iOS as an Art Teacher

Dad disclaimer

This blog is entitled nashworld for a reason. You can’t see the subtitle in this stripped-down theme I chose, but it reads: “to teach, to learn, to empower, this is my world.” It was only intended years ago as a place where I would share the reflections of my learning as a dad, as a teacher, as now as an instructional technology specialist. It is a quest to share my learning. In that quest, I have typically blogged about education, technology as used within our schools, and the roots of learning as it plays out in my classroom, the classrooms of my peers, others across the globe, and in the informal spaces of my home.

I have always been cautious of reading too much into the learning of my own children. They are, in some ways, an anomaly. They are growing up in the home of two devoted public educators. Therefore, their learning experiences in many ways are not typical. I try hard to separate this from my daily work. To me, this is an important distinction. If my decisions as a district employee weigh too heavily upon what happens at home, I am not acting as a representative of the 11,000+ learners in our district. Plenty of times I have seen the drawbacks of reading too much into happenings at home… and protracting that into decisions made for the masses. I am probably overcareful of that. I suppose that is my classically-trained scientific mind reflecting on the reality of such data.

The meat

Given these facts, there are still those times where open eyes at home allow insight into the workings of little brains as they make their way about our world. Today, an image my wife posted to Instagram took me back a couple of years to a learning experience by our then three-year-old that I once spilled upon this blog. You really do need to read that piece to understand the rest of this post. Go do that now, the rest of this post can wait…

Erin posted the above image including words from Delaney, our now five year old, that read: “This reminds me of that game… you know… Jackson Pollock.” This was in reference to her backyard creation of a twisted stick plunged into the top of an errant smoke bomb left over from the 4th of July.

In 2010, I wrote of her sitting upon my lap and finger scribbling within an app on my iPhone. At the time, I tied the experience to her early understanding of science concepts via an experience with music. Today I’m stopping by to record the latest in this saga… and it relates full-circle back to art and design. Yes, the above image shows a stick emerging from a smoke bomb. Big deal. And yet, the mere mention of this “creation” as something that reminded her of Jackson Pollock seemed pretty interesting to me. Something in this spontaneous little creation actually reminded her of that two-year-old experience… an experience she pinned to the artist. Do the twisted shapes of this little sculpture really mirror that of the artist’s work? Perhaps not. But in my opinion, this connection is pretty interesting for a five year old. I’m certainly intrigued.

Further, it’s not like that was the only connection to have happened since 2010. Just this past June 8th, I took Delaney and Neve to the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. In the course of that rather eventful day, we happened upon a painting in the “contemporary art” section that made her jump excitedly. Strangely enough, she ran from my hand to the painting above and read most of the display aloud. She remarked: “Wow… that’s Jackson Pollock, the app where I can paint.” Of course, I tweeted it. Actually, that particularly early Pollock painting held few of the familiar abstract paint streaks of the iOS app.  It features a bit more structure than his later works. She connected nothing of the “cells” discussion of two years ago, but she did remember the name. At the time I was impressed that she merely connected the name. Apparently, she conected perhaps a but more than the name alone.

iOS as an assistant

When young kids rummage about the yard you don’t imagine they have the names…. or the particular style of key artists… at the forefront of their brains. And yet, somehow she connected the design of this odd little yard sculpture to that of one of the many artists she has seen in the past few years. If that was an authentic connection, and it seems to have been, then I am definitely impressed by the string of experiences that led to this.

This all started with an iOS app on my phone. Did the app allow her to understand the core design nuances of Jackson Pollock? Perhaps not. I’m not much of a nuts and bolts art teacher. Do iOS apps “teach art” in a way we’ve never been able to before? I’d say no. A big, fat no. Come on, the title of this post was meant to be a little provocative. And yet, something is going on here. Something that certainly didn’t happen for me as a kid. I didn’t know who Jackson Pollock was until Art 101 as a Senior in college. Do iOS (iPhone & iPad) apps “teach” more effectively than conventional methods? Of. Course. Not. Do they quickly and easily allow access to a world the adults in the equation can take advantage of? I’d say they do. If you think this micro case study has value, then you must ask yourself: where was the turning point that led to the added value in this instance?

To me, there is little doubt that the value here lies within the synergy between attuned educator and iOS app. Would this have happened with books alone? No. Would it have happened with books + interested parent-teachers? Perhaps. However, the simple detracting fact here is that I don’t have any books that really feature the work of Jackson Pollock. Nor do we possess any titles that do a good job on abstract expressionism. We’re biology teachers for heaven’s sake. We have a pretty respectable and eclectic library at home, but it’s not the Library of Congress. Our phones, however, are windows to the world. And well, we aren’t the most unattentive parents on the planet. I don’t know, is this something?

 

On Being a Public Educator, or: Once Again, Why I Love The Web

Transforming by connection

In my time as a teacher, I have tried purposefully to connect my students to experts beyond the walls of our classroom. When I began as a teacher in 1991, this was a pretty difficult task compared to today. Contacting local experts in biology or conservation took going out of the way to recruit the efforts of kind, caring professionals who were willing to share their experience with my students and I. Today, it can happen almost accidentally. Today, a few extra steps can flip the equation to a reality where talented individuals can find you. While balancing a myriad of responsibilities in the classroom of today, this shift in reality can be a transformational one… helping to bring relevance and authenticity to the lives of students.

Allow me to quickly switch to the issue at hand, and then wrap up my case by the end. Today, I bring you yet another opportunity to assist the education of students in Missouri, from wherever you may be. Cutting to the chase, a talented and giving artist from the state of Florida recently contacted my students and I with the offer to contribute an a work of art to help my students pay for the fees of a field study on the coral reefs of Andros Island, in the Bahamas.

Connecting to art

Cheryl Ferrari is a passionate artist and a giving person. My students and I are quite happy tonight to announce an opportunity for you to own an amazing piece of art while making a donation to hardworking students who are doing extra work on their own time to learn about something they are interested in. On Friday, I will be able to add an actual photo of the actual work. It is an beautiful and massive 36×24 inch print on canvas. Not only was the work donated at an approximate value of from $2000 to $3000… but the framing was donated by a local company. J. Franklin Gallery of St. Joseph donated the $400 framing.

 

 

Clicking the “buy now” button above will allow you to enter a credit card via PayPal from wherever you may be… to an SJSD account to earn a chance to win the print. This is essentially a donation where 100% of the funds go toward a rich educational experience for my students. We are offering each chance at $5, and three chances for $10. The raffle will take place on the night of March 28th, the eve of our upcoming field study in The Exuma Cays.

Yes, public

You see, I take the idea of being a public educator rather literally. In short: whenever and wherever possible, I pull open a window of transparency allowing a peek into the work we are doing. Softening the walls of the classroom in this way has brought us many powerful connections over time. Cheryl Ferrari is a Florida resident who grew up snorkeling and diving on Florida’s coral reefs when they were vibrant and healthy. She no longer dives today, and relies on photographs from those who do as inspiration for her work.

Cheryl messaged me via Flickr in April complimenting the work we are doing in chronicling the life (and sadly, death) of coral reefs today. She kindly asked permission to reference our work, and three months later, she messaged again with the image you see above. We could clearly see the elements of the painting that were inspired by photographs we have taken and shared. After more conversation on the details of our program, she offered to donate a limited-edition print to help student offset the costs of the field study portion of the course. And really, though you can’t quite tell it here, this connection has almost left me speechless at times.

Connecting to science

Since 2000, we have had authors join our discussions of their works. We have had the Center for Biological Diversity request photos for use in a formal federal petition to list two Caribbean corals as threatened, and eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act. (it worked, by the way) We have had a former student of this program now with a Ph.D. and working on national marine policy, rejoin our community from time to time, as one of our informal teachers. We have had students live blog hurricane landfalls from the gulf, and report back from their work in fisheries from Dutch Harbor, Maine. And on and on. I’m certain I’d leave someone out if I tried to name them all.

These connections have transformed our classroom time and time again. It is this sort of real transformation that makes expenditures of modern technology worth the cost. Join us in some way. Take a chance on owning a bit of our story, and thanks so much in advance, from all of my students and I, for donating to such a relevant and authentic cause in the lives of kids.

Artwork thanks

Turtle Flirts” by Cheryl Ferrari… photograph of oil on canvas

Massive Sea Fan” is one of ours. See the connection?

Mike Westfall – Thumbs Up” is also one of ours

She Might Be Jackson Pollock

They might be heroes

Prepare for awesome.  Whatever it is you do for that…  do it.  I have no idea what you may have thought of They Might Be Giants prior to this post.  If you are unfamiliar, prepare for awesome.  You are hereby twice warned.

This band had a few airplay successes prior to becoming an educational boon for children far and wide.  Moreover, if you teach science or math to little ones, you owe yourself a catch-up weekend with these guys.  Delaney, our three year old, is a huge fan.  She’d tell you so, but you’d probably rather hear her sing.  Her all-time favorites:  Cells, The Bloodmobile, Photosynthesis, Science Is Real, Meet The Elements, Electric Car, Number Two, and Roy G. Biv.  There are many more she’s loved in the past couple of years, but really…  wouldn’t it be cool if a group this edgy would have something like  -oh, I dont know-  a wiki to organize all of this awesomeness?  Yep-  you guessed it:  This Might Be a Wiki.  Dig it.

So today I’d like to highlight an amazing band, a slick iPhone application, and a bit of the early-childhood learning fallout resulting from a clash of the two.

Today while Mommy was away, Delaney sat upon my lap for about an hour floating fingers through digital space…  spilling paint ala Jackson Pollock (one of my faves), all in the name of science influenced by TMBG.  As I sat in my chair piddling about with a new app, Delaney quickly came up to sit on my lap.  She’s used to occasionally plunking about with learning apps on Erin’s phone, but rarely gets that chance on mine.  Today, she watched me scribble about for something like 20 seconds before wanting to “…do it Daddy…  can I pwease?”  What do you think I said?

crappie jig I

Can you guess where my mind is in Midwestern March after 1) a very long and precipitous winter, and 2) flailing out the above image?  It is here that I have to warn you: the remainder of this post may contain mushy dadspeak.  If you can’t hang, bail now.

Cells

Delaney quickly said…  can I do it?  After a shake of the phone, and a clear of the screen. I asked her what color she wanted to use.  She promptly chose bwack… and after a circumnavigation of the screen with her sweet little finger, she starter chattering quasi-intelligibly about cells.  “What did you say?  What is that?  “It’s a cell Daddy…  cells are inside of all of us, it’s a blood cell.”  I had heard that much before.  But from there it got a bit more fun…

a cell

From there she whipped out an interior circle of sorts which she called the “nutrients” (smart me quickly realized this to be the nucleus) that “…has DNA in it.”  Now, a biology-teacher dad like me might be completely freaked out at this point if he hadn’t known of his daughter’s exploits with the TMBG songs and videos residing in Mommy’s iTunes closet.

She went on to tell me that, “DNA makes brown hair… and eyes… and boys and girls.”  If I wasn’t already in love with this little lap critter as my own little girl, I would have soon been hooked.

Who says this sort of thing when three?  As an instructional coach, I pay a great a great deal of attention to academic background knowledge.  Setting aside for a moment my deep beliefs in a rather constructivist approach to learning, we all know the benefit of children beginning any new learning with a prior set of relevant experiences…  or at the very least some of the vocabulary that goes with it.  How does Freshman biology change when these basics roll of the tongue like Schoolhouse Rock did for me?

cell number two

This cool little app allowed her to select new colors with the flick of a tiny finger.  I pointed out which buttons did what, and she quickly drank it in like it was the tricky block atop the Lego tower.  She then cranked out a few more cells and ended with, “Daddy, it’s your turn… you do it,” as a plea for modeling some fun.  What did I do?  Not much more than what she had already done.  It’s a bit tough trying to squeeze in a mitochondria with big kid fingertips.  All I did was to ask questions along the way.  I asked if she would tell me what I needed to do next.  I let her run the show.  I tried to roll with what she already thought was important.  She’s three.  Not fourteen.

trees and birds in the rainforest

After tiring of cells, she wanted to make ” a tree.”  She shook the phone to get a blank white slate, and then begged me to “draw too.”  She implored me to begin and I quickly drew in the brown trunk and branches.  After grabbing it away, the rest was all her.  Of course the tree needed “green leaves” and a line of “grass” beneath, and then a flock of “birds” above.  The black scribbles of birds in the image above are the birds in “the rainforest.”  Birds and coyotes… in the rainforest.  Who knew?

Implications?

It all came flooding in to me as I remembered the lyrics regarding cells, the bloodmobile, etc…  I sat in my chair with my girlie atop my lap, piloting my little phone through her rich imagination.  A post with all of her descriptions would fill this page.  I won’t do that to you.  What I will do is ask you to think about the efficacy of a touchscreen in the hands of a toddler.  Full disclosure:  I love paper.  I adore the smell of crayons.  I love sitting down at the table with her and having her pick out colors for me and bossing me around the page, telling me what to color next.  I do not think it is a good idea to passively babysit kids with electronics, or anything else for that matter.  Just because they take to it like a fish to water…  doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a good thing.

For me though, herein lies the difference in today’s experience:  it wasn’t anything close to passive.  The size of this device allowed her to be fully seated within my arms and legs for some serious one on one time.  Close is good.  After all we are humans, not computers.  We were snuggled up.  We were storytelling.  We could get away with whispering.  So I’m reflecting on the synthesis of a touchscreen loosely emulating the style of Jackson Pollock, the musical genius of They Might Be Giants, and playtime that involves close physical touch with Dad.  The fun of all of this spilled out upon my lap this dark, rainy day in March.  When does a silly phone become a handheld learning tool… a creative tool… a play toy?  Think about that.  This was fun.

Artwork credits

*”A crappy crappie jig” ~  me.
*”Cell number one” ~ Delaney
*”Cell number six” ~  Delaney
*”Rainforest with birds and coyotes” ~  Delaney & I.
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A Synthesis Blogging Whitman

My Sunday morning started with these words from Walt Whitman:

GOING SOMEWHERE

My science-friend, my noblest woman-friend,
(Now buried in an English grave–and this a memory-leaf for her dear sake,)
Ended our talk–“The sum, concluding all we know of old or modern
learning, intuitions deep,
“Of all Geologies–Histories–of all Astronomy–of Evolution,
Metaphysics all,
“Is, that we all are onward, onward, speeding slowly, surely bettering,
“Life, life an endless march, an endless army, (no halt, but it is
duly over,)
“The world, the race, the soul–in space and time the universes,
“All bound as is befitting each–all surely going somewhere.”

…long, organic, rhythmic free verse.  Ahhh…

Back in September I wrote a post about an interesting little web service called DailyLit.  I had just signed up and received the first of 423 installments of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass via email.  I spoke of how you could integrate small chunks of text like this into your school’s literacy program.  Given that from age 14 to 18, and from AP Physics to PE, we read for different reasons and in different ways.  For these reasons, I saw this service as an interesting and free way to add rich sources of text for classroom analysis, or even simply for volume or pleasure.  As of today, it is the “pleasure principle” that made me check back in on this web entity.

Fast-forward to today’s email (you can also choose RSS) which contained installments 368 and 369 from Leaves of Grass.  Grounding.  Things like this can help to keep my head in check.  I love it when the wisdom of brilliant and creative people from ages gone by is held up to the present for inspection, reflection-  and in this case: inspiration.  And by the way…  which “Evolution” is he speaking of here?  His capital “E” puts it on level with Geologies, Histories, Astronomy, and Metaphysics.  Thus, in my mind, he speaks of Darwin’s fresh theory of biological evolution.

Evolution found in the trash.

So this led me to a quick inquiry.  What year again was Leaves of Grass first published?  A quick check returns 1855.  Now, I remembered reading about how Whitman constantly revised his works again and again.  However, one only need know that the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was in 1859, to want to question this text a bit more.  So apparently, between the first edition of Leaves in 1855, and the final in 1882, he changed not only verse and style…  but content.  I now have something to research for myself.  Find the text from 1855.  Do a comparison.  I wonder what I will find.  I wonder if any of you feel like helping me out in this endeavor. (?)  Did I ever notice this date interplay prior to blogging about this poem today?  No.  No I didn’t.

Chalk up another win for the synthesis found within the act of blogging.  I love it.  I love what it does to my brain.

As I sat down to tap out the post this evening, I realized something really cool.  What began as a rather humble re-blogging of a famous work of art from the 1800’s, has led to me evaluating text, inferring intent, and questioning context.  Hmmm…  I wonder if these are behaviors we seek to foster in our students.  I wonder if blogging can help deliver this.  In reality, this wonder contains less doubt and more certainty than it did less than a year ago for me.

So I leave you with installment #369 for your evening of March 22nd, 2009.  God, I love these words:

SMALL THE THEME OF MY CHANT

Small the theme of my Chant, yet the greatest–namely, One’s-Self–
a simple, separate person. That, for the use of the New World, I sing.
Man’s physiology complete, from top to toe, I sing. Not physiognomy alone,
nor brain alone, is worthy for the Muse;–I say the Form complete
is worthier far. The Female equally with the Male, I sing.
Nor cease at the theme of One’s-Self. I speak the word of the
modern, the word En-Masse.
My Days I sing, and the Lands–with interstice I knew of hapless War.
(O friend, whoe’er you are, at last arriving hither to commence, I
feel through every leaf the pressure of your hand, which I return.
And thus upon our journey, footing the road, and more than once, and
link’d together let us go.)

*Artwork thanks

Evolution in the trash. by nyc dreamer on Flickr
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The Octopus Gets Due Respect

My last post highlighted a train wreck of a children’s book.  Readers of the post typically had one of three responses:

1)  This is sick, but hilarious. It was easy to get a kick out of something as blatantly incorrect as this book.  In fact, my current marine biology students enjoyed it quite a bit.  Those riled enough suggested file #13.

2)  Don’t sweat it. A minority remarked even though the book has glaring errors, none are worth getting too fired up about.  Kids are resilient, and misconceptions learned that young are easily unlearned.

3)  What an opportunity! Several also remarked that this book is a valuable potential lesson to hold on to.  Keeping the book as a media literacy lesson is the best answer.

What can I do?

Regardless of your take on The Septapus, I have felt the need for a review of a really super piece of children’s literature since publishing that post.  I guess I just feel the need for some positivity to balance out the force.  In reality, I am not a children’s lit expert.  I’m as much of an early childhood expert as a terribly curious father of two youngsters can possibly be, but certainly no more than that.  I know my limitations.  That said, I think I have one really sweet little piece of art to share with all of you.  This is a book that is not only deeply accurate from a scientific perspective, lyrically engaging, and amazingly illustrated…  but also seems to be a nearly 180 degree parallel of “Numbers” in so many ways.  (Please appreciate the tattered scans here which show the tough love of a toddler’s touch.)

over in the ocean - cover

In fact, this was definitely Delaney’s first favorite book.  She still loves to have this one read to her.  I’m not bad, but her mommy reads this one like a champ.  Find a small child.  Any child will do.  No matter how far you have to look, find a kid and buy this book for them:  Over in the Ocean in a Coral Reef. This book was written by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Jeanette Canyon.  I know little of the history of the creation of this book, but it is a masterpiece.  Not only is it refreshingly accurate, and written in a fun and lyrical way, it is illustrated so beautifully that it makes me want to go buy clay.  Seriously.  Take it from a discerning dad who teaches marine biology- this is a fantastic book to read with a toddler.

Perfection

The book called out to my wife and I from a shelf in the exhibit hall of the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) national convention in St. Louis just before our babe was born.  The book came in two forms and we bought both on the spot.  One is a thick board book that we figured she could have her way with, and the other is a paperback that contains more information at the end on the creation of the polymer-clay art that adorns each page.

If you do nothing else, do a comparison of the treatment of the octopus on page one of this book, with the “septapus” in question from page seven of the previous review:

over in the ocean in a coral reef

When looking at any of the pages here, keep in mind these things…  every illustration:  clay.  Illustrate the riot of color and complexity of a coral reef…  in clay?  Absolutely.  This is a serious work of art in my opinion.  The ocean looks like Vincent’s Starry Night, and the lyrics (which correspond to music in the final pages) are quite fun.  And to think- this book is a “numbers” book as well.  Hard to compare to the previous book.  Over in the Ocean truly builds the counting exercise into the structure of the story in a very organic and engaging way.

In Over in the Ocean, parrotfish “grind,” clownfish “dart,” stingrays “stir,” pufferfish “puff,” dophins “jump,” angelfish “graze,” needlefish “skitter,” grunts “grunt,” and seahorses “flutter.”  The octopus has eight tentacles.  Parrotfish grind coral.  Stingrays stir in sandflats.  Emperor angelfish look exactly like emperor angelfish.  Bluestriped grunts, both mommy and babies look precisely and act exactly like Haemulon sciurus-  just ask my marine biology students.

Connections

Of course before publishing this post, I wanted to ask explicit permission to include a page from the author herself.  In that correspondence, I gained even more insight into the book including her opinion on the Septapus:

“As a former children’s librarian, I can tell you it would never have made it in my library, or my school for that matter (I was also an early childhood educator in NY before moving to Florida).”

Enjoy this book.  Enjoy the proud scientific accuracy.  Enjoy the gorgeous art adorning each page.  But perhaps most importantly, enjoy a book that is an interdisciplinary dive onto a coral reefs for kids.

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