Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Monday 11.28.16

STEAM Lesson Ideas that Engage Students

From: Jessica Soifer

Happy, happy Turkey week! I am thankful for this opportunity to write for NAEA, to share with the art community and build some connections around the world through this experience. 

This week I am sharing some STEAM ideas that I have done with my students. 

Knoles Elementary STEAM club offers opportunities for students to explore and discover while problem solving, critical thinking and working together. Creating, building and experimenting spark excitement for the students throughout the year.

Last year STEAM club was a 5th grade club after school that was once a week. We explored many topics and many activities that involved opportunities for experiential learning.

- The gardening project was an important activity to continue from the previous year. Knoles students worked with a non- profit called TerraBIRDS (Being Innovative, Responsible, Dedicated Stewards). “TerraBIRDS” mission is to educate and empower young people through gardening to help prepare them as the stewards of a sustainable future for humanity.” Some of the activities that the students did was move rocks to create an area to grow plants and retain water to have more water go to the plants. Water is very precious in the high desert of AZ. Native plants and grasses were planted to help beautify the space. Students learned responsibility in order to care and nurture for the plants and garden space. Videos were created by the students to present their new knowledge and proud, hard work of the gardening project at open house.

- I wanted students to give back and do a service project called “Chairs for Change.” The students repurposed chairs and donated them to a Flagstaff fundraiser. This event raises money to support girls’ education in developing countries through New Education and the Mala Fund.  Knoles STEAM club redesigned and donated 7 chairs to this organization.


- Students had to problem solve in order to discover and create a pendulum. I gave students different sized rulers, tape, scissors, cardboard, foam, styrofoam, yarn, string and fabric. The goal was to have students come up with a functional design and create a painting to see if the pendulum worked or figure out what changes needed to be made. Here  are a few examples.


- Students had another discovery project, designing catapults. Materials they could choose from where styrofoam bowls, large and small containers, plastic spoons, tongue depressors, popsicle sticks, straws, rubber bands, small pieces of clay, marshmallows and paint. Students first had to launch clay balls and marshmallows. Once they did that the students had to measure the distance of the launch for each and what the difference was between the two materials. Then they could try a catapult painting.


- Building, blasting and measuring for the rocket project was a big hit with the students. They used transparencies, foam, washers, tape, rubber bands and paper to build the rockets.  The students measured several distances for the planets. Then problem solved with the materials and weights to achieve different distances.


- A parent brought in a 3D printer and the students created designs to experience the 3D printer.


This year the STEAM club is a 3rd through 5th grade club. The goals of the club are the same except the students will be focusing on different projects. The first semester the students are working on:

- The students created seed bombs with clay, stamps and AZ wildflower seeds. Take a chunk of clay and roll some seeds into the clay, roll the clay clump into a ball, stamp the top and either plant them or throw them into an area where you would like your seedlings to grow. Through this project the students learned about the practical use of the clay and how it helps protect the seeds from weather and critters. 

- To continue the gardening project the students used eggshells as planters. They learned that the eggshells are recycled and given back to the earth. When the shells are planted into the ground the shells will decompose and give the soil calcium.  The shells also help fend off slugs and other critters. 

- This coming week the students will become artist, scientists and paint onto petri dishes. They will use the scientific method to document their discoveries in this project. They will watch the growth process of the paint on their petri dish and then collect data on what they observed.  Then the students will create a watercolor painting inspired by the petri dish painting. This investigation was inspired by artist Klari Reis who created The Daily Dish 2013.

- The students will be exploring and creating our own personal compost. Here is the layering system that the students will be using. As they observe the compost process, they will document what they observe over the course of the of a couple weeks.


I hope I was able to offer some interesting lesson ideas to try in your classroom or clubs. I have done some of these lessons and others in my art class. It is easier to execute the lessons in STEAM club because I have 50 minutes versus 35 minutes for art class. All of the materials that were used in these projects were from the art room, donations or recycled from parents or Northern Arizona University. Try one of these out and let me know how it goes or how you changed it. I would love to hear. Until next time. Be happy, love, always smile, and create!


Friday 11.18.16

Adapted Art Curriculum

From: Jessica Soifer

Happy, Happy November! One of my personal greatest accomplishments that I have achieved has been designing a functional curriculum for the Beacon program at my school. There are 2 sections of this program. They both foster differentiated curriculums for students with autism. One program is an inclusion program where students are in their mainstream classes for a certain percentage of the day. The other is a self-contained program where the students spend the majority of their instruction time in the special education classroom. Both programs focus on achieving specific goals to demonstrate progress and success that is stated the IEP’s.

Flagstaff Unified School District has an adaptive PE program for the special education programs in the whole district, but there are not any art or music programs district-wide for special education. So I thought, why not create a program at my school and maybe one day the district will hire someone to teach an adaptive arts program district wide for all special education programs. Art is exercising your brain and is just as important as other subjects. We do teach cross curricularly whether it is intentional or unintentional.

All students have their unique differences. It takes a community to manage and educate all of our students. Ways that we can honor our students unique differences are building connections with them. Learn about what their favorite things are, what they enjoy most, what they do not like and what triggers positive and negative behaviors. In order to develop accommodations for students it is important to connect with your building specialists, go to or read IEP’s to learn more about the students and set goals for students in the art classroom.

For the adapted art curriculum, I worked with the special education teacher at my school to help make this curriculum successful. I asked lots of questions and wanted to provide tools that were appropriate for the students various skill levels to create success. All the students have a schedule and token board (to help reinforce positive behavior and the student works towards something they enjoy.)


Some students with Autism have various sensory sensitivities. Here are some tools that can be used in the classroom to help adapt or ease into a project for the students individual needs. Noise reducing headphones help students that have noise sensitivities. Textures can have a great effect on some students. Having gloves available or alternative materials can help tactile sensitivities. Smells in the art room may be too pungent, so nose plugs may come handy.


Some other tools that can help are visual icons for the students rather than verbal directions. Scissors that squeeze that take less effort than the manual open and close that most of us are accustomed to. A tennis ball or fabric for gripping for students who have a hard time gripping smaller tools or something with texture for sensory stimulation. To help with transitions you can also use visual timers.


A big part of the success of students with Autism in the Beacon program are their paraprofessionals who work with the students on a daily basis. To help create student success and independence, it is very important as the teacher to one establish a relationship with the paraprofessionals, but also making sure they know their role and modeling positive behavior in the classroom. As the teacher, I relay clear expectations for what and how the paras are to work with the students in my art class. Each student is different and there are different approaches for each student. Communication, teamwork, goal setting and developing strategies are key to success when working with all students but especially for making accommodations for special needs students.

This entry is dedicated to my sister who is developmentally delayed. I am thankful for the life lessons that she has taught me growing up. She has inspired me to be a teacher and change students lives on a daily basis. I love her dearly, cherish our relationship, enjoy her uniqueness and share her passion for caring for others!

I would like to share this template that I have created for students and paras.


Monday 11. 7.16

Celebrating Veteran's Day

From: Jessica Soifer

Happy, happy November! On November 4, my school had our annual Veteran's assembly. The music teacher, Mr. R conducted a beautiful ceremony honoring the Veterans who attended the assembly, and the Veterans around the United States. Every year the 5th graders interview Veterans, write essays and share the stories of the brave men and women at the assembly. Mr. R also has the students sing an array of songs honoring and thanking the Veterans for their service.


One way the Knoles artists showed their appreciation for the Veteran’s was created art and I displayed their work for the assembly. This year kindergarten designed and painted their own interpretation of an American flag on textured wall paper. We discussed texture and practiced painting techniques by making their brush dance in the paint and on their paper, not scrubbing to give the paint or their paper a bath.

2a 2b 2c

The kinders also made poppies by drawing wavy or rounded lines, cutting and gluing. The students chose between red, white and blue wallpaper to create their flowers. 


First grade made poppies as well. They practiced following directions, drawing big wavy lines close to the edge of the paper, cutting and painting appropriately. They painted with sparkly, warm colors.   

4a 4b

Here the works of art combined.

Fourth grade made Pinwheels at the beginning of the year to celebrate Pinwheels for Peace. We are creating peace, one pinwheel at a time. So I displayed them on the bulletin for Veterans Day. They created designs on ripped jeans with oil pastels as well..


This has been a busy week with setting up 2 art shows, 2 professional developments and creating jewelry to sell at the Flagstaff Arboretum. The artwork that i displayed was obviously for the Veteran’s assembly and the other at the district office. It all got done. The Vets appreciated the artwork and the folks at the district office have been giving many compliments to the Knoles artists. Well until next time. Be happy, love, always smile, and create!


Tuesday 11. 1.16

Greetings from your November Mentor!

Happy, Happy November! I have the great honor of serving art educators around the state of Arizona as President-Elect for the Arizona Art Education Association. This has created many opportunities and experiences for collaboration, building connections, honoring different working styles, advocacy, and becoming a stronger leader. I have met many interesting people that have supported and inspired me along the presidency journey thus far.

With that said, I am 35 weeks pregnant with my first baby and some people think I am super woman for taking on the AAEA President-Elect position, teaching full-time, having extra curricular activities, sitting on other boards in Flagstaff, and spending time with my husband.


People have said to me, “how do you do it all?” (When I put my mind to something, it gets done.); “I think you need help with your presidency so I/we can split the time” (Well I appreciate your consideration, but I can do this. I am pregnant, not sick); or “I don’t want you to have too much on your to do list” (I am done with my other tasks and want to alleviate some stress of others, so please let me help). Yes, there are times that life gets overwhelming, but doesn’t that happen to every human being when you are happy, sad, normal, in a funk, sick, pregnant, or however you are feeling. The busier I am, the more productive I am. That is how I have been since I was a kid. Yes, there are days where I am exhausted, but as my mom always says, “There is a bedtime at some point.”

A wonderful experience that I was fortunate to attend was the leadership conference Washington D.C. Tracy, the AAEA President, and I were able to get to know each other better and connect on a deeper level. This will help our future relationship working together on making AAEA more successful every year. On this trip I learned many things about myself. One thing I learned about and started to get was heartburn on this trip (I am sorry to those that suffer from this). Learning to deal with it was, and has been, interesting. More importantly, I learned what it means to be a leader and how to tap into those qualities of being a productive leader for AAEA members, within my school, and community. Another amazing experience has been helping to plan for the AAEA 2016 Conference, which is happening in 2 weeks. I have discovered what people call pregnant brain. I can be forgetful when it comes to remembering things. Thank goodness AAEA helps me out, my students are on top of things happening in the art room, and everyone is patient. For the most part I am on top of things because of my passion planner, but also because I work with a committee who are committed, who plan, delegate jobs, and problem solve to execute the President's vision for the 2016 Conference in Tucson, Arizona. Unfortunately, I will miss out this year do to the timing of my pregnancy. I will not be able to travel and be away from my doc. There is always next year (which I am planning).

Being apart of NAEA, AAEA, teaching, and surrounded by the art world allows me to stimulate my brain and passions in many different ways. This makes me feel good and healthy to work hard, help others, and inspire my students. There are ups and downs of being pregnant, but it has not stopped me in any way. Having a support system is important. Thank you to the love of my life and my family. If I can do it, you can do it no matter your circumstance. Until next time. Be happy, love, always smile and create!