Art teachers get creative with at-home projects for students

  • RIGHT: John Stark Regional High School student Sophia Lundeen poses with her nature sculpture, which she made for Bess French's art class.

  • LEFT: John Stark Regional High School student Aubrey Fischer created this cardboard art piece for Bess French’s class during remote learning.

  • John Stark Regional High School student Kira Bergeron made this cardboard art piece for Bess French’s class during remote learning. Courtesy

  • Elizabeth MacBride (top center), art teacher at Christa McAuliffe School, teaches a zoom class of remote art students on Jan 21. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/23/2021 4:49:13 PM

Concord’s elementary school art teachers began planning for their September curriculums as early as May last year. They knew from the spring semester that teaching art remotely would be a challenge, and they needed to figure out a way of making sure they could keep a similar curriculum, even with students at home.

Then an idea emerged to assemble small, individual art kits for their students, to make sure everyone would have the same supplies. The kits contain paint sets, markers, crayons, oil pastels, colored pencils, sharpies, erasers and glue sticks. When the kids are in school, the personal kits ensure they aren’t transferring germs through sharing. At home, it’s ensures they have art supplies to work with.

“That was the biggest challenge – how can you take a materials-based curriculum and get it home to students, especially students who wouldn’t have access to it,” said Jessica Chambers, who teaches art at Mill Brook School. “I’ve gained a lot of flexibility as an educator. I’ve really been working on ‘well if this is what you have, let’s make it work.’ ”

Art class, a very hands-on subject, is tricky to transfer seamlessly online. This year, New Hampshire art teachers are having to be even more creative than usual to adapt their curriculum to an online setting.

Bess French, art teacher at John Stark Regional High School in Weare, teaches a lot of classes involving 3D art, like glassworks – something that isn’t easy to recreate outside a studio. During remote learning periods, she has been assigning projects that use materials like cardboard, something students probably already have.

“I wanted to be really respectful of trying to find supplies that were universal that every student would have at home because everyone is coming from a different environment in their household,” French said. “I had to get more thoughtful about what we are working with.”

French shows her students examples of artists who work in uncommon mediums to inspire them, like Connecticut artist James Grashow who works with cardboard and New York artist Ben Denzer who made a book out of deli meat.

French’s students have also been making art with nature.

“I challenged them to go outside and to make a three-dimensional sculpture using whatever they could find,” French said. “It’s kind of interesting weather right now because we have the snow, but there is a lot of ground, grass and earth open. Really thinking about textures, colors, what can you make with just snow, branches, twigs, rocks? They were excited about that.”

Keeping students engaged online is not always easy in a remote setting. Concord elementary art teachers have been doing it by having a different theme for the artwork each week. For the “fun with food” theme, students made 3D art tacos from paper plates. For the animals theme, students drew animals as rock stars, animals as emojis, animals with Zentangle patterns and animals with attitude wearing sunglasses.

Some teachers are having their kids experiment more with digital art this year, on programs like Google Drawings.

Melissa Lagasse, art teacher at Beaver Meadow School in Concord, recently had students use Google Drawings to create mosaics. Lagasse said the kids have enjoyed using the technology – one student in particular, who never showed an interest in participating in art class during normal school, thrived with the digital program.

“He really has taken off on it,” Lagasse said. “His mosaic is super intricate, he has these tiny little shapes he has made. I had to zoom in so close to see the shapes he has created. He has been working on it outside of art. You definitely sometimes see a different side to students in a remote environment that is positive.”

Elizabeth MacBride, art teacher at Christa McAuliffe School, says that this year, with more limited access to supplies, skill-building is more important than the finished piece. If a student doesn’t have drawing paper, she tells them to use lined notebook paper, or whatever they have.

“In reality, much of what we teach is fine motor skills, the practice of doing the drawing rather than the actual outcome,” MacBride said. “We are not necessarily going to get the beautiful finished product, we might just get the kids practicing their art skills.”

Most teachers said they prefer teaching live on video, making their remote classes feel as if they’re all working together in the studio. MacBride usually begins her classes with giving directions about an art assignment, and sharing her screen to show examples. Then the students have independent work time where some will choose to go off screen and others will stay on. Lagasse sometimes plays music on her computer to provide a virtual soundtrack while the students work.

Karen McCormack, art teacher at Broken Ground School, signs into her Zoom meetings on two laptops, one with the audio on for interacting with the students, and the other on mute, angled down at the table like a makeshift document camera, so the students can watch her hands as she demonstrates the assignment.

French says that while she tries to keep remote class as similar to studio class as possible, she understands learning from home can’t be exactly the same.

“There is being respectful to the creative process too, and just understanding that students are under different pressures in remote – they have siblings there, they have many people in the household,” French said. “There are just so many issues with remote learning that you have to be sensitive to.”

French said COVID protocols has definitely forced her to become more flexible with assignments and outcomes, but in a positive way.

“I enjoyed the challenge of being creative as a teacher and an artist,” French said. “Visual arts is about thinking outside the box (literally), being creative and being resilient.”




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