Monthly Mentor

Heidi O'Donnell (December)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. December's monthly mentor is Heidi O'Donnell. Heidi is a high school art educator in mid-coast Maine with twenty years of experience and an insatiable appetite for learning new things. She holds a MEd in Built Environment Education, a BA in Visual Arts, a BS in Arts Education, and a minor in Art History, all from the University of Maine at Orono. Heidi is a recent graduate of the NAEA School for Art Leaders and serves as a National Art Honor Society Sponsor. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Tuesday 12. 5.17

Giving, Icelandic Style

From: Heidi O'Donnell

I recently read a treehugger article that shed light on an Icelandic holiday tradition I was not familiar with: giving books. On Christmas Eve, books are traditionally given and then the evening is spent reading. Second only to art supplies, I love books! This is a tradition I feel could apply to every holiday, in every culture, year-round.... Winter Solstice, Groundhog’s Day, Teacher’s Day (September 28th – Celebrated in Taiwan, honoring teacher’s contributions to their students and to society in general. The date commemorates Confucius, master educator in ancient China)… I also love celebrations and traditions.

Here in the state of Maine, we have an excellent Visual and Performing Arts Specialist at the Department of Education, Beth Lambert. Among numerous professional development opportunities she organizes and provides, such as bringing in national experts (including Robert Sabol) to run an Assessment in the Visual and Performing Arts Summer Institute as well as a Full STEAM Ahead! cohort (where educators cross disciplines to learn about Visual & Performing Arts and Science standards as well as explore co-teaching strategies), Beth facilitates a Book Club for Arts Educators. Let me just say, Art Teacher Book Club Rocks! Over the last two years we have read:



Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education
Ken Robinson, Ph.D.

Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation
David Edwards



The Artistic : 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brian World
Lisa Phillips

The Arts and the Creation of Mind
Elliot W. Eisner

Other books I’ve recently read include two that were required reading for the NAEA School for Art Leaders program:



Finding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership
Janice Marturano

Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life
Steward D. Friedman

Suzanne Goulet, the NAEA October Monthly Mentor, gifted me one of my favorite books when I was elected President of the Maine Art Education Association position:

MaedaRedesigning Leadership
John Maeda

Presenters at NAEA National Conventions introduced additional favorites:



Color: A Natural History of the Palette
Victoria Finlay

Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education
Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema, and Kimberly M Sheridan

My holiday break reading list includes:



A Brilliant History of Color in Art
Victoria Finlay

(A gift from a student. <3)

The Forger’s Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century
Edward Dolnick

In the spirit of giving, my gift to you is the modest book list above. My challenge to you is two-fold:

1. I call on you to share your favorite teacher books/art books in the comment section. Spread the wealth!

2. Consider Art Teacher Book Club. Either join one you know of or start one. It’s an excellent way to build connections, share your wisdom, and flex your leadership muscles…


Martinko, Katherine. “The Beautiful Icelandic Tradition of Giving Books on Christmas Eve.”TreeHugger, Treehugger, 12 Sept. 2017,

Friday 12. 1.17

Season of Giving

From: Heidi O'Donnell

I have so many thoughts and directions for my contribution to this blog buzzing around in my head; I sought out a colleague for advice. I was told, “Simply, start with today.”

You won’t be reading this for a few days, but today as I write, it’s ‘Giving Tuesday.’ Giving Tuesday started in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a response to post-Thanksgiving consumerism – Black Friday and Cyber Monday…. Fueled by social media, Giving Tuesday has grown significantly and the benefits have reached many.

In the spirit of giving, I am thankful for how fortunate I am to have committed my life to arts education. By engaging in my passion, I have been blessed to give (and receive) so much over the years. As many of you recognize, giving in the teacher realm often extends beyond monetary means. [Blogger’s note: Yes, I acknowledge that many of us dole out a lot of cash to supplement our classroom and student needs – but let’s set that aside for the moment.] Teachers, by their very nature, are givers. We give to our students, to our peers, to our administrators, to our communities (whether they are local, state, or national), and even to ourselves. Our giving doesn’t happen once a year on a designated date as a reaction to societal trends, our giving happens daily through encouragement, support, listening, guiding, sharing… The list goes on.

As the year comes to a close and in the midst of the Season of Giving, I give to you over the course of this month, my time, my thoughts, my questions, my concerns, and my musings.

My first gift to you is a resource that some have found useful:

Monday 11.27.17

New Materialism in Art Education

From: Heather Kaplan

In previous installments we explored DBAE, VCAE, and Big Ideas. Art educators have utilized each curriculum approach to varying degrees. While the other installments took on a more historical view or sense of the present field, this time we will look forward, towards future possibilities for art education and talk about a newer, burgeoning approach to curriculum and instruction: new materialism. While new materialism is in the more nascent stages of research and theorization, there are a few examples of how it can be implemented in the classroom. Because new materialism is currently in its early stages educators who take up the theory may be able to steer and impact the success of this approach.

Looking more closely at the theory behind it, new materialism is a theoretical reordering of humanist and human-centered positioning of subjects and objects. Faced with and in response to 21st century dilemmas, that are quite literally human-made, but are beyond the scope and scale of the individual (e.g. global warming), new materialism looks beyond the traditional humanist concept of the subject/object divide in which the human and non-human are dualistically or oppositionally conceived. Instead, new materialism proffers a relational understanding of humans and objects, one which considers the ways that objects, not just subjects (read humans), have agency or possess the ability to act on and impact others. Hood and Kraehe (2017) relay a sense of how art education curriculums have failed to consider this position in the past, stating:

“Each object,” according to art historian James Elkins (1996), “has a presence – a being” (p. 12). For many of us, this is the attraction of being with art objects and creating things with material form. And yet, ironically, the art education frameworks that are often used to investigate materials and things – including discipline-based art education, visual culture art education, material culture studies, object-based learning, and choice-based art education – overlook the thingliness of things. That is, they do not satisfactorily capture the energetic contributions that material objects make in the creation of art. (p. 33)

Ultimately, Hood and Kraehe (2017) are calling for an art education curriculum that not only assumes that materials have meaning but that begins to account for the ways that “human and non-human, people and things – have material vibrancy and agency”. (p. 33) Likewise, a new materialist art education curriculum might look to the ways that humans and non-humans co-create each other as well as agentic, playful, and explorative learning opportunities (Kaplan, 2016). It might consider how clay works the subject, learner, and artist as much as it considers how the child works the clay.

To learn more about New Materialism see:

Carnal Knowledge: Towards a ‘New Materialism’ through the Arts

Artistry and Agency in a World of Vibrant Matter/ The New School

Three Minute Theory: What is Intra-Action?

Posthuman Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter


Hood, E. & Kraehe, A. (2017). Creative matter: New materialism in art education research, teaching, and learning. Art Education, 70(2), 32-38.

Kaplan, H.G. (2016). Young children’s playful artmaking: An ontological direction for art education (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). The Ohio State University, Columbus , OH.

Wednesday 11.15.17

Using Big Ideas in Art Education

From: Heather Kaplan

In our previous installment, we discussed the relationship and differences between VCAE and DBAE in order to think about and expand curricular possibilities for art educators. In this installment I will discuss another curricular approach, Big Ideas. Walker (2001) has written extensively about the possibility of using Big Ideas within art education but Big Ideas are not limited to the visual arts. In fact, one of the advantages of Big Ideas is their ability to reach 21st century learners, who are themselves arguably more connected than previous generations, and to create curriculum that is both interconnected and interdisciplinary.

In fact one the real advantages to studying Big Ideas is that it presumes a disposition of interconnectedness and connection making. Big Ideas are by definition, ideas are that BIG, in that they are large and overarching. This means that Big Ideas are bigger than one discipline (like math or art), and that the study of Big Ideas can be done either within a discipline or interdisciplinary and in a more holistic fashion-meaning that an entire grade or school could explore a big idea through its many curricular incarnations.

Walker (2001) claims, “Big ideas – broad, important human issues- are characterized by complexity, ambiguity, contradiction, and multiplicity… big ideas do not completely explicate an idea, but represent a host of concepts that form the idea.” (p. 1) Because Big Ideas are able to entertain ambiguity, contradiction, and multiplicity, curricula that use Big Ideas should aim to and will be able to entertain varied understandings and perspectives. Students engaged in this way will be able to, to some degree, direct their own learning, compare and contrast their perspectives against that of others, entertain multiple perspectives, and manage contradiction and ambiguity – skills that are preeminently needed today.

While Big Ideas can be adopted on a large scale (grade level or school-wide), Big Ideas can be effective at the classroom level as well. Walker champions the effectiveness of Big Ideas in art classroom curricula by making clear the professional (or discipline based) connection between ideas and artmaking. She claims that artists are not strangers to Big Ideas, stating  “Big ideas drive an artist’s artmaking over time.” (p. 2) Likewise, the educational resource and public television series Art 21 (Art in the 21st Century) claims that contemporary artists often do not work in a single medium in the ways they might have in previous generations, contemporary artists often work with and through ideas.

Walker helps elucidate how Big Ideas manifest in an artist’s work over time. She points out the difference between a Big Idea and a more pointed, discrete understanding of content. I like to share her example of Andy Warhol to help illustrate the difference. Let’s look closer: According to Walker the content or subject matter of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can prints is the Campbell soup can; however, if we look at the artist’s larger oeuvre, or the entire body of his work, Big Ideas like “the denouncement of the sacred values and ideals of high art” (p. 3) and concepts such as reproduction and multiples, consumerism, and the consumption of fame emerge. While it may require a deeper understanding of art, artists, and meaning-making, studying Big Ideas creates students who are not only able to think deeply about the works they are creating, but it also creates dynamic thinkers who are able to wrestle with complexity, ambiguity, and contradiction in their thoughts and the thoughts of others.

For more curricular information about Big Ideas please check out the following links:

What's the Big Idea? - Missouri Alliance for Arts Education


Walker, S. (2001). Teaching meaning in artmaking. Worchester, MA: Davis Publishing, Inc.

Tuesday 11. 7.17

VCAE: Opening Curricular Connections and Possibilities

From: Heather Kaplan

In our last installment I discussed the difference between the commonly taught elements and principles of design and a more generalized DBAE curriculum. In this post I will focus on the difference between DBAE and Visual Culture Art Education, in the hopes that this will open up ideas and possibilities for your art curricula. 

While DBAE is still the backbone of many formalized state art standards, VCAE is a more recent curricular theory that responds to historical and cultural changes of the postmodern era (Duncum 2015) and of contemporary art (i.e. after 1990). Although, it is arguable that VCAE is still quite similar to DBAE in that it does not displace the four professionalized domains of DBAE, in fact its adherence to this generalized structure is quite remarkable. I submit that, rather than displacing this professional system, VCAE merely shifts the emphasis from art making to criticism, while questioning what is considered within the realm of study and criticism in art education, and it ultimately asks for a broader definition of  who can be considered artistic or visual producers.

One of the biggest differences between DBAE and VCAE is that VCAE seeks to expand the field of study by pushing beyond traditional notions of the “fine” (“fine art” or “fine craft”) to include a larger realm of cultural production. Freedman and Stuhr (2004) define visual culture as “the totality of humanly designed images and artifacts that shape our existence.” (p. 816) Thus, in a comprehensive VCAE curriculum a masterpiece by Rembrandt might be studied side by side with a McDonald’s french fry container. In VCAE, notions of “high” and “low” culture are deliberately being rethought along with how these distinctions convey cultural capital and disseminate power. Ideally, the notion of an expanded field of art maintains that all human cultural production could and should be studied and that (good) design, whether consumed by the elite or the masses, contains not only the elements and principles of design, but also, cultural content worthy of study. What the study of VCAE provides is a criticality regarding the systems of production and how the visual creates meaning and covers or uncovers systems of power. Thus, the study of VCAE is often credited with increased emphasis on aesthetics and criticism.

Some criticize VCAE for this displacement of artmaking in an already discursive (verbal) school day (Duncum 2002). However, proponents of VCAE claim that an expanded study of cultural production better prepares students to deal with an expanded notion of knowledge one that Duncum (2015) refers to as “having no center”. While others state that VCAE prepares students to explore social justice issues pertinent to 21st learning, (Ballengee Morris, 2002a; 2002b; Ballenge-Morris & Stuhr, 2001; Delacruz, 2003; & Freedman, 1994 ) Duncum also asserts that VCAE mimics postmodern thinking and processes in which hundreds of connections are made and remade. He says, “This… enables us to associate one idea with another, one image with another, an idea with an image, an image with a song, a song with a memory, a memory with a movie, a movie with a poem, and so on and on.” (p. 53) Students who engage with learning in this way are not only artists, but they are capable of thinking, rethinking, and creating new connections and making meaning.

For ideas and examples on how to adopt VCAE into your art classroom curriculum the following sites provide curricular examples or describe curricular possibilities, many of which prominently feature artmaking as well as criticism:

For a short overview of VCAE see the following site, Visual Culture Art Education.



Ballengee-Morris, C. (2002a). Cultures for Sale: Perspectives on colonialism and self-determination and the relationship of authenticity and tourism. Studies in Art Education, 43(3), 232-245.

Ballengee-Morris, C. (2002b). Tourist souvenirs. Visual Arts Research, 28(2), 102-108.

Ballengee-Morris, C. & Stuhr, P. (2001). Multicultural art and visual cultural education

Duncum, P. (2002). Clarifying visual culture art education. Art Education 55(3), 6-11. in a changing world. Art Education, 54(4), 6-13.

Duncum, P. (2015). Transforming art education into visual culture education through rhizomatic structures.  Anadolu Journal of Educational Sciences International 5 (3).

Delacruz, E. (2003). Racism American style and resistance to change: Art education’s role in the Indian mascot issue. Art Education, 56(3), 13-20.

Freedman, K. (1994). Interpreting gender and visual culture in art classrooms. Studies in Art Education, 35(3), 157-170.

Freedman, K. & Stuhr, P. (2004). Curriculum changes for the 21st century: Visual culture in art education. In E. Eisner & M. Day (Eds.), Handbook of research and policy in art education (pp. 815-828). Reston, VA: The National Art Education Association.


Wednesday 11. 1.17

Elements and Principles and their Relationship to DBAE

From: Heather Kaplan

Last year after completing my dissertation, I swiftly packed up my life in Columbus, Ohio to begin a job as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Education at the University of Texas El Paso. Upon surveying the art educational landscape in El Paso I noticed a considerable curricular difference between the content taught in the art teacher preparation program (and inside the districts of El Paso) and what was being studied and theorized in the art education programs that I had attended in both the Midwest and the East coast. Specifically, art teacher preparation and student projects at the district level leaned heavily on curriculum that was driven by the study of artmaking as it pertained to the elements and principles of design. Listening to other new hires in states such as South Carolina, Virginia, and Michigan, I learned that my experience was not unique - that indeed, much of the curriculum being designed and taught, both at the university and district level, centered on the elements and principles of design.

While there is nothing wrong with teaching children the elements and principles of design per se, the elements and principles of design are only a small part of the world of art and art education (and the Texas Art Content Standards). More importantly a curriculum that focuses entirely on the elements and principles of design risks the larger picture of Art, Art education, and even of Discipline-Based Art Education. To be sure, Art, and well-designed communicative composition for that matter, is more than the sum of its parts. That said, it is my intention to use this blog to address other curricular models and to delineate how curricular theory has changed since the inception of DBAE. This post will address the elements and principles and their relationship to DBAE.

DBAE can trace its roots the 1960’s, when all subjects began to examine the basic structure of their disciplines. Even so DBAE didn’t really gain a foothold on art classroom curriculum until the Getty Center for Education in the Arts provided its endorsement and financial support (Eisner, 1990, p. 425).  While the elements and principles often go hand-in-hand with the study of Discipline Based Art Education, they are in fact not one and the same. Rather, Discipline-Based Art Education might better be described as the professionalization of the field of art education through an examination of what practitioners in the arts actually do. According to Eisner, “the four things that people do with art: they make it, they appreciate it, they understand it, they make judgments about it…are parallel to the disciplines of art production, art criticism, art history, and aesthetics.” (Brandt, 1987, p. 7). Thus we have the structure of professional activity mimicked in the four domains of discipline based art education: art making, art history, aesthetics, and criticism. These are the larger structures that constitute the study of a DBAE curriculum, not the mere study of the elements and principles of design. 

While the elements and principles of design can lend us a language with which to practice these four domains they themselves do not constitute a hearty study of discipline based art education (and for all those Texans out there they are only a small portion of the art content knowledge described in the art TEKS Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). In fact the elements and principles of design are only one of many possible approaches to establishing a functional language with which to view, describe, understand, situate, and make art. For other possible languages see: Teaching the Elements of Realistic-Style Pictures by Paul Duncum, Postmodern Principles: In Search of a 21st Century Art Education by Olivia Gude, and Principles of Possibility: Considerations for a 21st Century Art and Culture Curriculum by Olivia Gude.


Eisner, E. (1990) Discipline-Based Art Education: Conceptions and misconceptions. Educational Theory, 40 (4), 423-430.

Gude, O. (2004). Postmodern principles: In search of a 21st century art education. Art Education, 57(1), 6-14.

Gude. O. (2007). Principles of possibility: Considerations for a 21st century art and culture curriculum. Art Education, 60(1), 6-17.

Duncum, P. (2013). Teaching the elements of realistic-style pictures. Art Education, 66(1) 46-51.

Brandt, R. (1987) On Discipline-Based Art Education: A conversation with Elliot Eisner. Educational Leadership 45(4), 6-9. 

Thursday 10.19.17

Ready for a Challenge? – How we find (make) our Pearls

From: Suzanne Goulet


Draw, write, go to that magical place in your imagination (day dream), are but some of the options if presented with a less-than-inspirational environment.

It is my belief that if you are bored, then you have missed an opportunity.

Maybe it is time to... ?


Connect with an Artist Educator – Open Your Studio Classroom

Loco Parentis.

Yes, your school law radar just went off. Working with an artist educator is like inviting the world adventuring aunt or uncle of your family. They are relations, but there is freshness and authenticity that enforces the purpose of our mission.

Tim Christensen is a Maine artist and ceramicist with experience with studio classrooms. Tim has facilitated individual and collaborative student creations. His most recent personal adventures involve illustrating a working trans-Pacific voyage on a cargo ship to Australia, and embracing the chaos of wood firing.


Who is the “voyageur” artist educator that comes to mind when you think of courage, and embraces the journey? What are the ways you foster perseverance?

Make a Commitment every week to Contemporary Art or Design

Share with students the art and design works of “today.” Authentic and real, these are great vehicles for students to get a bearing of where and what Art and Design is in the world.

Ai Weiwei’s NYC installations, new advertising campaigns (L.L. Bean’s, “Be an Outsider”), the illustration (and content) of the Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary, and cosplay are avenues that can provide launching points for media literacy, introduction, and process.

This requires a component in your curriculum (and fluency) that accommodates the power of dynamics. Look for the connections. See the supporting pathways.

Engage with the NAEA National Convention in Seattle – An Oyster Shell

Nick Cave is our featured guest at the National Convention. An opportunity for connections to contemporary art and design, and an adventure in learning and sharing best practices with others.


Challenge yourself to attend the National Convention – to make pearls with the wisdom of your peers.


Learn more about the 2018 NAEA National Convention here.


Wednesday 10.11.17

Trying to Make Sense of it all – Why We Need to Connect (and Play).

From: Suzanne Goulet

I had a plan.

… A plan for how this NAEA Monthly Mentor blog opportunity would create questions for us to ponder our choices in the classroom. How ideas and discoveries that we share can propel our mission through the month of October.

Then the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival mass shooting shocked and bewildered us... and continues to do so.

The plan changed… in purpose


We are Stronger Together – We move Forward

The direction has not changed. What is different is the journey. Same path… but now altered. We try to work the logic. (Logic? Really?) We remember the names, and the faces. We connect.

Mary Dunn, a dear 5th grade colleague at the Hall School in Waterville, Maine, teaches us all with a lesson in empathy and getting-to-it-ness. How we can, we must, make these events in to lessons that we learn from, to reflect on - to feel for our students, to help them to grow, for our mission to thrive.

The forwarding of an article, and the posing of a question made us stronger, because of a shared experience. Mary got us to think about how we can work together to help our students… our community.

(the article that Mary shared... an argument for play… among other points)

Our journey forever changed.


The Mountains you have Moved – How, Why and with Whom?

What is something that you have come together with colleagues to forward/defend/change?

Consider the crystallizing moment that inspired you to action?

Who is your most cherished/surprising education ally/advocate?

You are a reflective educator, understanding of complex processes engaged on the journey to understanding and discovery, for your students, you, and your community.

You are connected.



Monday 10. 2.17

Plan for Success, Prepare for Greatness, and Leave Room for Play.

From: Suzanne Goulet

This summer I knew I was doing two things: be in the presence of the world’s tallest tree and stand in the path of totality for the Great American Eclipse.

These magnificent and amazing events did occur, but what also made up the summer of 2017, and how they happen are integral to my professional practice.

Planning and preparing

Locating Hyperion (tree), watching weather, knowing the path, and some late pre-eclipse evening magic made experiencing and sharing totality an amazing event in Hillsboro, Missouri.           


Research pays great dividends for accomplishing goals.

We have goals for our students. We know where we want to help guide them. Utilizing research and learning best practices is an ongoing part of this preparation.

A number of years ago I committed (plan and prepare) to making an annual donation to the National Art Education Foundation (NAEF) to support this research and the funding of innovation. Please consider this mindful and significant practice when renewing your professional membership.     


Play is powerful

The journey always starts in upper-right-hand corner, USA (Maine). The 2017 adventure started with dynamic, relevant, and engaging art education professional development and art making with Team East (Eastern Region) colleagues. Hosted by Maryland AEA and AE District of Columbia, this was a creative start. Regional Leadership Conferences are always unique in delivery and content – make a plan to play together.   


Travel is by vehicle (SAV – Sanity Assault Vehicle), Hyperion is in northern California, so I headed west on I-70

Education takes a lot of energy. Effective practice takes a lot of planning and research. Play allows for benefits of what we did not plan/anticipate to occur. Celebrate this for yourself, and your students.

The Flight 93 Memorial, star engulfed soaks in hot springs with wild burros, beholding feeding Humpback whales from the Golden Gate, celebrating gatherings with family and friends, re-discovering forgotten NV boomtowns, and taking in the Center for Sonic Arts (check it out) played in to the days of summer.

Doing more research on Sonic Arts…and innovative ways to incorporate visual art, media and design…with my students.

To see and hear The Tank.

The play continues...

The Tank


Wednesday 09.27.17

Cross-Grade Level Collaborations

From: Kristin Vanderlip Taylor

Teaching art in a K-8 school provides me with rich opportunities for cross-grade level collaborations. I try to build in at least one occasion per year for my middle school students to work on a project with the primary students in Kindergarten, first, and second grades. Sometimes it’s a one-visit collaboration, like our Earth Day earthworks in the Kindergarten yard, in which the Kindergarten teachers first shared Andy Goldsworthy’s work with their students in a PowerPoint presentation and my middle school students watched Rivers and Tides, his documentary, to learn about how and why he makes the work he does. After understanding the parameters of using available natural materials in their own environment, my middle school art students teamed up with a few Kindergarten students in each group to build their own earthworks on the play yard in honor of Earth Day. To ensure that the lesson doesn’t become dominated by either group, all students are first taught how to communicate effectively in order to truly collaborate and combine ideas when working with others. I document each earthwork and photograph the students who collaborated to make it before they return the materials to their natural homes.

Earth day spiral collaboration
Earth Day Spiral Collaboration

Earth day spiral collaboration
Earth Day Collaboration

Earth day spiral collaboration<
Earth Day Earthwork

Earth day spiral collaboration
Earth Day Collaboration

Earth day spiral collaboration
Earth Day Collaboration

On other occasions, collaboration between grade levels becomes a multi-visit project, like the year my first grade students illustrated toy designs and middle school students brought them to life as three-dimensional forms. I was inspired by art educator Cynthia Gaub’s presentation at the 2015 NAEA convention on multi-age toy collaborations and decided to try something similar with my students. During a unit focusing on art that we use, first graders examined toys from long ago and compared them with their own toys today. They then illustrated a new toy they would like to have, including both the front and back views (turnarounds). They had to be specific in the details - colors, materials (soft and sewn, or sturdy and sculpted?), and size. Middle school art students selected one or two toys to construct, then met with their first grade design partners to ask any clarifying questions before beginning. Because we had more first grade art students than middle school art students, some worked collaboratively to complete more than one toy. Students had access to a wide variety of materials to fulfill their “client’s” instructions - fabric for sewing and stuffing, clay, Model Magic, recycled materials, paper mache, and much more, though some of it came from donations or secondhand shops to avoid high costs. During the several-week construction process, the first grade students could see their designs in progress as they visited the art room for instruction. At open house, the toys were debuted alongside the original illustrations. Parents were ecstatic - more than one Kindergarten parent wanted to be reassured that we would do something similar the following year so their child could participate! The day after open house, first grade students visited their buddies to receive their new one-of-a-kind toys. I was thrilled to see how proud my middle school students were and how honored they felt when their first grade partners were over the moon about their final designs.

Toys on table
Toy Planning with Buddy

Toys on table
Toy Planning with Buddies

Toys on table
Stuffed Dragon Collaboration

Toys on table
Stuffed Animal Collaboration

Toys on table
Toys on Table

Toys on table
Toy Reveal

Toys on table
Toy Reveal

Last year, second grade and middle school collaborated on zines, and this year I’m working through a few different plans for more cross-grade level collaboration. Possible options up for consideration include narrative exchanges back and forth several times, or task parties, based on Oliver Herring’s open-ended generative and playful work. If anyone else has been implementing cross-grade level collaborations, I’d love to hear your ideas!