Noilly Prattle: May 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Nine

Grade 3

Hungry, Hungry Whale
(Multimedia project)

     I had fashioned several characters from various materials: milk cartons, PET bottles, papier mâché and paper clay that I used as models for various projects—such as the pink dinosaur on the right. One of these was a whale that I used as the basis for a multimedia project that included crayon, poster color, torn construction paper and images from flyers or magazines that I called the “Hungry, Hungry Whale”.

        This was a project for three weeks from start to finish. The first week was devoted to the base drawing which consisted of dividing the paper in half to establish the water zone and the sky zone and painting the whale and water zone. The papier mâché whale model was already set up before the class. The students were free to take “artistic license” with the style of the whale using the model only for proportions and juxtaposition of parts. Of course, they could faithfully try to reproduce the model if they were so inclined. My main instructions were to divide the paper in half with a “wave line” and to draw a large whale with a big open mouth [as in the drawing on the left].

         When the sketch was finished the students were instructed to outline their drawing with a dark crayon the color of their choice. They wax crayon functions as a barrier fence to prevent bleeding and contain the poster color paint within the desired shape. Once the outline was done I emphasized that they were to paint only the whale (any color) and the water, leaving the sky area white [picture on the right]. That was the conclusion of the first days lesson. The drawings were then put on the drying rack to dry and the painting materials washed and put away.

         Day Two was utilized in tearing old construction paper remnants (that I kept in a cardboard box from other projects) into roughly 1 ~ 2 cm. squares of four or five colors and gluing them around the whale for the sky. I encouraged the students not to make a slapdash hash of this technique. It takes some patience and focus to do it right. The idea was to outline fairly neatly the head and tail of the whale and then continue filling in the sky leaving some white space around the edges [picture on the left]. I'd-rather-be-running-around-the-playground Hiroshi's tendency was to tear huge chunks off the construction paper and glue them willy-nilly as quickly as possible—unable to control his enthusiasm. When I spotted him doing this I would give him the “teacher look” and remind him to tear smaller pieces and do some repair work. Results were, of course, uneven! When the torn paper sky was fully pasted the work was again put onto the drying rack to dry.

         For the third and final day of this project I instructed the kids to bring illustrated flyers and old magazines or catalogs, etc., to school. Then I told the students that this was a very strange and very hungry whale that would eat anything. The challenge was to find all kinds of pictures, cut them carefully out of the flyers, mags., etc., and paste them so that they would appear to be going into the whale's mouth, or, if you, prefer, throwing up from the whale's mouth. Once the whale's “food” was done, I told the students to decorate the rest of the picture in a colorful and playful manner. One final trip to the drying rack and the project was finished. The results would look something like this depending on the eye and skill of the particular kid. 

Hungry, Hungry Whale

        But, the very nature of the project was a lot of fun that the kid's could plunge into with great gusto and make an absolute mess of the Art Room floor by the end of the period. They would also “help” clean up with equally great gusto leaving two or three large plastic bags bulging with unused, crumpled and torn flyers, catalogs, etc. Great fun was had by all!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Eight

Grade 3

Drawing from the model [with Mr. B.]
(Halloween theme)

     As an offshoot of my draw-with-the-teacher method I introduced the tried and true technique of drawing from the model that is used in most traditional drawing classes in art schools, museum classes, etc. Since traditional nude models were neither available nor appropriate for primary school age children, and bowls of fruit wouldn't exactly light up their eyes either, but using a model is a basic exercise in looking and seeing, I devised some more appropriate and, for children, alluring “models”.

         By assembling various elements into a recognizable integrated design based on shapes and concepts that had already been presented and used in the previously discussed drawing with Mr. B post, I created a model from materials I had in my preparation room (studio). I had an enormous inflatable jack-o-lantern pumpkin, a globe of the earth and some other lesson samples made of paper (bird) and papier mâché mask-like objects [see right].

         I then chose a couple of corrugated cardboard boxes of different heights, put them together one in front of the other and covered them with a large piece of material that had a lady bug pattern (more circles). Placing the pumpkin (with flat thin plastic 'rope' for hair) on the top and the bird on the lower shelf, the globe on the left and a little to the back and leaning the mask-like objects against either side of the box produced a colorful and fun model, albeit more than a little challenging, for the kids. The cartoon-like quality of the model distracted the children's attention from the actual level of challenge it entailed.

         Needless, to say, I didn't leave them hanging from a cliff by their fingernails. I would start by pointing out the concepts we had already discussed like shapes and lines. They could readily see that the basic shapes involved were circles that they had already proven to themselves they could do from the Panda picture. But this, clearly, was far more complex and they would need direction as to where to transpose the objects from a three-dimensional model to a flat piece of paper. And so, once again, I worked on the whiteboard establishing the layout and positioning on the paper while issuing directions and commands.

         Children don't readily see that there is big difference in the size of the various objects, especially the pumpkin vis-a-vis the other circles. Oh, they can see that it is bigger, but have difficulty transferring that seeing to a proportional drawing on their paper. A close look at the picture will reveal that the pumpkin takes up the whole top half of the paper and most of the other elements are on the bottom half while the globe is in between (I later eliminated the globe to simplify the picture, it tended to make it look too busy and confused the kids).

         To teach this lesson I only instructed the children in the basic layout and shapes [on the right without the globe] and left the details to them to draw by looking at the model carefully and encouraging them to represent it as accurately as they could while allowing plenty of room for creativity. I didn't insist on an exact reproduction, which is pretty much impossible anyhow. Everyone sees things differently while looking at the same thing. This lesson was a project for two weeks. We would draw the pencil sketch and black line it with felt tip markers the first week, and color and finish the picture the second week. 

         As in the previous post, the results were, of course, varied. But it also gave most of the kids more confidence than they had before and a pretty decent number of the drawings were really quite good and in some cases I would say more whimsical than mine. Which, of course, was a delight to see and encouragement for me that these methods were working.

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Seven

Grade 3

Drawing with Mr. B

     One of the biggest phobias many kids have about Art classes is what I call “the I-can't-draw syndrome”. Some children seem to have a natural ability to express themselves confidently with drawing, while many others, perhaps overly critical of their own drawings compared with more gifted students, soon take a defeated attitude toward Art. To combat this “disease” I started doing let's-draw-together lessons wherein I introduced some basic concepts of shapes and lines as being the basis of all drawing and using them in the cartoon like drawings children tend to relate to.

step by step whiteboard drawing
        The technique I used was to introduce the shapes on the whiteboard in English: circle, oval, straight line, curved line, etc. for a simple drawing of a Panda. Then I would draw on the whiteboard as I instructed the students using simple English commands [TPR-total physical response ESL method] such as: “Draw a dotted line up and down here!”; "Draw a dotted line across here!” (to establish a center point and divide the paper into quadrants [red dotted line]). “Draw an BIG oval here!” as I drew it on the whiteboard [see left], and they would try to imitate the shape, size and position on their drawing papers using the dotted guidelines.

finished picture
        I would then go around and check and correct the students' drawings as necessary. I would then continue issuing commands as I drew them on the whiteboard without further checking by me: “Draw a small circle here!”; “Draw a curved line here!”, “Erase this line here!”, etc., until the drawing was finished. The students would then outline the pencil sketch cartoon black-line style with a black felt tip marker and color the picture with crayons.

         The results were, of course, varied. But it gave most of the kids more confidence than they had before and a pretty decent number of the drawings were really quite good. In other words, many of them were pretty close to mine on the whiteboard. Since I was the teacher and not a competitive peer, they would be quite proud to have it look even a little bit like the “sensei's” picture. This type of lesson was more of a how-to confidence building one rather than an express your own creativity one. When a kid is blocked by an "I-can't-do-it" attitude, you aren't going to get much creativity. 

To be continued...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Six

     As I mentioned above, in the beginning I organized materials, class schedules and lesson plans for Grades 2 through 6 until the number of classes increased to where I had to let go of some classes because there weren't enough hours in the day and week to handle them all by myself. As I shed classes, first the 6th Grade and then the 2nd Grade, the responsibility for Art classes passed to the classroom teachers who then did standard textbook lessons approved by the Japanese Ministry of Education. I did not use these textbooks, which was alright, since we were a private school and as long as the required number of hours for Art were provided, the lessons were at my disposal. Being a foreign teacher, my Art curriculum became a PR selling point as a kind of immersion program for recruiting parents and students.

     To conclude this Call Me Mr. B series, I've decided to discuss some of the lessons that evolved over the years with a few examples for the various grade levels.

Grade 2

PET Bottle Dolls

1.5 Liter PET bottle in back
     Children in the second grade are seven years old, still relatively unspoiled, full of wonder and enthusiasm and open to learning how to make and do things. Manual dexterity and fine motor coordination are still developing and these skills need to be worked on. Manipulation of 3D objects are quite useful in learning to use the hands and tools and different materials.

     Kid at this age like to make representations of humans, so what better project than to make a doll. Interestingly, both boys and girls were enthusiastic about this project. It was with some trepidation about how the boys would react to making “sissy stuff” that I introduced the lesson for the first time, but I had been anxious for nothing, the boys got very much into the activity.

yarn makes great hair
     For this lesson I had the kids bring a 1 or 1.5 liter PET (plastic) bottle that once contained juices or soft drinks. I had them save their one-serving size milk cartons from school lunch (washed of course). Other materials included scraps of material from Mom's sewing, yarn and any other decorations they liked. Tools included scissors, cellophane tape, glue, bond, staples, etc.

     The PET bottle became the body of the doll, while the milk carton, covered with construction paper with facial features either drawn or cut and pasted from construction paper served as the head. The clothing style was up to each individual and material was affixed to the pet bottle with glue, tape or just tied with knots. Hair was made from yarn wrapped around a pencil case either way for long or short hair. The yarn was slipped of the pencil case, tied in the center with another piece of yarn. Then the loops were cut with scissors, and, voila, hair.

     Some of the dolls were quite simple with the less imaginative kids, but could get quite complex with some of the more romantic girls who made princesses with braided hair and even, once or twice, brides beautifully gowned and veiled. Boys tended to more macho dolls with swords or pop culture robot-like characters from games and TV shows; naturally monsters were big with the boys.

Conical Hats

     Kids this young like to dress up in masks, funny hats, etc. I found an idea on the internet for hats made from a paper cone. I worked out a pattern that the kids could trace onto colored construction paper. You could then roll the shape into a cone big enough to wear on the head. Now, 7-year-olds have different size heads, so the hat has to be adjusted to fit. To this end, I had the kids bring their cut out to me and I would adjust and staple it to fit. They would then design and create a head and face and glue it to the top of the cone. Voila! A funny hat.

Strange Clothes

inspired by The Wizard of Oz
     To stretch the imagination you can turn to “what if”? If people didn't wear jeans and t-shirts or school uniforms, what funny or strange things might they wear? This is an exercise in imagination and thinking outside the box. It also introduces a new technique—crayon resist. The child draws a figure of a person, childlike and puts odd clothes on it coloring it with a wax or plastic base crayon that will “resist” water based paints such as water colors or poster color. 

     When the crayon coloring was finished I introduced (with great fanfare and bravado) the concept of crayon resist. I would put my sample picture on the whiteboard, grab a big paintbrush, dip it in thinned poster color and smear it all over the picture while the kids would gasp in horror, assuming that I would ruin all the hard work I had put (they had put) into the drawing. You can imagine their awe and delight to see that the picture shone through the paint and looked better with the added color border.

     (Only a few were really brave enough to try crayon resist outright. I would see them meticulously outlining their drawing instead of painting over it. You could see the brain ticking over: “I put too much work into this to risk ruining it!”)

To be continued...

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Five

The game center

game center in rear of photo under the whiteboard
      I needed a self-contained system of rewards for acceptable and consequences for unacceptable behavior and I hit on the idea of setting up a game center and made a big production out of promoting it with the students. It also solved the problem of what to do with the differing rates of finishing a project that invariably came up within a class. I dreaded hearing “I'm finished” from the more, shall we say, less interested in how the thing was done than the speed with which it was accomplished, student. Looking at the result of the 20-minute (or less) rush job from I'd-rather-be-running-around-the-playground Hiroshi, I realized I needed an incentive for little Hiroshi to go back and sit down and reflect on the quality (or rather slapdashedness) of his work--something he'd rather be doing, but only if I approved of his work—extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic reward in psycho-jargon.

the teacher look
        I partitioned off a section of the large Art room, which had beautiful hardwood floors, with waist high portable metal bookshelves where the kids who finished their work satisfactorily before the others (and there are always those who finish before the others and need something to keep them occupied) could play with the various materials and games available there. There were Lego, wooden blocks like dominoes, picture puzzles, games, playing cards, etc. The kids were required to play cooperatively together with “inside voices” or, of course, lose the privilege and sit out the rest of the class twiddling their thumbs. In fact, I discovered that for some of the more kinetic learners, the game center kept them far more creatively involved in manipulating things such as Legos or blocks and building things than more paper and crayon or scissors projects. It was a self-reinforcing system with the rewards and consequences built right into the whole class routine. Of course, there were occasional “disagreements”, but they could usually be mediated by me (with “the teacher look”) at best or by separation of the combatants at worst. I rarely needed the intercession of a homeroom teacher and never that of one of our revolving door headmasters. The slower kids, those more “artistically” involved with their project or the ones maybe a bit too meticulous were able to pursue their work without the interference of the speed jockeys and the perpetual motion machines. There was a little something for everyone in the arrangement.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Touch of Glass

Do you remember Geordi?
Geordi La Forge

Star Trek junkies will know that Geordi La Forge is a helmsman aboard the USS Enterprise-D in the TV Sci Fi series Star Trek: The Next Generation. Geordi was born blind and his identifying characteristic is the wrap-around glasses called a VISOR (Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement) that he wears in the series.

What goes around comes around and Google has come out with a pair of glasses with a small computer attached that seems to be able to do amazing things. It is called “Google Glass”. So, step aside such dinosaurs as iPhone, iPod, iPad, or any other clumsy hand held device.

Here's a modest example of how they might look on you:

videocam and display above the right eye--
I assume the ordinary lenses could be prescription.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Mint Tea

    Mr. B. is still getting organized—and working on broken leg surgery rehabilitation. In the meantime let's talk tea—herb tea. We have an herb garden across the street from the front door. Like all gardens it is plagued with weeds. There are good weeds and weeds that are nothing but a nuisance. You can smoke and make delicious brownies with some kinds of weed, and you can make tea with others. One weed that is ubiquitous around these parts is mint, an aromatic and flavorful one; the smokable one is, unfortunately, highly illegal here and cause for imprisonment and deportation—a definitely unpleasant prospect. So, we have only mint in our herb garden.

        It wasn't always there, but it grows in abundance almost everywhere else around the place. While out walking in the neighborhood one day, I pulled half a dozen plants from the roots and stuck them in a hole in the garden. Lo and behold they caught and flourished. Other than used as a dessert garnish we didn't know what to do with all that mint, however. While living in Berlin last winter we had a wonderfully warming and refreshing mint tea concoction at a Vietnamese restaurant near our apartment. It had lemon grass and some other things as well as fresh mint leaves. Now we had an idea of what to use all our mint for.

         The first time we tried to brew the leaves, they tasted watery and flat. A quick online search yielded a website on brewing mint tea that made it clear where we had made a mistake. You have to rub the leaves between your hands to release the oils and then steep the leaves for a full five minutes. We tried following these instructions and the tea, using only mint leaves, tasted great. You can add a little honey if you like it sweeter, but I prefer it straight with no interference with the mint flavor itself. We haven't tried it yet, but you can probably brew up a big pot and put it in a pitcher and refrigerate it for a cooling refreshing hot summer drink.

Here are the steps for brewing mint tea:

1.      Pick about 10 or 12 branches of fresh mint leaves (vary according to size of pot).

2.      Wash them out in case of any pesticide residue or bugs.

3.       Rub each stem thoroughly between the palms of your hands
(your hands will smell wonderful for a long time afterwards).

4.       Put the leaves in your pot, add boiling water and steep for a full five minutes.

5.       Pour into your cup, add honey if you like, and viola, a nice pale yellow-- 
(yup, not pale green) cuppa aromatic mint tea.