Unity Days – Collaborative Circle Weavings

Unity Days have quickly become a loved Randall tradition! We have two Unity Days in fall and two in the spring. Unity Days have a dual purpose. One, to get assessments done by pulling students out to complete them throughout the day and two to mix everyone up by grade level and experience lots of different community building activities throughout the day.

This year’s Unity Day in the art room, students were all involved in collaborative circle weavings. Creating art work in circle patterns or mandala designs have long been known in many cultures and religions to bring restorative benefits and meditative qualities to the artist and the observer.

Part of an art show for the Race to Equity Summit through the YMCA, this piece is currently hanging at the NEW Central Madison Library in the beautiful children’s room!

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MMSD Art Standards:

Designs: Describes how different expressive features and principles cause different responses.

Reflecting: Understand that there are various purposes for creating works of visual art.

Interpreting: Understand that different subject matter and ideas communicate meaning.

Understanding: Know that the visual arts have both a history and specific relationship to various cultures.


MMSD Social Emotional Standards:

Emotional Development and Personal Emotions: Students will demonstrate a variety of strategies to calm themselves. Students will practice calming strategies and describe their effect on emotions

Emotional Development and Social Skills:  Students will use language to interact with others and communicate effectively in activities and discussions. Students will describe how words, tone and body language are used to communicate with others positively and negatively. Students will work cooperatively with partner and in small groups. Students will identify and practice strategies for resolving conflicts constructively. Student will work cooperatively and productively in a group to accomplish a set goal.



4th gr Birdhouses

Each grade level has one clay project a year. I’ve started a tradition of doing mugs inspired by Bruce Howdle with 3rd grade but with 4th and 5th grade, I change it up every year. This year, 4th graders used their prior knowledge from creating cylinders for the mugs last year to create cylinders for be base of a birdhouse this year.

Usually with clay projects, we spend time sketching and planning beforehand. This year’s 4th graders have had a lot of more difficult projects with a lot more art history. I wanted one of the last projects of the year to be a little more open with a little improvisation (which we also spent a lot of time on this year). So with this project I told them they had to start with a cylinder, they had to have a handle and they had to have a hole for a bird to live in. After that, they could make it their own!


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Abstract Art

Like many others in the world of education, I have been exploring the new Common Core State Standards. The art standards are not officially out yet but they have released a little information about each of the units. Some of the information they have released are all of the pieces of art associated with each unit. Agree or disagree with the standards, they are here and I must get to know them! So I took the artwork from 3rd grade unit 5 and created my own lesson with them.

The six pieces of artwork include the following:

Students talked about each of these by noticing deeply, something we had just discussed before their trip to the Chazen. Noticing deeply is asking questions, making up stories of their own, noticing shapes, colors, composition and everything else they see in the artwork. We spent quite a bit of time discussing how we thought each artist created their work and what story it might tell. At the end of our discussion, I revealed to them how each piece of art was made and demonstrated how they were going to create artwork in the style of each of these artists.

They spent a class period moving between four stations.

1. Using yarn to create action art like Jackson Pollock

2. Using straws to blow paint like Sam Gilliam

3. Using tape and brushes to create color blocking like Morris Louis

4. Poured paint on paper to create color blocking like Helen Frankenthaler

I am usually really good at taking pictures! But I forgot, each of the five times I taught this lesson, to take photos. But the kids LOVED this art class! Many of them told me it was their favorite. It was a wonderful opportunity for students to explore paint in a way that they may not have ever done before. They ended the class with four paintings each.

The next class, we took a good look at some of Sam Gilliam’s other work.

And watched a video of Sam Gilliam discussing his artwork. He overlaps shapes using positive and negative space. He creates a relief sculpture, which is a type of sculpture that is found on a wall or made integral to a wall’s surface, by cutting canvas that he painted and putting it back together in new ways.

Students cut their four paintings to create a new piece of artwork in the style of Sam Gilliam.


Alexander Calder

The end of the year means some classes have more art time than others and that means that some classes get different projects than others. This was a project that only Ms. Streeter’s class was able to be involved in.

We learned a little about Alexander Calder and his wire sculptures. They had originally seen his work at the Chazen Art Museum on our field trip and liked his mobiles. I showed them a video of Calder and his suitcase circus. Calder is just a big kid!

Calder’s wire portraits are fascinating.

A contour line is the line which defines a form or edge – an outline. That is what we needed to draw before we could start with the wire. We had to rewire our brains to go from something we would normally draw to a contour line!

Bruce Howdle Animal Mugs

The 3rd grade clay project has become sort of a tradition in recent years due to it’s popularity with students and even the teacher! But this year, I had the pleasure of teaching the lesson that focused on the artist Bruce Howdle, a ceramic artist living and working very close to us in Mineral Point, WI. The artist is famous for his large ceramic installations and murals, vases, platters, humorous cups, and other ceramic pieces featuring animals as the main theme.


For our unit we focused on analyzing and interpreting his funny animal mugs!

Taking inspiration from Bruce Howdle the 3rd graders designed and constructed their own animal mugs. they students first spent time drawing out and designing their mugs. Not only did the students draw out their animal as a mug but they executed design drawings of what their mug would look like from a bird’s eye view, from underneath, and how the handle would be incorporated into their design. Many students also drew out their designs on paper cups to help realize their 2-D drawing as a 3-D form. We also had a discussion on shape vs. form, visual texture vs. texture, and non-functional vs. functional art. Once they got their hands on the clay is when the real fun began! The students learned about rolling out a slab of clay, constructing a cylinder, scoring and slipping when attaching clay pieces together, and different techniques to add texture.


The next step was to let our animal mugs dry out so that they could be fired in the kiln.

We were then able to glaze our mugs and make them functional pieces of artwork!


3rd Grade Art & Music Integration

While the 4th and 5th graders were busy with their Romare Bearden/Jazz Music – Art and Music Integration Unit, the 3rd graders were involved in their own Art and Music Integration unit which was also the first art lesson that I had the pleasure of organizing and implementing. While the final products look very abstract the substance and lesson behind them allowed for students to use critical thinking skills and help them realize that everything that they learn in their Art class is connected to what they are learning in their other academic classes.

We began our unit listening to a short Jazz/Hip-Hop Instrumental song and really trying to pick out the beat/rhythm, the tempo, the pitch, and the different instruments. As a beginning exercise the students were instructed to “draw” the song with a line drawing. We then had a discussion on how the pitch relates to the shape of the line and an example would be sharp (triangular) lines represent a high/sharp pitch. Also, a fast tempo could be depicted by close-together and overlapping lines and a slow tempo could be depicted by lines that are farther apart. Finally we discussed how the beat can be translated as the background of a drawing. Then the students were instructed to do another drawing using various shapes to visually depict the song all the while still thinking about the connections between elements of music and visual art. The next step was an activity and discussion on what colors represent what particular sounds and music styles and then to add color to their shape drawings. The following activity allowed for the students to get out of their seats and move around a bit. I played recordings of various instruments and asked the students to use their facial expressions and bodies to show what that sound looked like. We had a lot of fun doing that! Their final task for the Art & Music Integration unit was to sculpt what the Jazz/Hip-Hop instrumental song looked like using pipe cleaners and add our sculptures to our drawings to create a final, mixed-media visual artwork of what music looks like.

The results turned out great and we had a great time! It was so great to hear the understanding in the 3rd graders voices of how Art and Music actually relate to each other instead of those quizzical looks I got in the beginning of the unit when I told them we were going to be drawing music 🙂

Augusta Savage


“I have created nothing really beautiful, really lasting, but if I can inspire one of these youngsters to develop the talent I know they possess, then my monument will be in their work.”—T. R. Poston, “Augusta Savage,” Metropolitan Magazine, Jan. 1935, n.p.

Augusta Savage is an African American woman who worked as a sculpture artist during the Harlem Renaissance. She began by digging in the clay and mud on the farm she grew up on in Green Cove Springs, Florida. She would sit in the mud and create animals from the clay. She would leave them dry all over. Her father, who thought they were a waste of time, would smash them. August didn’t let that stop her. She moved to New York and made a name for herself. Students learned about Augusta Savage and her story through the book In Her Hands.

SavageSide note: Please don’t buy books from places like Amazon. Amazon contributes money to the education ‘reform’ movement nationwide. Example: Chicago. Please support your LOCAL bookstore! Indie bookstores are local. In Madison, try Room of One’s Own or Rainbow Bookstore. Here is a website to help you find your local bookstore: http://www.indiebound.org/

Huegel second and third graders created their own animals inspired by Augusta Savage’s work.


Ms. Mincberg came to me and asked if I would create a lesson to enhance her social studies unit about learning about different cultures. I was going to do basket making in the spring but moved it to the fall to enhance this unit. Baskets are so important to so many different cultures for so many different reasons.

First we learned about sweet grass baskets from Sierra Leone and their history from Sierra Leone through slavery and into our current southern culture today. We also learned about the Navajo and how baskets carry stories with them. We looked at the Hmong culture and various European cultures to see how baskets are used in other cultures as well.

As far as techniques for making baskets, there is the coil technique and the weaving technique. There are many variations and styles on both of them but every basket comes down to those two basic techniques. Some students finished their coil baskets (made of yarn and clothesline) early and either made more or tried to make a woven basket with magazines and glue.


IMG_5192 IMG_5191 IMG_5190 IMG_5189 IMG_5142 IMG_5141 IMG_5116When I began this project, I had no idea what I started! So many students loved this project, that I lost over 50 plastic needles in the course of a month because they would take home more materials and ‘borrow’ needles to work at home. I’m pretty sure coil baskets ended up being a popular holiday gift in the Randall community!

There is a huge component to this lesson that I did not plan for and photos can not capture and that is how much persistence and patience Randall fourth graders showed through this lesson. The beginning of the coil baskets is not an easy thing for fourth graders. We discussed, at length, what persistence and patience means not just in basket making but in test taking and school work. It was really amazing to watch my students grow and learn through the creation of baskets. Sometimes, the lesson is better written by my students than me.

Wayne Thiebaud: update

This is an update from a previous post. Randall 5th graders finally all glazed their cakes! Well, most of them. I think I have 10 more sitting in the art room waiting to be finished. Most of them don’t have names on them. Many of them are still in the kiln because I started in the kiln the Wednesday before break. Then we had our two snow days so they are now just sitting there, finished, with no one to take them home until January. But they are beautiful and Randall 5th graders spent a lot of time thinking about details like texture and color and how to represent a flavor through clay.

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