have been working really hard on looking for ways to inspire my son “to invent” this summer, but also knew it was a tool that could be implemented into the art room. My smART partner, Miss Chris, was fortunate enough to get a small set of Makey Makey’s for her art room last spring, so this is something that some of our art students have already played with. Having this smaller version at home allowed for further exploration of some of the possibilities of the Makey Makey.

3. PRACTICING MY OWN CRAFT.¬†Finally, summer affords me the time to practice my own art. I LOVE hand lettering and fonts. I can spend oodles of time exploring Pinterest to gather ideas and inspiration of beautiful lettering styles and design ideas. A few years ago, I launched my own creative endeavor called, “Handmade by Mercy”. I design, paint and draw hand lettered signs for people. It is a great way for me to do my own art and stay creatively challenged. While I do not have a big business, it is very satisfying to be an artist outside of the classroom and I have made more than 100 signs over the past few years that have been sold or donated to charity!¬†

These are just two of the many signs that I created this summer. One is in progress, on pallet wood and was rather large. The other sign was painted on canvas. I love the challenge of taking someone’s words and turning them into a work of art that can be cherished for years to come by the recipient.

Another project that my son and I participated in this summer was called “Pocono Kindness Rocks”. The idea is that you paint rocks with either an image, patterns or message and leave the rocks somewhere in the community for someone to find. That person can either keep the rock or re-hide the rock somewhere new. It was a project that was brought to our area by myself and two friends. You can learn more about it here:¬†

The group was also featured on the local news stations and there is a Facebook Page that you can post to,

My son had a great time hiding our rocks. We even found one at our local library throughout our “hiding” adventure! Maybe this will inspire you to get outside and hide or seek, while spreading kindness through your creativity? Be ready to build on this kindness project this Fall, too!

However, let’s not rush what is left of summer. Enjoy the last few weeks. Try something creative. Share it with me in the comments or tag us on Instagram or Twitter “@jtlart”.

I look forward to seeing everyone back at school soon!


-Mrs. S


Thanks to Facebook, I made a cool discovery about an initiative to take learning outdoors by celebrating national “Outdoor Classroom Day”. After some research and signing up through the link, I realized this site was a great resource for all teachers of all subjects!

Check it out at:

GETTING OUTSIDE…We have a fantastic outdoor trail space on our school grounds that our principal has been encouraging teachers to use, so this seemed like a great way to use our outside environment for a fun learning experience.

ADDING A LEARNING COMPONENT…My colleague and I put together a “Photo Scavenger Hunt” for our art classes. We brainstormed some curriculum based “challenges” such as photographing something soft and something rough, which reinforced one of the “Elements of Design”, texture. We encouraged photography skills through the use of light and shadows. Of course, we allowed for creativity by having students take an image from a “bug’s eye view” of the world.

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION…Students were permitted to bring their cell phones to art class to take pictures. If a student didn’t have a phone, they could use their Chromebooks or one of the classroom iPads to take pictures. Students were encouraged to put together a slideshow, video or share their best photo with peers using “Google Classroom”. Another benefit to this lesson was having students navigate the various forms of technology and how to get their photos into their “Google Drive” account from their personal devices.

DISCOVERIES…It was really fun to see students partner up between classes and work together to try and get all of the pictures on the scavenger hunt. Unfortunately, there weren’t too many clouds out, so they were a little disappointed that they couldn’t find a “cloud that looked like an animal”. However, they did find a toad!

SUCCESS…The day turned out to be a lot of fun! It sure felt like summer, as it was 90 degrees out and a bit buggy, but the shade on the trail made it bearable for everyone. It was an excellent chance to break up the normal school day, as the year winds down. The students also had an opportunity to use their photography skills and tune into the natural beauty our school is surrounded with.

Paper Roller Coaster STEAM Challenge



My 6th grade students have embarked on their first official “STEAM” based studio project in the art room. The challenge? They need to construct a “paper roller coaster” that allows a marble to travel along the track in one continuous motion. The students are working in small groups on this collaborative sculpture and are treating the project as a business venture. It’s pretty exciting to see everything unfold!



We have started using Kidblog,, to practice writing in the art room and reinforce ELA goals. This site is a super-student friendly site to use with students that allows teachers to control the privacy of posts and encourage digital etiquette skills in a supervised setting. It provides a venue for students to take pictures and write about their art and works well with Google Drive, which our students use on a daily basis.

We kicked¬†off the lesson by doing some roller coaster research and blogging in Kidblog. Students were to write an¬†“informational blog post” on what they considered to be “the coolest roller coaster in the world” and incorporate specific facts about the selected roller coaster in their post. They personalized their blog by changing up the background and adding a personal “voice” to their writing by sharing why they selected that particular roller coaster. This writing assignment also provided an opportunity to teach digital literacy skills and remind students about copyright guidelines. Many students learned that they could not just “copy and paste” the text into their blog without crediting the source.


Students were placed in groups by randomly distributing colored squares of paper. After the students got passed their immediate disappointment that they weren’t choosing their groups, they realized they’d be working on something fun and it probably wouldn’t matter.

Students shared the features they liked from their roller coaster blogs (some even read and commented on their peers’ posts!) and this enabled students to develop a plan for their roller coasters. Students got right to work on developing a “blueprint” for their designs. Some even used online design programs for their plan!



Students were eager to start building once their design plans were complete. I gave a brief demonstration on scoring cardboard for neater folds, how to use a circular shape to create a funnel and how to make straight and curved tracks. Other than that, I reminded students they had templates and access to their Chromebooks for tips and techniques. I found the students were excited to just try manipulating the paper and cardboard and learning through trial and error. That was a “win” for me, as part of the STEAM approach to education is learning through discovery and experimentation.


My smART partner developed a “monetary system” for making students accountable for materials in her art room. The amount of waste that students create, whether it is paper, paint, or lately the “Fab Lab” materials, has been quite frustrating. I knew that I wanted my students to treat the Roller Coaster Challenge as a business, so I decided to give this “money exchange” a try.

I gave each group 10 “Mrs. Shemansky Art Bucks” to purchase materials and supplies that would help them build their coaster. The items “for sale” would definitely be a big help, but they weren’t necessary. Students also had access to “free supplies” such as poster board scraps of less popular colors (great way to get rid of brown poster board!), scrap paper and old worksheets since we have gone digital and large sheets of manilla paper that have been accumulating dust in our supply closet.

Students were encouraged to bring items that could be used from home such as paper towel tubes, paper plates, bowls and cups, as well as items such as duct tape to enhance their structure. This allowed students to “save” money if they brought things from home. It has been a lot of fun listening to the students debate what is worth purchasing and how some groups are determined to spend as little of their budget as possible. Students are also wasting less and willing to be creative with many “upcycled” items.


While I was very nervous to undertake this STEAM project, I knew I had to take a risk and give it a shot. So far, I think it’s been quite a hit! One exciting part of the project has been watching the students that thought it would never work find success. I have students that insisted it would be impossible to get a marble to complete a “paper loop” come back during their free periods, determined to make it work—and it did!

While my classroom is BURSTING at the seams with tracks, funnels and large coaster constructions and I am giving up my prep period to allow students to come to the art room to continue to work, the excitement of the students is contagious.  I am enjoying being an observer, rather than the leader. The students are truly engaged with one another and working collaboratively on a goal. It really is a win-win! However, the biggest reward so far is the radiating pride on their faces when their track works.

While we still have a few weeks of construction left, I am excited to share their progress so far. Keep checking back for updates and the final products. I am sure this will become a memorable experience in 6th grade art!



Malcolm D. writes what #art is and then shows off his imaginative “Dream House” painting to the world.

Youth Art Month¬†is a month long celebration of why art is an important part of our students’ education. During Youth Art Month, our students are excited to share with the world what art means to them. My smART partner and I have been working hard at sharing all of the amazing things our students are doing in the art room with the rest of the world. Youth Art Month just gives us another excuse to kick our arts advocacy mission up a notch!

Last year during Youth Art Month, we launched our social media platform using Twitter and Instagram. We started “jtlart” as our tag and have built up quite a following by students, parents and professionals. It has been quite exciting and really helped us start this school year off with the ability to showcase what is happening in our classrooms. Do you want to learn more? Follow us “@jtlart”!


This year we decided to dedicate a space in our art room for students to share what “#artis” to them. We had large picture frames built (thank you to our super-handy and helpful Tech. Ed. Teacher, Mr. Steve Bybee!) and these frames were suspended from the wall so students have a special “photo-op” space. We created this special space just in time for Youth Art Month!

The students have been having a lot of fun

posing and sharing their ideas with the world!

In addition to our social media campaign, we are participating in a district-wide “Artist Trading Card” project. Students in all ten of our schools within the East Stroudsburg Area School District are designing small trading cards with their own artistic flair. These cards will be traded amongst the art teachers at our monthly department meeting and then re-distributed to students. Many of my middle school students are adding special positive messages to brighten the recipient’s day. I am eager to see their reactions when they receive cards from other student artists!

Abby K. works on her “Artist Trading Cards”.

What are you doing to celebrate Youth Art Month? I’d love to hear your ideas, as well as why you think art should be an important part of education. Let’s continue to keep art alive in our schools! Afterall, “#art is” a creative outlet, a time to explore and discover new possibilities, gain an appreciation for design and develop a unique lens for viewing the world around us. I hope you make some time to create something this weekend!

-Mrs. S


In a previous post, I introduced my latest STEAM endeavor, ¬†“The Fab Lab”. Treating it as a seed that will grow throughout the school year, I was eager to share the development of this “makerspace” for students over the course of the school year in my blog. Here are some of my goals and observations (and a few reality checks) from our classroom experiences with the “Fab Lab” since December…

GOAL #1: ORGANIZATION…or controlling the chaos!

I rallied my students during the month of November to help sort and organize the enormous amount of legos that my smART partner and I accumulated last school year. After putting out an email request to teachers and staff, we were fortunate enough to have bins and boxes of old legos donated to the art room. However, this also meant that there were miscellaneous toys, matchbox cars, dinosaurs, shooting cannons, figurines and dinosaurs mixed in. While the kids loved finding all of the “retro” discards, I knew we needed a system to help guide the students towards constructing and learning through play. It’s amazing how side-tracked a 6th grader becomes when he or she finds an old toy from someone’s past!

We decided to organize the legos into categories. We separated legos into bricks and blocks, flat pieces, doors and windows, axles and wheels and bridge pieces. I provided several bins and ziploc bags to sort the legos that did not fit into those categories, which meant we had bags of lego figures, lego dinosaurs, etc. The kids and I did a pretty good job of getting through a couple of storage bins and I felt good about the system we had in place. I figured students could look for the designated bin to find specific pieces they needed based on the challenge. 


So, it’s been a couple of months of legos in the Fab Lab and the legos are no longer organized at all. They are all mixed together, but the kids don’t seem to mind. I learned to let go of my lofty goal of “organized bins” to help students find specific pieces and just let the students search for pieces amongst what is there. I think having all sorts of legos together in a bin allows for more creative exploration during their building challenges. The students are building and testing their creations through trial and error and I think that is furthering their exploration through play. I also find that they are willing to collaborate when they are forced to “share” a bin. Thus, I have now purchased classroom sets of bins with lids that house legos for each individual table. Students share. There is less bickering over legos and the groups that sit together are usually pretty good at sharing with one another.


Our initial goal of the Fab Lab was to offer students a chance to complete themed challenges using ¬†different materials each month. Since our students still have traditional art projects to complete during instructional time, the Fab Lab serves as a space where students can go when they finish a project early. This means that some students who work at a fast pace get to spend a lot of time in the Fab Lab and others don’t. I wanted to make sure that students had an opportunity to work with the materials long enough to accomplish the building challenge, while also learning how to best use these materials based on what the goal was. I quickly learned that a month was not sufficient.


After reflection and conversation with students, I realized that one material per month was not going to be enough time for students to participate in the challenges. My smART partner and I concluded that the materials should stay out for an entire marking period before switching out to a new theme. The students were happy with this arrangement because they could spend more time building and collaborating towards their goals. PS. The legos have been out a bit longer due to interruptions to our schedule and the students wanting more time!

In addition, I learned that not every challenge could be started and completed in the short amount of time a student may be in the Fab Lab. A student would spend time building and testing a constructed piece, only to have to deconstruct it at the end of the period. I have now created a small storage space on a cart in my room where students can leave their “constructions in progress” so they can continue to work on them during their next time in the Fab Lab. By allowing students to store their pieces, I have also found students are able to truly test and revaluate their creations in a more constructive way.



Everyone knows a challenge is more fun when there is some healthy competition! My smART partner and I created a “Leaderboard” with different categories based on the number of challenges completed. Students track their completed challenges on a “Bingo-style” board. The teacher signs off on the challenge as the student demonstrates completion. It is the student’s responsibility to keep their “Challenge Card” as evidence of their status. Students get their names on the leaderboard once they have completed a certain number of challenges and then can move to a new level.


While the leaderboard is still up and running, the students take awhile to move between levels due to the ambitious nature of the challenges. I think that for our next rotation, we may have to reduce the number of challenges to be completed so students can advance a bit quicker. However, I do have one student who is diligently working her way through the challenges, even coming to the art room during my prep periods! She is up to challenge 10 out of 12!


Another important aspect of the Fab Lab is that students really are learning through play. It is so fun to watch students enjoy a break from studio time and just be kids! As they sort through the legos, get excited to test out one of their creations and conquer a challenge, I get to witness their enormous pride. I love watching students collaborate to reach a goal. ¬†Students test their engineering skills through unconventional drops, running water, adding shoes and marbles to their creations to test its strength…the novelty hasn’t worn off. I like that the challenges have multiple solutions and there is not a “right or wrong way”. The seed has been planted in my students and their natural curiosity and self-discovery in the Fab Lab keeps the momentum going.¬†


As any good teacher knows, your first attempt at something isn’t always going to go as planned. It takes time and reflection to truly evaluate the success of a new initiative. I am still really excited about my Fab Lab and all of the exciting things we can do with this space. I am still taking as many professional development opportunities that I can to further my knowledge about STEAM and the makerspace movement. I continue to re-work the organization of the space, seek out new materials and challenges to do with students and get valuable feedback along the way. I look forward to helping my students grow through their creative experiences in the Fab Lab throughout the rest of the school year and into the future!

-Mrs. S



What do you get when you and your smART partner have the rare opportunity to collaborate compliments of a morning of testing? You come up with a fun Valentine’s, STEAM inspired, “brain break” for our 6th grade students!


The objective for students was to use 20 congruent triangles (note the opportunity to teach geometry vocabulary in the art room?) to create a heart. Being the “smART team” that Miss Chris and I make, I got right to drawing 10 (quadrilateral!) squares and drew one diagonal line across to create the 20 congruent triangles. She dashed off to the copy room to make copies on pink and purple paper to celebrate our “Valentine’s theme” while I cut 12 x 18 paper in half for a colorful background to work on. Within 20 minutes, we had our materials ready for students!

Once the students arrived, we passed out materials and had them get right to work. The first task was to cut out all of the triangles. This took a little time, but they seemed to enjoy chatting while cutting offered a well-deserved social break after a quiet morning of testing!

Next they started to assemble their heart. They were given minimal instruction, except for the challenge requirement of using all 20 triangles. This definitely proved to be a challenge for some!

Some students came up with a unique approach to making their heart! This was a great “teachable moment” about how there can be multiple solutions to the same problem…

After some time, we were able to get a winner! The first student to make their heart successfully, using all of their 20 pieces, won the prize- a Valentine’s treat. Here are this morning’s proud winners…

What a fun “brain break” for our 6th grade students after two hours of testing! They got to be social, stand up while working, chat with one another, collaborate on solving the problem and challenge their brain in a fun way.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Mrs. S