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 03.23.20


By Stephanie Silverman 

The following post is a continuation of the March Monthly Mentor series "Designing Sequential & Scaffolded Studio Experiences to Deepen Learning and Optimize Technical Skill Acquisition" which feature a series of thematically connected lessons from my high school Architectural Design course. Each post includes an overview of lessons beginning with introductory exercises in form and design, through to the finished culminating project, an original scaled architectural model.

The final model project was broken down into 5 steps, systematically breaking down the design process to ensure clarity of benchmarks for completion/progress, and also to make the project less unwieldy and overwhelming.

Step 1: Choose: Students Select a Client and an appropriate Element or Principle of Art & Design to Drive Project Concept

The students first needed to choose a client for their architectural design project, and complete an in-depth “client profile” including an analysis of what elements and principles of art and design they most associate with their client. These elements and principles of art become the ideas and visual associations that inform the design and decision-making process that follows. Some examples of clients chosen by the class and their associated element/principle of art and design: basketball star Kevin Durant (motion), Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold (balance), artist MC Escher (symmetry, pattern), photographer Galen Rowell (contrast), musician Billy Joel (harmony). When you look at the students’ final models, you can clearly see that their designs were informed by these visual and verbal descriptors.

Step 2: Sketch Model Making, Research

By requiring them to explore several alternatives (a minimum of 5 design possibilities) and create sketch models samples for each option, it also demonstrates to me that the students considered a variety of possible formal iterations of their design. Students were also required to research green and sustainable features of architectural design (LEED certified buildings), and incorporate a sustainable sensitivity into their building designs.

You can clearly see in these two examples how the paper form studies directly informed the final model’s design, demonstrating the importance of this step:


Blog4_2Above: Malik, 12th grade   


Blog4_4Above: Austin, 11th grade


Step 3: Technical Scaled Drawings

Students then entered the creating/implementation phase of the project, assigning concrete dimensions to their designs using 1:1 scaled drawings in plan and 4 elevations.

Step 4: Model-Making Phase Once the scaled drawings are completed and approved students begin the model-making process and transition from the two-dimensional to the three-dimensional realm.


Final Models, 11th and 12th grade Student Work

Blog4_10Austin, 11th Grade

Blog4_11Joy, 11th grade

Blog4_12Malik, 12th Grade.

Blog4_13PJ, 11th grade.

Step 5: Evaluate

The Importance of Critique, Reflection & Assessment

Each foundation project described in this article concluded with a group critique or assessment, allowing students to reflect upon their work and the work of their classmates. These periodic checkpoints also provide valuable insights for me as their collaborator and guide.  Better understanding their individual goals and personal perspectives on each project helps me to ask the right questions and more effectively guide their individual creative process.



/100 Craft/Construction: Final model is well made, clean and considered. Care was used with adhesives. Pieces have been cut and created well. Joinery and connections between elements is seamless.

/100 Concept/Idea Model is ambitious and complex, final model provides evidence that student delved deep into three-dimensional design principles and construction issues. Final model remains faithful to original concept or idea from design phase 2 (sketch models and original technical drawings).

/100 Resolution The final model looks and feels complete. Student included all of the design elements and principles intended at the outset of the project. Student considered surrounding landscape, terrain and environmental context in the model.

Students also complete a self-evaluation at the conclusion of the course and the final project:

Architectural Design: Self Evaluation-40 points

  1. How closely does your final model embody the forms, descriptors adjectives, colors & style you associated with your client in your original client profile?
  1. Do you feel that your final model successfully incorporates the elements & principles of design you intended at the outset of the design phase? Mention specific, concrete examples in the design of your final model.
  1. Evaluate the overall craftsmanship (or quality of execution) of your model.
  1. Evaluate your work ethic and use of class time.
  1. If you could re-make your model or modify your design, what would you change or do differently?
  2. Do you feel that your technical drawings, concept models and your final architectural model represents a full term of focused creative effort (one term’s worth of work)?


National Core Visual Arts Standards Covered in the Course:


Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.

VA: Cr1 Enduring Understanding: Creativity and innovative thinking are essential life skills that can be developed.

Essential Question(s): What conditions, attitudes, and behaviors support creativity and innovative thinking? What factors prevent or encourage people to take creative risks? How does collaboration expand the creative process?

HS Proficient VA: Cr1.1.Ia Use multiple approaches to begin creative endeavors.

HS Advanced: VA:Cr1.1.IIIa Visualize and hypothesize to generate plans for ideas and directions for creating art and design that can affect social change.


HS Proficient VA: Cr1.2.Ia: Shape an artistic investigation of an aspect of present-day life using a contemporary practice of art or design.

HS Accomplished VA: Cr1.2.IIa: Choose from a range of materials and methods of traditional and contemporary artistic practices to plan works of art and design.

HS Advanced: VA: Cr1.2.IIIa: Choose from a range of materials and methods of traditional and contemporary artistic practices, following or breaking established conventions, to plan the making of multiple works of art and design based on a theme, idea or concept.

Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Enduring understanding: Artists and designers experiment with forms, structures, materials, concepts, media, and art making approaches

Essential Question(s): How do artists work? How do artists and designers determine whether a particular direction in their work is effective? How do artists and designers learn from trial and error?

HS Proficient VA: Cr2.1.Ia: Engage in making a work of art or design without a preconceived plan

HS Accomplished VA: Cr2.1.IIa: Through experimentation, practice, and persistence, demonstrate acquisition of skills and knowledge in a chosen art form.

HS Advanced: VA: Cr2.1.IIIa Experiment, plan and make multiple works of art and design that explore a personally meaningful theme, idea, or concept.

VA: Cr2.3 Enduring Understanding: People create and interact with objects, places, and design that define, shape, enhance, and empower their lives.

VA: Cr2.3 Essential Question(s): How do objects, places, and design shape lives and communities? How do artists and designers determine goals for designing or redesigning objects, places, or systems? How do artists and designers create works of art or design that effectively communicate?

HS Proficient VA: Cr2.3.Ia: Collaboratively develop a proposal for an installation, artwork or space design that transforms perception and experience of a particular place.

HS Accomplished VA: Cr2.3.IIa: Redesign an object, system, place, or design in response to contemporary issues.

HS Advanced: VA: Cr2.3.IIIa: Demonstrate in works of art or design how visual and material culture defines, shapes, enhances, inhibits, and/or empowers people’s lives.

Anchor Standard 3: Refine and Complete Works of Art

VA: Cr3.1.Ia: Enduring Understanding: Artist and designers develop excellence through practice and constructive critique, reflecting on, revising, and refining work over time.

VA: Cr3.1.Ia: Essential Question(s): What role does persistence play in revising, refining, and developing work? How do artists grow and become accomplished in art forms? How does collaboratively reflecting on work of art help us experience it more completely?

HS Proficient VA: Cr3.1.Ia Apply relevant criteria from traditional and contemporary cultural contexts to examine, reflect on, and plan revisions for works of art and design in progress.

HS Accomplished VA: Cr3.1.IIa: Engage in constructive critique with peers, then reflect on, re-engage, revise and refine works of art and design in response to personal artistic vision.

HS Advanced: VA: Cr3.1.IIIa Reflect on, re-engage, revise, and refine works of art or design considering relevant traditional and contemporary criteria as well as personal artistic vision.


Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.

Enduring Understanding: Individual aesthetic and empathetic awareness developed through engagement with art can lead to understanding and appreciation of self, others, the natural world, and constructed environments.

Essential Question(s): How do life experiences influence the way you relate to art? How does learning about art impact how we perceive the world? What can we learn from our responses to art?

HS Proficient VA: Re7.1.Ia: Hypothesize ways in which art influences perception and understanding of human experiences.

HS Accomplished VA: Re7.1.IIa: Recognize and describe personal aesthetic and empathetic responses to the natural world and constructed environments.

HS Advanced VA: Re7.1.IIIa Analyze how responses to art develop over time based on knowledge of and experience with art and life.


Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.

Enduring Understanding: Through art making, people make meaning by investigating and developing awareness of perceptions, knowledge, and experiences.

Essential Question(s): How does engaging in creating art enrich people's lives? How does making art attune people to their surroundings? How do people contribute to awareness and understanding of their lives and the lives of their communities through art making?

HS Proficient VA: Cn10.1.Ia: Document the process of developing ideas from early stages to fully elaborated ideas.

HS Accomplished VA: Cn10.1.IIa: Utilize inquiry methods of observation, research, and experimentation to explore unfamiliar subjects through art- making.

HS Advanced VA: Cn10.1.IIIa: Synthesize knowledge of social, cultural, historical, and personal life with art-making approaches to create meaningful works of art or design.

Questions? Please feel free to contact me at

- SS

Monday 03.16.20

FOUNDATION PROJECT #3: Paper Model Making

By Stephanie Silverman 

The following post is a continuation of the March Monthly Mentor series "Designing Sequential & Scaffolded Studio Experiences to Deepen Learning and Optimize Technical Skill Acquisition" which feature a series of thematically connected lessons from my high school Architectural Design course. Each post includes an overview of lessons beginning with introductory exercises in form and design, through to the finished culminating project, an original scaled architectural model.

Introduction to form, space and volume

100 points (5 studies at 10 points each)

I then ask students to experiment with paper and Bristol board to create a series of form/structure studies in paper. The purpose of this assignment is to work with form and discover the potential of paper as a three-dimensional model-making material, without a specific objective. By removing any specific outcome (other than investigations that address specific model-making approaches), this “low-stakes” experience allows students the freedom to experiment, play and discover. Many of the small paper studies created during this phase often function as inspiration for the final model.

Assignment: Create one paper form for each of the following five categories: 

 - An enclosed (solid) paper form involving curves

- An enclosed form created through scoring and folding

- A form created by repeating one basic or simple element, resulting in a complex system (can have openings or be completely enclosed

- A paper structure created with slotting techniques

- One of your own ideas (can be from a category above)

CRAFT/TECHNIQUE: You may need to make several mock-ups or explorations before creating your “final” five designs. Your finished studies should be clean, crisp, and well executed, with no visible pencil or construction lines or messy glue seams.

3-16-20n post-Paper Studies

3-16-20 paper studies post image2

Check back on Monday, March 23 for the third lesson in this curricular unit.

- SS

Monday 03. 9.20

FOUNDATION PROJECT #2: Nine-Square Grid Project: Developing Space and Structure

By Stephanie Silverman

The following post is a continuation of the March Monthly Mentor series "Designing Sequential & Scaffolded Studio Experiences to Deepen Learning and Optimize Technical Skill Acquisition" which feature a series of thematically connected lessons from my high school Architectural Design course. Each post includes an overview of lessons beginning with introductory exercises in form and design, through to the finished culminating project, an original scaled architectural model.

This assignment is based on “The Nine-Square Grid Problem”, which is a common assignment taught to foundation architecture students created by John Hejduk in 1954, but the difference is that it requires students to use one of the descriptors from the gestalt square project to create a three-dimensional spatial investigation. The descriptor should function as the conceptual touchstone and drive each design decision. With a very limited amount of material and very specific constraints, students are asked to create a structure that communicates their object in three dimensions.


  1. Choose one of the words from assignment #1 (Gestalt Square Compositions)
  2. Working along the orientation grid lines of your base, create a 3D spatial investigation of your selected 2D design comprised only of a combination of walls/partitions and columns/beams.

Think about separating, unifying, overlapping, enclosing and organizing space. As you move walls and beams around to organize your space, try to think about the space you are moving as well as the solid objects. Try to think about manipulating space rather than modeling form.

Materials/Teacher Prep:

14 ply chipboard, 2 sheets per student, at 28'' × 44''

Hot Glue Guns & Hot Glue Sticks (lots of hot glue sticks)

Masking tape to serve as temporary adhesive for planning designs and securing vertical elements when gluing

Self-healing cutting mats

Exact-o blades (shafts and replacement blades, protective caps preferred)

Clear plastic triangles and rulers to use as straight edge references


Mechanical pencils

Teacher Prep: Draw out a square grid consisting of three rows of three 6” x 6” squares, forming a “nine square grid.” Reference off of the upper left corner of your chipboard sheet, oriented horizontally. You will have an extra amount of space around the grid (4” at the bottom and 16” on the right side). You can decide if you would like for the students to have the opportunity to use this extra material (in addition to their second sheet of 28” x 44” chipboard, or just cut it off and reuse for a different project at a later time.


- All chipboard “bases” must include a scaled 9 Square (6 x 6) grid duplicated according to example, in pencil.

- You may only use vertical walls and beams, none of which may exceed 6” in height

- You may work diagonally, as long as your spatial organization still adheres to the grid

- Your partitions may exceed 6” in length, or be shorter in length (half partitions or walls).

You may only use one additional 28” × 44'' sheet of 14 ply chipboard to make your 3D elements. You do not need to use all of the material in the 28” x 44” material sheet.

Craft/High Quality Technical Execution is very important for this project. Since we will be using hot glue, please make sure to practice before using your “real pieces,” since hot glue can look very sloppy.

Completed Student Solutions:

Blog2_1Austin Edge, 11th Grade. Descriptor: “Order,” Design for a Contemporary Art Wing at the Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles CA

Blog2_2Malix Maddox, 12th grade. Descriptor: “Order,” Museum/Garden concept.

*Notice how both students' work featured above use the same descriptor for their design with very different formal qualities and outcomes.

Check back on Monday, March 16 for the third lesson in this curricular unit.

- SS

Sunday 03. 1.20

Designing Sequential & Scaffolded Studio Experiences to Deepen Learning and Optimize Technical Skill Acquisition

By Stephanie Silverman

I am very excited to have the opportunity to serve as the “Monthly Mentor” on NAEA’s member blog this March. When considering what overarching theme or idea I wanted to share over the course the month, I decided I wanted share an example of a curricular sequence I designed in my Architectural Design course to show how art and design educators might consider designing learning experiences that link and dovetail together to support and maximize deeper learning in visual art and design.

By showcasing a series of four interconnected assignments, carefully planned and designed in a sequence, I hope to illustrate the shift from a primarily instructor-led to a student-driven learning experiences over time, an important goal in each of my courses. Throughout the 4-part series, students develop technical skills and competence while expanding their conceptual approach to essential questions, design prompts, and studio projects in general. The goal for every art teacher should ultimately be to develop confident students who feel empowered in their creative capacity. By scaffolding learning experiences from very specific and primarily instructor-led projects to more open-ended and student-driven projects, you create optimal conditions for students to feel supported while developing a powerful sense of agency. Over time, students will begin to initiate their own discoveries and develop a unique personal voice through their creative work.

I intentionally target specific technical skills for each of the sequential projects I will be highlighting this month, with the intention of scaffolding both the technical and conceptual skills required for the capstone (or summative) project: a final architectural scaled model. Without these carefully designed and sequenced exercises and opportunities to acquire new knowledge about materials and an appreciation for quality technical execution, the final outcomes certainly not be nearly as successful. Without strong technical skills and facility to manipulate and intentionally control media, even the most sophisticated idea or concept will lose resonance and impact, much in the same way a limited verbal vocabulary may compromise the clarity and impact of a persuasive essay.

Over the course of the month, I will be posting a succession of projects that build toward the culminating final project. For each lesson, I will also share my specific assignment criteria, rubrics, and NAEA Standards.



Building a Conceptual Framework in Architectural Design: Scaffolding Learning Experiences to Maximize Student Success and Deepen Understanding


Four years ago, I decided to offer a course in Architectural Design in response to student interest and in order to offer a course in my program with direct real-world application in design. The biggest challenge I faced in designing the curriculum was time. Having only 12 weeks for the course with meeting times every day for 45 minutes (we were on a trimester schedule), I needed to devise a method of quickly and effectively imparting a three-dimensional design vocabulary and foundational experiences in model making, while also including both drafting and design experiences for a final culminating “capstone” project.

In response to the design limitations imposed by the class itself, I designed a curricular sequence consisting of three “mini foundation projects” that I believed would provide a solid working knowledge of spatial relationships, gestalt principles and the design process.

Each learning experience provided a successive layer of understanding of form and design, with each project building on the skills, concepts and knowledge of the previous learning experience. Though condensed and accelerated, these introductions provided valuable transferable “base knowledge,” and a basic yet functional understanding of three-dimensional design principles which students could later apply to new and more complex design situation (the final project).  

As is the case in any design-thinking based curriculum, the completed project is never the end goal, but instead it is the acquisition of creative thinking skills and agile learning attitudes that build the creative necessary for imaginative problem solving.

FOUNDATION PROJECT #1: Gestalt Squares: Visual Compositions
(1-2 block classes)

This assignment is based on one taught in many undergraduate architecture programs, and is actually a two-dimensional design assignment. However, it provides an excellent learning opportunity for students to consider how to plan, organize, design, and arrange objects while making scale determinations in order to elicit an emotional response or association in the viewer.

The exercise provides a concrete entry point for students to thoughtfully consider the fact that form and design--even when reduced to pure simplicity (in this case, squares), is charged with emotional and sensory associations. Students begin to understand that by making deliberate and thoughtful choices, they can purposefully generate and evoke emotive qualities in their work.

Students are also introduced to a studio experience framed by a tight time window and specific project constraints.

Studio Project #1: Gestalt Squares Beginning with 2D Design Principles

Teacher Prep: Cut Ten 12x12 white Bristol board or sturdy white paper squares for each student.

Materials: Black construction paper, rubber cement or glue sticks, self-healing cutting mats, exact-o blades, clear plastic triangles and rulers to use as straight edge references, scissors, mechanical pencils.

I ask students to cut and arrange black paper squares (of whatever dimensions they deem appropriate) within the bounds of a large white square (12 x 12) in order to generate one of each of the following sensations or associations in the viewer:

2. Congestion
3. Playfulness
4. Tension
5. Active
6. Passive
7. Comfort/Safety/Stability
8. Symmetry/Asymmetry
9. Rhythmic
10. Static

Students are asked to consider proximity (spacing), alignment, collision (interaction between squares) and focal point of each composition.

Students create square compositions.

Teacher Prep: Print all 10 descriptors out (1 copy for each student). Students then slice apart the descriptors.


Blog 1_2

We then meet as a group around a central table. We collectively try to determine the associations of each student’s designs. I ask students to silently determine which descriptor they believe their peer was trying to evoke in their composition by placing the world on the design.

Blog1_3Above: Student designs with text/descriptors placed, detail 

It is always very interesting to approach the “critique” of this intro project this way, since the silent activity reinforces the communicative effect of a successful gestalt square composition (reinforcing the idea that truly there is a visual “language” at work).

Check back on Monday, March 9 for the second lesson in this curricular unit.

- SS