Video Refreshes Elementary Art Classes

“Hello, Elmwood artists!” sings teacher Bonnie Gaus, greeting students in each of her new video demonstrations prepared for her second and third-grade art classes. This year Gaus has begun producing short videos for her students to communicate directions, demonstrations, as well as a whole lot of creative fun. Meeting 23 classes of second and third graders in a single week means a whole lot of students make their way through her art classroom. Working with every one of the more than 500 students at Elmwood Elementary poses a different kind of challenge. Veteran art teacher Gaus was inspired to try something new this year and making videos for her students has reignited her teaching. “I saw other teachers doing it on YouTube. And I thought this would be great when I introduce choices because this is a choice-based classroom,” Gaus said. “I teach skills, not specific projects. I show them how to use the different tools and then they choose their subject matter.” The videos Gaus has already produced have changed her classroom. Part demonstration of artistic techniques, part explicit direction about getting started and cleaning up, Gaus’ foray into video production has already had some significant benefits. “I am able to show everything visually and write it down, so they can watch and read it. Each kid gets the same exact information. And they just retain it better. With the video, I don’t know what it is, but they are completely enthralled,” Gaus explained. Third-grader Elena noticed some other advantages, as well. “You can turn up the volume and hear it better. Since the screen is so big, everyone can see it. If she is sitting right there and trying to show us, some people won’t be able to see or hear her.” Photo: Art Students WorkingAnother factor that has helped Gaus involves time management. Each art class only lasts forty minutes, once a week, which means time is particularly precious. The video production process has helped Gaus revisit all her demonstrations with an eye squarely focused on duration. “I can look at the video and it helps me to make things concise. Since art is so short, I want to keep the demos between 4 and 7 minutes,” Gaus said, maximizing the time that students have to be creative and engage in making art. “It forces me to make information as clear and concise as I can.” Third-grader Lila has enjoyed the new effort, “They are funny and they teach you new things. It is kind of easier to understand, instead of her talking directly. When you watch the videos you can tell better what she is saying, because before she might have to repeat if some kids are talking over her.” “I won’t forget to tell them something. They are all engaged and they are not raising their hands to give comments because they are watching,” Gaus added. “There is a lot of information for them to retain, especially when they are excited to get started.” Photo: Art Students Watching Another student Mia explained, “I feel like it is really helpful. She makes the videos fun and interesting to watch while explaining the directions to do. I like how she uses materials to help. She draws stuff to help us get ideas.” “Mrs. Gaus can be in like twelve places in five minutes. Then, she can have materials she can use that are not in the room,” classmate Zach said of the videos. “They are interesting, so more kids want to pay attention. So, it is easier to follow directions.” Not only are the students gaining from the new experience but the teacher has become the student again. “I just wanted to get excited about something new and I wasn’t really using technology. So I am teaching myself new things,” Gaus said. The art teacher dove straight into teaching herself how to make the videos from start to finish. Preferring to work alone, he spends considerable time planning, shooting, and editing her productions. “I write out what I want to do. The most challenging thing is when I watch myself and make it interesting, and the editing,” Gaus said, minimizing the time and effort she has put into learning how to edit video with iMovie. “Each one is getting better but it is fun for me.” Very soon, she also will be integrating a set of iPads into the various centers around the classroom, increasing her personal and professional learning and use of technology even more. Still, the true charm is Gaus the teacher. Her classroom persona is filled with character but the videos amplify her playful nature and comic qualities. She revels in the character she assumes in the videos, exaggerating with energy and doing a number of voices with all kinds of improv puppetry. As another third-grader, Sophia said, “She has funny voices with her puppies. And the puppies are really cute. She uses them to tell us things and get us happy and excited.” The students are not the only ones delighted. Gaus said, “It’s exciting to me and it has made teaching fresh for me again!”

The Shape of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet

In the last couple of days I have been wrapping up a Shakespeare experience of Romeo & Juliet with my ninth grade students. In an effort to keep things light and entertaining when introducing students to Shakespeare, I use a host of video clips from both stage and cinematic productions that present the play in a variety of styles, as well as reading and enacting bits and pieces. Adding this video clip was an easy fit.

Since we had just finished the story, I thought an interesting and fun summative task would be to ask the students about the shape of the play. Plus, I wondered what they might think of Vonnegut’s idea about the shape of stories.

I wasn’t sure if a bunch of fifteen year-olds would like Vonnegut’s presentation or not, but figured I would try it out on one of my best sections. Almost no one in the room had ever even heard of Kurt Vonnegut, so I gave them a one minute introduction. Then somewhat surprisingly they seemed to enjoy it. Vonnegut’s initial “man in a hole” shape triggered some idle chuckling. “Boy Meets Girl” almost slipped past them without much reaction, but by the end they were all whispering “Cinderella, Cinderella” and laughed, along with the audience, in the video as he mapped out that story’s shape.

Afterwards, I asked them how we might find the shape of Romeo & Juliet. Immediately, hands rose and before you knew it we had list of over twenty key turning points in the play.

From our list, I asked them to coach me as I graphed the story across the Vonnegut’s Good/Ill Fortune and Beginning/Ending axes. It was actually great fun, as they cried out why say the balcony scene couldn’t rise higher than their wedding night together or how banishment had to dive far deeper even than Tybalt’s death. It was a low stakes way to see just how well they understood the play and some of its nuance. We even had a brief but very interesting discussion about just how high the final moment should be on the Fortune axis.

Romeo & Juliet Story Shape

Yet the best aspect of the exercise of all were the handful of observations made after we mapped out the story’s shape. One student shrewdly said it looked like a heart monitor, another emphasized just how extreme the highs and the lows were. All of that discussion proved a great way to discuss why that was the case and how the play worked on a dramatic level. Even a colleague who teaches history walked into the room, saw the graph, and asked about it. It promoted a short chat about the benefits of info graphics as a learning tool and representation of understanding.

While a slightly different application of the assignment, it was pretty effective and successful.

Another Summer Ends, Another Autumn Begins

As if the last day of summer rang a bell for the seasons, New England is already beginning to show its fall colors. The leaves are just now visibly changing, speckling the green with red, yellow, and orange. We have had a couple of sharp, biting cool nights which usually helps make for a beautiful autumn.

Of course autumn signals the start of football season, and the indoctrination process has long since begun. Of course soccer has started across Europe too. Plus, more games than ever are now on ESPN. I am loving it.

Go Pats! Cutest Pats Fans

School has gotten off to a good start this year, at least more noticeably than the typical first month. The only real trouble is that our computer network has rendered the internet almost unusable, which significantly impacts the day. Yet, I have been able to work round this for the most part. It is just mighty inconvenient, especially now that three out of the five classes I am teaching rely heavily on regular internet components, one is exclusively online, one is half online, and the other will spend half this term involved in a project that is almost exclusively online. Despite all of this, I am very much enjoying the classes and it looks to be a good year.

In His Grill

On the soccer front, my team of freshmen girls look like they are about to start really making progress and getting results. It is still a bit early to tell for sure, but the early indications are good. Their last game was the best they’ve played yet.

Ali continues to be a remarkable mother of our beautiful children. Fritz is really starting to reveal his personality now that he is smiling and cooing. He definitely has quite the expressive little face, in spite of his Chuchillesque cheeks. His expressiveness seems to be focused in the brow and mouth, as opposed to the eyes like his sister. Sadly, the photographs don’t quite capture this as well as video. As for Hadley, she continues to talk away with enthusiasm. If only she would do more of it when prompted by the phone. Then everyone could hear her little chipmunk voice cuteness.

Hopefully, the videos reveal a bit more about each of them that a simple photograph can’t quite capture.