Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Adventures of a New Artists' Instructor

"Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." - Erich Fromm

You've seen the posts. Our New Artists love painting, drawing and being creative. Now for some behind the scene action!

Our goal is to teach elementary students about the fundamentals of art, provide experiences to use many kinds of mediums, and bring in guest artists to enlighten our students about what careers in the visual arts can look like. Pretty awesome, right?

I wanted to create this post for a couple reasons. First, the field of education is very giving and the more we share about our process, the stronger the field becomes. Second, it's important to document our process so we can grow here at Brashear and the general community can gain insight. And lastly, this will provide future AmeriCorps members with an understanding of what the program looks like from an instructor point-of-view.

Now for the low down. As an instructor, I have had a lot of fun researching art projects and creating lessons. At first, I was quite nervous about where to start. Do I have the tools to enlighten our students and to cultivate creativity?

Here is what I do have to offer, I have my B.A. in Psychology and I am pursuing my M.A. in Counseling. I don't have a teaching background but I have experience planning intentional programs, leading workshops and learning about human developmental theory. And, I don't have an art degree but I have been creating art most of my life and was once an art major (I took about 12 credits of fine art classes and 6 credits of art history). While this in no way qualifies me to be an art teacher, it does provide me with some basic understanding of theory, application, and history.

Between my knowledge of art and psychology, my skill of planning intentional programs, and my creative abilities, I knew I was able to be intentional in creating an art curriculum. However, I didn't know my students yet and I didn't have a lot of information about how previous AmeriCorps members taught this program in the past. Hence, my nervousness.

While keeping in mind the development and goals of the youth I am serving, I really wasn't sure what to expect that first day. I didn't want to go too far beyond their reach but I didn't want to bore them either. So, I planned two simple lessons on lines for the first day and hoped for the best.

When I got there and started teaching, I realized quickly that this was going to be a little more challenging than I expected. Each student brought a unique level of skill and ability. How was I to balance support and challenge to facilitate learning? How was I to offer an opportunity for each of them?

So, I took a step back. I had to let go of perfection and I just had to accept that some lessons would be more challenging for some students than others. And that is when I started to focus more on diversifying the lessons. I kept thinking, "If one student has fun with acrylics, maybe another student would have just as much fun learning with pencil." And I also thought, "If I create a lesson that requires a lot of patience, maybe I could follow it with a lesson that is more expressive." This thinking has seemed to work well so far.

Before I met the students, I started a simple curriculum map. It was just a table where I mapped out dates, project ideas, and art mediums. Most of the hours I use for planning the New Artists lessons are spent researching art projects and trying to figure out what's best for our students. I especially like to read about the experiences of other teachers who try different projects so I can learn from them. But, there is another layer of complication. I also had to consider if we had the supplies to facilitate these different projects or if there was a way to supplement certain materials with another we might have. Thus, I had to really take in our art supply closet and figure out what we had, what was useful and how much of the materials we had.

Once I got a feel for where my students were and once I learned more about my resources, I adjusted and made changes to the original curriculum map. Then, I created a template for my lesson plans and made sections for a learning objective, an activity plan, and a materials list. This kept me organized and prepared throughout the year.

What about the lessons and the content? In order to provide awesome opportunities and art projects, I had to immerse myself into the Art Education world. I had a book on my desk from a previous AmeriCorps member titled, How to Teach Art to Children, Grades 1-6 - Teacher Resource Book. This book really helped me layout my curriculum so that the lessons would build off each other.

Another resource that allowed me to reflect on how I taught lessons was a wonderful blog post titled, How to Draw Out the Very Best Artwork from Your Students, by Cheryl Trowbridge. Additionally, I spent hours on Pinterest. Check out the Brashear Kids' Art for Kids board on Pinterest to see all the awesome things we have found in our research for elementary aged art projects.

I spent a lot of time on Pinterest in their education and art sections. I used keywords like "teach art to kids", "elementary art", "art ed", "education, art", etc. etc. etc. This led to a lot of inspiration for my curriculum maps and art lessons. These "pins" inspired my lessons, my worksheets, and my curriculum map.

Also, I created art myself! I wanted to feel things out and try these projects for myself. It helped me figure out what should be simplified and explained. Going through the creative process myself allowed me to be grounded and put my shoes in my students' shoes. I shied away from using my examples in class unless it was to show a specific technique because a few wanted to copy the content and the technique. I wanted to encourage them to create their own using the techniques learned.

Now that we are into the Spring semester and I have become acclimated to instructing this program, I feel pretty comfortable in researching and planning art lessons. Some lessons are great, many okay, and a couple which are mediocre. It's a hit or a miss and there are many factors that go into a successful lesson that are out my control. For example, I recently instructed our students through a pointillism lesson and I learned that it was just a bit too much for our young students. While a couple students enjoyed using dots to make an image, the spirit of the class was just not in it. So, it's a constant learning process. There is no one right way to teach kids to create art.

The biggest lessons I have taken away is that the process of creating art can be much more important than the finished pieces of art. Also, 1 hour is not that much time when being creative. I have to constantly remind myself that simple is much better than evolved. And lastly, it's about creativity! I just need to have fun with it and cultivate a fun, supportive environment for the students. That's what it's all about at the end of the day.

If you have any input or want to share your experience and words of advice, please comment below. I'm always on the hunt to learn more.

- Corey

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Before the Selfie, There was the Self-Portrait: Day 2

Welcome back to our Self-Portrait series! This is an update of our after school New Artists project they recently completed, individual self-portraits in graphite. They drew themselves from observation using a mirror and they did a fabulous job. Check it out!

For Day 2, I gave the students similar materials. One exception is the type of paper we are using. On the practice day, I gave students half sheets of Newsprint. This time I provided our New Artists with Smooth Bristol paper, which is a heavier weighted paper for drawing.

I didn't expect perfection! All I wanted to see was them integrating some of the following guidelines into their self-portraits. Were they learning, trying, and having fun?! That was my assessment.

So, how did they do? Take a look! 

Some are funny while some are serious. The New Artists put a lot of effort into their self-portraits and they definitely captured something unique about themselves in their drawings.

Some lessons I learned this day:
  • Before the students start, tell them to start very lightly with their pencils. Remind them they can always go darker later, but they can't erase super heavy lines.
  • If I were to do this lesson again, I would probably drop the shading portion of it. Most of my students didn't get to this stage and once they did, they found it very challenging.
  • Continue to remind them to look in their mirrors. They tend to forget they are drawing from observation and not memory.
  • The more encouragement, the better! It's about the process more than it's about the end result.
  • My last lesson I learned... discuss more about self-expression. Self-portraits tell a message!
For a different take on Self-Portraits, check out the lessons past AmeriCorps members facilitated:

If you haven't read our last post about Day 1 of Self-Portraits, go on over and check it out!

- Corey

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Brashear Kids Love the Sign Language Series

“A different language is a different vision of life.” - Federico Fellini
What an adventure it has been to have Ms Michelle from Lend an Ear Consulting teaching our students American Sign Language! Check out our previous post to get caught up with the ASL action.

It was the first sign language lesson of the new year, and Ms Michelle and her little helpers were happy to be back in our after school center. After about a month of being away, it was a great surprise to see how much the students had remembered.

Our students have the alphabet down quite well. Look at those P's!

Check out the video below to see how helpful Ms Michelle is with our students. She provides individual attention when they need it. In this video, you can see one of our students light up when he realizes he's got it figured out.

They were also signing "how", "when", "now" and other basic phrases they had learned in 2014.

But, the fun was just beginning. Ms Michelle had more in store for this awesome day. She thought it was time for our Brashear Kids to learn to sign a song! You all remember the classic... "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!" right?! Well, it's back in full force, ASL style.

First, our students learned the signs for the words. Then, Ms Michelle had them combine singing with signing. We practiced a few times and even took a video of some of the action.

Check out a snippet of our Brashear Kids signing a song!

Finally, she had them stand, sign, and sing... what a challenge! I'm so proud of our Brashear Kids.

- Corey

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Library Comes to ALEC

Recently, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh paid our students a visit at ALEC! Maggie Craig of the CLP came to our after school program to show the girls and boys of Allentown what wonders can be found in a library. The Allentown neighborhood does not have a library of its own and many of our students and other community members are not familiar with library resources, so the CLP's monthly visit series are an important outreach.

Book after book, a profusion titles and colorful covers paraded before our students, drawing them in. Maggie read excerpts as kids cheered on their favorites and exclaimed plans to read new genres and titles.

When she'd finally run through her collection of books, Maggie challenged the kids to a guessing game. The students had to recognize objects by the shapes of their silhouettes. Speculation got pretty wild on the ambiguous forms, with birds and sea creatures in the running against vegetables.

After games, it was time for the kids to make bookmarks to help them navigate their future book explorations. The Brashear Association is grateful for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and our continuing partnership.The children in our program really love their visits!

- John

Monday, February 9, 2015

Cooking Together Series

February marks the beginning of a brand new Saturday series we are introducing at ALEC, "Cooking Together." 

What is Cooking Together:
Cooking Together is a family and community focused cooking class which will introduce South Pittsburgh residents with a variety of Pittsburgh chefs during an hour long session. The guest chef will teach a simple cooking demo using seasonal vegetables and common ingredients that may be available to Allentown residents, a food desert neighborhood.  
Each chef will present with their child, or a little one in their life, a recipe that they may enjoy together or they have created together as a family. The presentation of an adult/child duo cooking together is to show how easy it is to involve children in the process and how eager they are to be a part of that experience. Children are more apt to try and eat a healthy meal and snacks if they had a hand in the preparation and/or process with important figures in their life.

The Neighborhood:
The Allentown neighborhood, where ALEC (Allentown Learning and Engagement Center) resides, is considered a Pittsburgh food desert. Warrington Avenue, the main road that runs through Allentown, offers a few bodegas and a handful of restaurants to the community with the main grocery source being the Family Dollar.
Many Allentown residents are without access to a car and thus rely what is close and readily available.
+++++Residents may participate Fresh Fridays and the food pantries offered by the Brashear Association, eligible residents may receive fresh produce for their families.  

Through our afterschool programs and summer camps the Brashear Association has been able to offer healthy snack options to Allentown youth. Healthy Eating, Healthy Choices, Healthy Lifestyles is a ingrained trait of our programs as we daily encourage our children to make healthy choices when it comes to food, education, and life.
We have realized that many students who may have turned down carrots a year ago, now readily munch on them for an after school snack. When a new snack is offered we encourage students to "just try it."  The students hear this phrase often and begin to like, or maybe sometimes tolerate, many of the fresh snacks we offer. I attribute this largely to my predecessors as Education Coordinators, for the Brashear Association, who passionately cared about our youth's health.
An estimated 90-95% of our students eat or at least try the fresh produce offered such as carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, edamame and more.

The Stories:
Last summer, through a grant from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, we had the opportunity to offer fresh produce to our students and Allentown neighbors from the amazing people at Common Ground Farms. Our students from the Summer camps were eager to take items home and would 'shop' for items from our little makeshift farm stand. After the students had received their items  we attempted to give away produce to the rest of our neighbors.  Many offers were turned down even when we repeatedly told people it was free produce.  Volunteers went as far as to bag up produce and run it to the cars that were waiting at the red light of Warrington and Arlington, some drivers gladly took the produce while others politely turned it down.

An Allentown resident, and visitor to our adult computer sessions held at ALEC, approached me with a grocery bag last fall.  She asked if I would take the 3 eggplant that she had received a few days previous from the Fresh Fridays distribution and give it to the kids. She had held on to it rather than throwing it out because she didn't want to see food go to waste.  When I asked why she didn't want them, she simply told me "I just don't know what to do with them."  I then rattled off a few ideas and recipes and she just shook her head and stated she would rather the kids take them home.  

The Light Bulb Moment:
This last interaction had me thinking and puzzled for a few days. When I saw her again I asked her "If we showed you what to do with the eggplant through a cooking class, would you come?"  A huge smile spread across her face and quickly nodded her head and told me she would really like that and would tell others about it.
I realized that while we have seen success with spreading the gospel of healthy eating with our students in our programs, we don't always know what they are going home to because those same opportunities need to be afforded to the parents and community as well.  
There is a disconnect between home and our youth programming and that gap needs to be bridged somehow.
We cannot change the fact that we do not have a proper supermarket in Allentown, but we can work with what it available to us through Fresh Fridays and food pantries and aid from amazing volunteers and local chefs that care about the well being of Pittsburgh residents no matter their location or status.

Cooking Together is our attempt to encourage a food revolution in Allentown. We want to not only encourage families to be cooking together but also the community as a whole, choosing healthier options and making healthier choices together.

I felt that it would be appropriate to kick off Cooking Together with Bek Hlavach of Sweet Peaches. Sweet Peaches is a catering company now based in Allentown, right on Warrington Avenue. Bek is a good friend to the program and the neighborhood. She has come in during our summer program to share a pesto recipe for mini pizzas. Check it out and please make plans to attend on Feb 21st and share this opportunity with your family, friends and social media.

You can stay tuned to our facebook, twitter and blog for upcoming guest chefs.


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Germs and Hygiene

It's that wonderful time of year when snow covers the landscape and germs cover everything else. In order to curtail sniffles, sneezles, and other winter diseasles, we had a special lesson about germs and hygiene at our after school program. The students were quick to demonstrate proper sneeze and cough covering technique (into the bend of the arm, not the hands), but were duped by germ trivia.

Q: Which has more germs, a toilet seat or a doorknob?
A: a doorknob!

The ALEC students were appalled! It's gross! Everyone touches doorknobs!
The kids were quick to name other things that a lot of hands touch. They were coming to understand just how easily germs can spread.


To illustrate this point, I had the students pass around a slice of bread. After everybody touched it, it was sealed in a bag labelled "dirty" and all the students sanitized their hands. Then, a new slice of bread was passed around, touching everybody's now clean hands. This slice was closed up in another bag and labelled "clean".

For over a week, we watched with anticipation. When would a change show? Finally, some mold began to show after a weekend break. The "dirty" slice was much worse off than the "clean" slice seen above.

In order to halt the spread of germs and disease, people need to wash their hands. To teach proper hand washing technique, three brave volunteers got their hands dirty to show the group. The concoction may have looked disgusting, but as the students noted, it smelled pretty nice!
The pretend 'germs' mixture was a teaspoon of cooking oil, a pinch of sugar, and a drop of vanilla extract. The volunteers spread the slimy, gritty grossness all over their hands and showed the group.

When the groups was sufficiently creeped out, the hand washing volunteers trooped off to the sink for a demonstration.
With warm water, soap, and 'germy' hands ready, the only missing piece was the timing. To effectively wash your hands, you should take at least 20 seconds to clean them in the water. The group kept time for our hand washers by singing the ABCs, though two verses of "Row Row Row Your Boat" will work, too.

Washing your hands and sanitizing commonly-touched surfaces should become a more regular part of daily routine. Encouraging others to practice this basic hygiene will help to keep everyone healthier this season.

- John

Monday, February 2, 2015

Round-Up! 10 Healthy Valentine's Day Snacks for Kids

We've said it before and we'll say it again... healthy snacks are the way to go! Our students have happier, calmer, and more focused days when we give them snacks with nutrients their bodies need. Snacks like our smoothies and popsicles encourage our students to see healthy in a yummy way! So, we like to provide our readers with healthy food round-ups like, 7 Healthy Fall Recipes for Picky Eaters, so that we can continue to advocate for healthy kids!

With Valentine's Day around the corner, teachers and parents know the sugary candy is too. Rather than sugary desert-like snacks to pass out, here are 10 healthy alternatives that keep the theme of hearts, cupid, cute sayings and pink! 

1. Heart Shaped Cheese & Veggies by Two Kids Cooking and More  
2. Fruit with V-Day Messages by Abeer Rizvi at Cake Whiz 

The cheese and veggie platter is pretty simple. The only thing you may need that you don't already have is a heart shaped cookie cutter. They also include a recipe for homemade heart-shaped crackers. I love that they added some veggies too. Yummm!

And, what about Abeer Rizvi's super creative messages on fresh fruit? She has message ideas for apples, bananas, pears, and oranges! Simple and easy... that's my kind of snack.

3. Frozen Yogurt Covered Strawberries by My San Francisco Kitchen
4. Frozen Yogurt Drops by Team Marquis 

For both of these yummy treats you will need yogurt and wax paper for sure. The frozen yogurt covered strawberries recipe offers a new way for your kids to inhale strawberries. You only need yogurt (organic vanilla is the way to go if you ask me), strawberries (fresh and organic preferably), and wax paper. Dip, freeze, cut down the middle, and serve! When cut down the center, the strawberries resemble a heart. How cute?! Feel free to use a heart cookie cutter to get even more fancy with it.

For the frozen yogurt drops, you can use strawberry yogurt to get that pink color for the holiday. To make this recipe even more festive, pipe the yogurt onto your wax paper in heart shaped globs, rather than round globs, before freezing. Pretty simple, eh?!

5. WILD About You Animal Crackers by Bless This Mess
6. We're the Perfect Match! by The 36th Avenue 

Bless This Mess shared this creative idea which I love! It takes a little more time to prepare, but the kids will love it. You just need animal crackers, little bags (ziplock snack bags should do the trick), paper, and a stapler. Your wild child will gobble these up.

Another great healthy snack comes from The 36th Avenue. She has a  free tutorial and printables for this awesome creation. "You Are My Perfect Match!," how unique?! Mini pretzel sticks and red melting chocolates is all you need. She mentions dipping them in sugar or sprinkles but I don't think that's necessary especially if you are trying to minimize the amount of processed sugar. Get creative with how you give these guys away too! She used an old match box.

7. Cutie by j. sorelle
8. Fruit Kebabs by Modern Parents Messy Kids

The only thing that will take some effort for this "cute", healthy Valentine's Day snack, is the custom tag. Besides that, you just need clementines and a stapler. Get to it! This is way too easy not to try.

There are many ways to do a fruit kebab. Mix and match your pink, purple and red fruits and then shove them on a skewer, which you can usually buy at your local grocery store, and voila! This is another time to utilize that heart shaped cookie cutter if you want to get all snazzy. Plus, these would go great with our next "snack".

9. Fruit Dip by Sarah Westover McKenna at Bombshell Bling 
10. Cupid's Love Potion by Annie at Brashear Kids

This fruit dip isn't really a snack by itself but, paired with any of the fruit snacks in this round-up, it is perfect! The best thing is you only need 2 ingredients... whipped topping and yogurt. Perfect!

This final recipe comes from one of our previous posts here at Brashear Kids. If you have access to a blender, smoothies go over really well with kids here at ALEC. For Valentine's Day, use red, pink, and purple fruits, call it Cupid's Love Potion and it's sure to be a hit. Check out the link for our recipe but feel free to make it your own too. Smoothies are a great way to get kids to eat healthy. Add a handful of spinach to your concoction and no one will know!

I hope you like these 10 Healthy Valentine's Day Snacks for Kids. If you have any more great, healthy ideas about what to eat on V-Day please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

- Corey


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