Bulb Archived: Canty ATLAS 2015-2018: Dorotiak (Year 3, 2017-2018)

School Name: Arthur E. Canty Elementary

Teacher Name: Nathan Dorotiak

Section I: Arts Integration – Inquiry 

3. What is your Inquiry Question for your ATLAS curriculum unit? What big ideas does this inquiry question address, and why do you think the question successfully addresses these? 

The inquiry questions that I presented at the beginning of this unit were as follows:

1. In what ways can traditional methods of visual art-making be integrated with contemporary technology?

2. In what ways can artists utilize traditional and contemporary methods of art-making to convey a story?

With regard to the first inquiry question related to integrating traditional methods of art-making with new technology, I wanted students to begin to think of art-making processes and materials in new ways. By framing certain materials as traditional, we were able to have a discussion on how art is perceived based on the materials in which it is made. For example, is something made from oil paint fit our definition of art more fully than something made with marker? This type of questioning enabled us to grapple with our own pre-conceived notions of art-making. As a teacher, I left it to the student to either feel confirmed or challenged as they develop their own personal aesthetic. Further, by framing some materials and processes as traditional, we were able to explore the non-traditional. Broadly speaking, electronic technology was thought of as non-traditional given its more contemporary status in comparison to materials such as paint, graphite, charcoal, etc. I feel this conversation introduced students to the historical aspects of art-making and, hopefully, served to inspire a sense of ongoing development within the arts that is related to new invention revealing new possibility. The second function of the inquiry question was to compel students to see how the traditional and non-traditional can both be embraced and synthesized to create a single product. I wanted students to begin working in a zone of familiarity with the traditional methods they are accustomed, then to slowly branch out and grapple with the unknowns of the non-traditional. The inquiry question demanded the discomfort and discovery inherent in the process.

The rationale for the second inquiry question, the one focused on story telling, served to provide students a loose framework on which to develop their ideas. I wanted to guide students toward a clear product that synthesized different art-making processes. I suppose my mind went to animation since it first relies on approaches to image-making, sometimes sculpture, and rendering, then second demands a method for animation that students would have to experiment with. It seemed to me a good avenue through which to explore the complex creative process I was hoping to bring out of my students. 

In terms of how this all wraps into a Big Idea, it seems that the broadest idea would be Stories.

4. How did student research help them to engage more deeply with the unit inquiry question? Explain how your students conducted research for their ATLAS project, and how that research opened up avenues for further inquiry. 

Experience has taught me that I need to step back and relinquish control when it comes to students personal creative processes. I have had a history of dictating many facets of a project, from the materials, technique, process, and expected outcome. Over the years I have stepped back from this, though it sometimes elicits discomfort in me. Not knowing much about technology, which this unit had to rely heavily on, I decided to allow myself to relinquish the most control over the parameters of the project than ever before. Essentially, I provided students the inquiry questions, opened up the project to all materials, informed students that they needed to chart their own creative path, and required all students to determine their own process. I assured them that I would certainly support them. However, I was clear that if a student asked me what to do next, I would simply ask in return, “What do you think you should do next?” Instead, I encouraged students to grow awareness of their process by keeping in mind end goals while experimenting. I encouraged questions like “I am trying to do blank, I have experimented by doing blank, and I am still having some troubles. Do you have any suggestions?”

I describe this because I think it generally promoted a more research-oriented environment from the very start of class. Students were not passive in their creative development, but more active. Further, students were asked to be cognizant of a general creative process that I provided to provide extra support for those who found the freedom of the project daunting. This process was as follows:

1. Imagine possibilities (a personal process taking place in your mind)

2. Begin visualizing those possibilities (taking imagined ideas and sketching them out)

3. Develop personal preferences (which ones do you enjoy working on the most?)

4. Formalize those ideas your are most drawn to (sketch, plan)

5. Experiment with representation (how do I best show my idea?)

6. Produce the products of the project (make what you need!)

7. Utilize products with technology to create an animated story (make the final)

8. Assess, adjust, and re-assess the work (is this working how I need it to work?)

9. Finalize the product

Because students were asked to go through this general process not with directives from me the teacher, but independently with my occasional support (support only given if they could articulate their difficulties against their desired outcomes), I feel that the creative process itself was a form of research that continued throughout every aspect of the project. At the beginning, students were researching animations and reference images. After students created products for their animation and began experimenting with animating itself, they sometimes realized they designed their products in such a way that it was impossible to animate them! They had to be remade. After the initial frustration of this, the students would re-assess and re-make while also providing support to other students and guiding them away from reproducing the mistakes they had made. Once technology was introduced in the form of iPads on which students would use iMovie to create their products, student work slowed way down as everybody worked to determine the best methods for taking photographs, organizing photographs, uploading the photographs into iMovie, editing photos in the timeline of iMovie, and so on. Conveniently, students began forming small teaching groups where a student who knew the process would teach those who did not! Finally, at the end of the project, when students thought they were done, they would present their movie to others for their opinion. I feel all of this was the research of the project and worked to both guide the creation of some great projects and engaged learning.

5. Describe how the unit inquiry opens up avenues for interdisciplinary connections between the arts and academic content. How did arts processes and/or research practices facilitate students’ understanding of the academic topics addressed in the inquiry question? 

The focus on storytelling within the visual arts unit opened a clear avenue through which students could explore writing and narrative within the project. Students were asked to develop a story on which to base their animation. No major requirement was put onto the story so that students felt the freedom to depict whatever kind of narrative they wanted to depict. In this way, processes utilized in the ELA classroom became relevant to creating a visual art product.

6. How did the curriculum evolve based on the unit inquiry process? 

What immediately comes to mind is that the project became longer, then longer, then longer. Looking back, I realize I severely underestimated how long students would need to complete this project. As they became more invested with the processes involved, the length of time they needed to work became longer. Moreover, students needed the room to FAIL (First Attempt In Learning). Many attempts that were made simply did not work out and they had to re-assess and re-make. The length of time the curriculum needed was the most significant evolution that occurred. 

Overall, I think that I framed my thinking and approach to this unit in such a way that evolution was part of the process. I purposefully conducted the project to be extremely open-ended and student-driven. As such, I did not have any preconceived notion of what would happen outside of “the students will make an animation.” Given this, there was no significant deviation from the path set forth because the path was being set every class meeting.

Section I: Arts Integration – Create Works 

7. How did students self-direct while creating their artistic work during the ATLAS project? Please provide any examples for the ways in which students made their own aesthetic choices and direction for creating their artwork. Examples might include but are not limited to: how did students make choices about the use of materials, how did they decide what they wanted to communicate, how did they make decisions about how to present work? 

A core component of the project was student self-direction. As described earlier in my responses, I purposefully formatted open-endedness into this project as both a personal and student challenge. As such, many different aesthetic choices were made in the creation of the student movies. Some created paper puppets set against drawn or painted backgrounds, others created three-dimensional dioramas out of boxes and found materials, one student created sculptures out of notebook paper to form the structure of his movie, some students works on single sheet of paper and adjusted the drawing on it after every photo taken for their movie, and some students incorporated action figures into their own creations. Strictly speaking, a diversity of aesthetic choices were made because students were not given an aesthetic framework…only an expectation for an animation that tells a story to be made. This basic sentiment extends to what the students wanted to communicate in terms of the story they would tell as well as how the work would be presented. Admittedly, all work had to be presented as a movie on an iPad. However, the use of text, transitions, sound, music, and voice over was all a choice of the student and, arguably, relates to the presentation of the work, I suppose.

8. Please explain what opportunities the students had to reflect on their experiences and react to the work of their peers. 

Throughout the project, I feel that reflection was most often forced through failure. Here, I do not speak of failure as an utter failure in the whole project, but as attempts to accomplish a goal that did not work out and required reassessment. Not having made stop-motion animations before, students often realized that the products they had made could not necessarily be easily animated or manipulated in the ways they had intended. As a result, they had to reflect on what those initial methods were and how they did not help them attain their goals, and based on that determine new paths for working. Often, students would get help from others in the room who may have similar problems to solve. Toward the end of the project, when students began developing their movies, students were asked to present to others in the room and ask “does this tell a story?” or “does the pacing make sense or distract from the movie?” These questions not only started a conversation between kids focused on their work, but also framed revisions to be made by the creator of the movie.

9. How did the students’ artifacts from various stages of the ATLAS Unit impact your teaching practice? Please provide artifacts that exemplify your points. What did you learn about your teaching practice from looking at these artifacts? 

Student artifacts impacted my teaching in an ongoing manner throughout the unit. I never sat back and looked at artifacts separately from my teaching. All observation and assessment happened during the teaching of the unit. Ways in which student work impacted my teaching, timeline, and conceptions of what was possible within this unit is documented throughout these responses.

10. Describe how the students’ work was shared in the school or publicly. Why was this an important part of this unit? 

Unfortunately, we were unable to show the work publicly because the length of the unit itself kept extending. However, we did imagine that we would have a screening amongst all the classrooms within the grade levels that created the movies. During these screenings, we would vote for movies to win awards similar to the oscars. Some awards students come up with include “Best Drama in a Stop-Motion Animation” or “Best Sounds-Editing in a Stop-Motion Animation.” This is an aspect of the project I hope to fulfill in subsequent teachings.

Section I: Arts Integration – Collaboration 

11. How did students collaborate at different stages of the project? Examples might include but are not limited to: did the students research together, did they create together, did they critique together, did they present together? 

All students were asked to create an individual product, so collaboration did not occur in regards to developing final products as a cohesive unit. However, students were invited to support each other whenever possible. Often, this would happen through the sharing of ideas and techniques. If students were working with similar materials, they would sometimes collaborate with those materials and organize themselves into work groups. The most collaboration occurred once the technology started to be used more frequently. This was out of necessity. Frequently, students would have no idea how to create a particular effect with iMovie (editing images, shortening or lengthening time, adding sound, adding text, adding voice-overs, etc.). During these moments students would often form small teaching groups where one student would lead a demonstration while others followed along. This also took place between two or three students. Once movies were ‘completed,’ students would critique each other as well. I encouraged them to ask questions like “Does this tell a story?” or “What are some strengths and what two things could be adjusted to make the story clearer?” By having such collaborative experiences, students extended their work time by identifying areas of improvement on which they would reproduce elements of the movie. 

12. In what ways did you collaborate with the students for this unit. How did the students impact the way in which the curriculum was implemented? For example, how did students help you plan, develop, and/or implement the curriculum? 

Any comment above regarding student to student collaboration can be extended to my role as a teacher. Students impacted the curriculum most significantly by requesting more time to further develop work, as elaborated earlier. Further, the creation of learning groups was something I did not anticipate. Seeing how functional it was I began encouraging students to form them more and more. In this way, the curriculum became even more student-centered than it had prior.

13. How did you collaborate with other teachers in your school to plan and/or implement the unit? 

The creation and implementation of the unit was something I primarily did on my own.

Section II: Technology Integration 

14. What was your process for selecting this form of digital media technology? Why did you think this form of digital media technology would be ideal for student learning? 

I chose the iPad because, firstly, it was accessible. I knew that there would be teachers supportive of my efforts in the classroom who would be willing to let me borrow iPads to conduct this project. Second, students have familiarity with iPads and I wanted to capitalize on this in order to eliminate unknown variables in a unit that would be challenging at baseline due to the demands of the project. Third, knowing that I wanted to conduct stop-motion animations, the iPad seemed like a platform that made a lot of sense over desktop computers or anything else.

15. How did students use digital media technology to direct their own learning? Provide artifacts to show evidence of how students used the technology to direct their own learning. Examples might include but are not limited to: making choices about technologies to use, using technology to facilitate experimentation, using technology as a research tool, to express themselves artistically, and/or to make meaning of their experiences. 

As described earlier, students often formed learning communities around the iPad in order to help classmates better understand what can be done to create their movies and how. Outside of this, students heavily experimented with the addition of sound, either pre-recorded or actively recorded, which was something emergent within the project. I did not approach the unit thinking they would do much with sound, but in time it became a heavy component of student work. At first, discussion focused on how sound framed our thinking around an animation. For example, happy-go-lucky music and techno beat music elicit different thoughts on a single movie. What came to light was that music encouraged us to create narratives in our imagination based on the synthesis between moving image and sound. Further, different music elicited different narratives. As such, students spent class periods crafting music and experimenting with image/sound combinations. This activity was not anticipated by certainly celebrated.

16. How did you use technology to enhance the learning environment for both you as a teacher and for the students? 

As described above, the use of technology revealed creative possibilities that were not anticipated at the outset. The emergent use of technology led to emergent inspiration, possibility, and opportunity. In essence, it greatly propelled the creative process in new ways that the students do not frequently experience in class.

17. In what ways do your chosen technology resources align with your goals and outcomes for student learning? Looking back at the unit, how did the technology meet, not meet or exceed your expectations for facilitating student outcomes. 

As I have described, the use of technology enabled my classes to deeply explore how traditional and non-traditional methods of art-making can be synthesized to propel the creative process. From the troubleshooting inherent in transforming artistic products into animatable products, the learning of how to even use the technology, the creation of small collaborative learning communities, and the experimentation with sound and moving image, the technology propelled student learning into unexpected areas. In this way, technology helped me meet and sometimes exceed student outcomes.

18. How did the use of technology contribute to students’ application of higher order thinking skills? Examples of student higher order thinking skills include metacognition, self-reflection, analysis, and application of knowledge or skills. 

Again, described above. Technology contributed to students’ high order thinking by forcing them to: grapple with unexpected outcome and failure through processes of re-assessment, re-imagination, and re-creation; troubleshooting how to take, collect, and process imagery for the use of creating an animation in iMovie; form collaborative learning communities whose goal was to learn how to use the technology to create desired or unexpected effects within the narrative of their movie; and to experiment with how sound impacts the way we conceive of moving images in different ways.

19. How did the use of technology drive student creative artistic expression? Please provide student artifacts that exemplify how technology supported their artistic expression. 

The technology offered students a chance to play with speed, pacing, transitions, and sound. The artifacts above exemplify different approaches with those aspects of the technology. Further, the ways in which technology drove artistic expression is heavily referenced in other responses.

20. How did the integration of digital media technology impact your teaching practice? 

It certainly forced me out of my comfort zone. I am not a teacher or artist who turns often to technology. Quite the opposite in fact. I would rather handwrite a document and work with a printing press and copper plate etchings before grabbing an iPad. Still, having done this, I believe I am a more flexible teacher. Using the digital media technology compelled me to go with the flow and deal with the troubleshooting when things do not go as planned. Further, it revealed to me that students can be a great asset in teaching because, when it comes to the technology, they typically know more than I do. Some students have told me it also gives them more opportunity to experiment with expression. Due to the digital format things become less precious. They can edit away, re-add something, or start all over while keeping the original product in tact. This cannot so easily be done with a painting that has been labored over for two months. Such a sentiment compels me to incorporate more technology experiences in class. Before, I likely would not have said the same.