Painting Project: Cityscape Skyline with Fireworks

Canvas painting project for kids- cityscape skyline with splatter painting fireworks from Wonder Teacher

How beautiful are these nighttime cityscape paintings!? The splattered fireworks add so much visual energy! This project was completed last summer during a 4-day art camp. I’ve been meaning to share it with you ever since, but the fireworks have a lovely “New Year” feeling, so the timing feels right!

I must admit that these paintings rose from the ashes of a failed project. My husband and I had planned a totally different painting for the canvases and realized halfway through that it wasn’t going to work. It was a major bummer and was quite stressful as we only had 4 days with the children.

We put on our thinking caps (the creative ones!) and salvaged the other project by doing it on paper instead of canvas. (It turned out AWESOME and I’ll share it here soon.) Then the question was… what do we do with the canvases? We talked to the children to get their ideas and could tell that they were very enthusiastic about the idea of abstract art and splatter painting. (Jackson Pollock was a favorite artist among the group.) However, since the camp did have a product-driven component, we wanted the final paintings to be a little more developed than simple splatter paintings.

Then the idea hit: what if we did the splatter painting in the context of fireworks over a cityscape? BINGO!

It was a really fun project and all of the children were successful. (Keep in mind that the camp was made up of 6 to 9 year olds, so older kids could really rock this one!)

Here are the steps:

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Featured Wonder Teacher: Chrissy Greenman on Arts Integration

Teacher Interview about Arts Integration















Have I mentioned before that my kids have AWESOME teachers? I could (and hopefully will) interview all of them for the Featured Wonder Teacher Series.

Today I am featuring my son’s 1st grade teacher, Chrissy Greenman. Chrissy is new to arts integration this year and has jumped in with tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I have been so impressed by the creative work happening in her room. Possibly the greatest endorsement is that my son absolutely loves going to school every day and is thriving under her care.

Before you read her interview, know that Chrissy is a “regular” teacher with a “regular” life. She is a wife and mom to two young children, is an avid horsewoman (and owns a horse that she rides as often as possible,) is an accomplished scrapbooker, teaches full time, and single-handedly creates the school’s full-color yearbook. Oh- and she also happens to be the 2012 Teacher of the Year at her school. Whew! How’s that for having it all?

I spent a lovely hour interviewing Chrissy about her experiences integrating the arts and have some great stuff to share with you. Today and tomorrow I’ll focus on her journey into the arts. Then I’ll share some posts that highlight her approach to differentiation, thematic units, and teaching poetry. I know you’ll be inspired. I was! Without further ado… meet Chrissy!

What is something you love about teaching through the arts?

I’d have to say it’s the new energy and excitement I have for teaching as a result of learning how to integrate the arts.

Before I joined the faculty at Laurel Hill, I worked in a low-performing school. I loved my students but there was a lot of pressure to move the kids up academically. It was a very “old-fashioned” teaching culture without much opportunity for collaboration.

I found myself questioning whether I even wanted to teach anymore. I thought, “This isn’t for me. It’s not inspiring. I need something different.”

I am a creative person and I love to be creative.  While I have an outlet in scrapbooking and working on design teams, teaching just wasn’t meeting that need.

When I transferred to Laurel Hill it got much better, but there was still something missing for me. I needed some kind of outlet where I could use my creativity.

Finally last spring I enrolled in a class offered in our state called “The Creative Teaching Institute.” It was all about arts integration and creative teaching strategies. The light bulb went off for me and I saw teaching through a totally new lens.

Since that class, I’ve never been more excited about teaching. I look at my plans and just can’t wait to get to school and teach my kids! I’m excited and they’re excited and it never gets old. I am invested in my teaching and the children are so invested in the work. Learning how to integrate the arts has given me a completely new outlook on my career.

Talk about your personal journey into arts integration. Where did it start?

It truly started with the Creative Teaching Institute. Before that, I really didn’t know the difference between a visual arts lesson and a craft project. I used to do crafts with my students. Crafts are OK sometimes but that’s not art. Art comes from within the child. It’s not something that is “cookie-cutter.” Everyone’s will end up looking different.

Understanding that difference has been so empowering. A big part of this journey has been about learning to let go and not be so controlling of the final product.

Arts Integration- Students painted original cat in the hat artwork.

Students painted original portraits of The Cat in the Hat. They explored color and pattern. While the project was guided, each piece of artwork is unique and full of personality. Students also wrote original stories about the Cat.

What is something important you’ve learned in this process? 

Arts-based learning usually doesn’t happen in one day. I think I was like most teachers in feeling that a lesson needed to start and end in 40 minutes.  We have a map of the year and we give ourselves a set number of lessons to hit a standard and move on. It’s so choppy!

When you (Susan) came in and led the project onMartin Luther King Jr., I was shocked to find that you didn’t intend to get through it in one day! It took several days, but it was so deep and rich! There was literature and art and writing… one project that addressed multiple standards through various strategies.

It’s such a breath of fresh air that I don’t have to do something in one day and hope that my children “have it” because we have to move on and “cover” the next standard. With arts-based thematic teaching, you can spiral and revisit concepts and the learning is much deeper.

Of course, it can feel a little scary. You look out at your students drawing and painting and wonder, “Is this a worthwhile use of class time? Are they really learning the standards?”

But the more you do it, the more confident you get. You start seeing the payoff in terms of student engagement and learning and it makes you want to take even bigger risks.

Where did you start?

Visual art is closest to my comfort zone. I already express myself that way through my scrapbooking, so it seemed like a safe place to start. I have really enjoyed learning about all the new media and techniques. I don’t think my kids have touched crayons in months- they love using oil pastels and watercolors so much!

Students created their own "imaginary" maps when learning about map skills in social studies. Each child created a symbols list and named their imaginary island.

Students created their own “imaginary” maps when learning about map skills in social studies. Each child created a symbols list and named their imaginary island.










I also have loved integrating Drama through Reader’s Theater. I was totally amazed by how much progress my struggling readers made as we rehearsed those scripts. On the first day I was worried because they couldn’t get through them. Then, the next day it was a little better. The third day- they were much more confident and fluent, and it only got better! It was a fantastic experience for them. That’s one of my goals for next year- to do lots more Reader’s Theater and try some pantomime too.

Students perform a script based on an Eric Carle story. Notice their original character artwork on front of their folders.

Students perform a script based on an Eric Carle story. Notice their original character artwork on front of their folders.

You’ve come so far in one school year! How have you learned the art content?

Online! Pinterest is a wonderful resource for teachers. (Start following arts teachers!) I also love Patty Palmer’s blog at Deep Space Sparkle. She is terrific and offers some materials for sale that are very helpful for classroom teachers.

My favorite professional books right now are The Power of Pictures and Moon Journals. I also Google topics I need help with like “using oil pastels with kids.”

I’ve learned how to use different media like oil pastels and watercolors and resist techniques.  You can find anything through Google!

One of the things I have learned is how to search. For example, I am creating a new unit around the Kentucky Derby. When I Googled it, all I could find was coloring sheets. So I changed the search to “oil pastel horses.” I found several inspiring projects I could modify for my students. For example, one involves creating Eric Carle inspired horses out of painted papers. That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for: open-ended art ideas.

Another big part of this journey for me has been learning to let go. The work belongs to the children: I have learned to trust them with artistic freedom. The payoff in that has been huge. I watch their imaginations open up- they are so much more creative!

Their memories are so much deeper when we learn through the arts. They have a personal connection and powerful visual to hold in their mind. It becomes such a part of who they are that they can’t stop talking about it!

Arts integration just seems to trip something in their brain that takes learning to a whole new level. It simply doesn’t happen with traditional “skill and drill” worksheets.

Tomorrow: Chrissy talks about managing time and materials during arts-based lessons.

Jasper Johns Flags 1st grade

Students studied symbolism and color during a social studies unit on American symbols. They imitated artist Jasper Johns and painted their own flags. They then wrote an explanation of their color choices and the meaning found in their flags.

Personal Narratives through Visual Art Integration

Personal Narratives through Visual Art Integration Today we get down to the nitty-gritty: the approach I took to having the children create their images and write their personal narratives.

If you are new to this series, I’d recommend reading the other posts in order.

Personal Narratives Using a “Pictures First” Structure

Personal Narratives Part 2

6 Tips for Managing Watercolor Painting in the Classroom

The Bucket Method (Or how to paint without a sink in your room)

Learning to “Notice” Visual Storytelling

My Internal Debate:

I still question whether it’s better to have children create the images for a story one at a time (and write along the way) or create all of their images before they are formally asked to write. Because I was “new” to this second grade class and didn’t know them well as artists or writers, I decided to take a more structured approach and go step by step, one image and writing experience at a time. It worked well, but I still wonder if children would create more interesting and well-plotted stories if their creative work wasn’t “chopped up.” I’d like to take a more “Katie Wood Ray” approach and invite them to decide for themselves. Are they more comfortable thinking in images first- from start to finish? Does that give them even more “think time” to craft a story in their mind?

Or… do they find powerful words and phrases popping into their heads as they create their artwork? And can they even know their preference until they have been through the process in a structured manner at least once? I’m going to teach an arts integrated visual art + writing after-school class starting in March. I plan to give the children more freedom in the deciding their process, so I’ll let you know what I learn.

The Image-Making and Writing:

I mentioned previously that an important launching point for our work was to learn how “professional” artists and writers tell powerful stories. Once we learned some visual storytelling techniques and experimented with our art media, we were ready to go!

From there, we moved from “Artist’s Workshop” to “Writing Workshop” and back again. Each day began with a mini-lesson where I modeled a technique (art or writing) with the children and shared exemplars from published picture books. The children were then given independent work time to create their art/ writing. I like to conclude with a “share time” but due to the schedule, the children always had to drop their brushes/ pencils and rush out the door to special area. However, I did usually launch the next day’s lesson with a quick review and share time.

I could write pages and pages about each day’s lesson, my objectives, the graphic organizers we used, etc. Instead I will be (relatively) brief. Here are the highlights:

  • In talking with Mrs. Goodwin, the classroom teacher, before starting the unit, I found that one of her major goals for the personal narrative unit was to to have the children write stories that “zoomed in” on a small moment. Rather than creating a story that was a long list of events, she wanted them to identify a key moment or experience that would help bring the story to life and find a way to show that in their writing.
  • This worked beautifully with my images-first approach, because I designed my plans for the artwork to follow a similar path. We began with a setting painting (zoomed out) that showed elements like place, season, time of day, weather, characters, and important details that would provide clues to our story. (We looked at many quality examples of “setting pictures” in picture books to generate this list.)
  • When our setting paintings were complete, we used a graphic organizer to “collect words” from our images that corresponded to the information we wanted to provide in our opening.
  • Next, we moved on to our second image. This image would be designed to take us closer to our “small moment.” For example, if my story was about riding the waves during a beach vacation, the first image might show a larger “zoomed out” view of my family on the beach while my 2nd image would get closer and show us splashing in the waves.
  • The third image “zoomed in” close on the most important details of the “small moment.” i.e.- A big wave hitting me right in the face!
  • The final image “zoomed” back out, concluding our visual story.
  • Note: After each “Artist’s Workshop” we stopped and spent a day in “Writing Workshop,” using graphic organizers to “collect words” and “get ideas for our writing.” I always modeled this first and then modeled how to choose the best words and ideas to string together for a narrative. I changed the graphic organizers each day. One day I put emphasis on “sound words.” Another day focused on writing similes to go with our images. My goal was to introduce the children to several different aspects of effective writing throughout the creation of the narrative.

The proof is in the pudding (as they say,) so I have posted two student work samples. The first is Zach’s story about his family’s trip to the mountains. When we began, I could tell he had a vague idea of topic (“I want to tell the story about my family’s trip to the mountain house,”) but he didn’t seem to have a specific story in mind. By the second “Artist’s Workshop,” the image-making assignment forced him to commit to a special moment from that trip. I saw him sitting and thinking while the other children were painting. I stopped by his desk and asked, “Can I help you get started?” He replied, “I’m not sure what to draw. We had so much fun on the mountain!”

After a brief conversation during which I asked him to tell me about his favorite memories from the trip, he was able to state that his first experience sliding down the big rock at Turtleback Creek was his “best part.” I encouraged him to paint that memory!

From there, he proceeded with ease, and did an especially nice job with his “zoomed in” image.

(Note: This was a developmental theme I noticed with many 2nd graders. They often seemed to have a basic idea- Christmas, their birthday party, a school performance, etc. However, the entire experience was bundled together in one happy, warm memory and many of them struggled to find a “small moment.” I thought it was a precious, childlike quality- to know that your trip to Grandma’s was one of the best weeks of your life but not to be able to pinpoint a specific reason why. The image-making seemed to help many of them overcome that difficulty and settle on one event from a broader period of time.)

Zach’s text is below the string of images:

Writing and Art Integration- Turtleback Creek Story

Text from Zach’s story:

Page 1: 

I was standing on the mountain with my brother, Wilson. We were throwing the football back and forth. The huge floating sun shined on us while we were throwing the football. And the grass grew while we were standing on the mountain.

Page 2: 

I was excited to go down Turtleback Falls. I was thinking, “I can’t wait for my first time! This is going to be really fun to go down Turtleback.”

Page 3:

I went down Turtleback for my first time. I was going as fast as a shark. And at the bottom I did a big SPLASH!

Page 4:

I was sad when we left but I knew that we would be back soon. We walked back to the car and I wanted to stay but I knew we had to leave.

It was a long drive back to the trailer.

I knew that we would do something else the next day. We might even go to Sliding Rock!

*Note about Zach’s work:

You may notice that Zach sometimes drew “stick figures” and that he still colored large areas of his paper, meaning that he was not yet completely comfortable with the watercolor paints quite yet. That’s OK. He still put a lot of thought into his image-making and that shows in his writing! I was very pleased with his final story, and so was he!

The next example is titled Thanksgiving Farm. Notice the strong visual storytelling in this book!

Visual Art and Writing Integration- Thanksgiving Farm Here’s the text that accompanies the images in Thanksgiving Farm.

Page 1:

One day the round, juicy sun was flying high in the blue sky at the farm. We were there for Thanksgiving lunch.
I was getting hungry!
Finally we ate. I had two desserts!
I was stuffed.

Page 2:

I waited for a few minutes then I got bored. My mom told me to go play with the other kids on the hay bales.
Me and my sister went over to the hay. My sister got on. I was a little nervous but I got on anyway.

Page 3:

I tried to jump on the hay but they were far apart. After a little while I got the hang of it. When I was jumping some other people there called for someone.
Turns out that it was not a “someone”- it was a dog!
The dog jumped up on the hay and plop! The dog knocked me down.
The dog ran, zip, down the hay and back up. Finally the dog got off and rested.

Page 4:

After a few more hay jumps my sister said, “Time to go.”
I said, “Please, can we stay?” but they said, “No!”
I got off and said goodbye and we left the hay.
I cartwheeled all the way to the tables but they were empty.
We went back to the car.
I said, “I had a great time.”

This little girl did a fantastic job of recording her ideas in words, but also notice her strong visual storytelling! She absorbed so many of the techniques we noticed during our picture book browse. Here are a few:

  • – The time of day clearly changes from the first image to the last.
  • – She used the white crayon resist to create “wind lines” in her sky.
  • – She made an effort to break up her ground lines and make them more interesting.
  • – She used an “image inset” to show two different aspects of the same moment. (On her 3rd page.)
  • – She kept visual details consistent from page to page, like her pink dress or the dog’s coloring.

What strong work!

Coming next: The Publishing Party!

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