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Keeping Kids Engaged Up Until the Very End (Quick Tip)

By Laura Norris, Art Educator, Buncombe County

Middle school students are excited about many things, being social and active are big ones, especially after End-of-Grade testing. It is a challenge for any teacher to get students focused and still learning when it is beautiful outside and grades have been turned in. I have found that the best way to handle this pre-summer time is to engage kids in art while being outside AND being social. Let the Art Games begin!

This year I created a relay race that actively engaged my students in learning about the permanent collection at the NC Museum of Art. It also allowed me to assess if they knew the Elements and Principles of Art and Design.

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I chose two landscapes from the NCMA that had similarities: The Cliff, Étretat, Sunset by Claude Monet and The Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius by Pierre-Jacques Volaire. Students broke into two teams and were about 20 feet back from the two “set-ups”. The “set-up” was a drawing board with a 12″ x 18″ piece of white sulphite 60# drawing paper taped to it, one of the two art reproductions taped above the drawing board, a container of chalk pastels, and some cake temperas with a bucket of water and various sizes brushes. (Changing the art materials as variation can be fun, too). Students were instructed to do anything but run to get to their team’s set-up. They could not do the same thing as someone else. I had students hopping, skipping, twirling, walking backwards, and flapping their wings like birds to get down to the set-up. Once there, each team had a timer. The relay participant then had 10 secs to start to reproduce the painting. They would then have to go back to their team where the next person set off on their creative way to get to the painting. I stood at the end and would “coach” the students telling them there needed to be more balance or to try to mix the exact color of the light around the sun… or add some variety of line. I would know if the student understood the element or principle by what they added or said to me. I also saw my students really noticing the details and thinking about composition and space. Depending on the number of students on each team and how much more needed to be done on the painting, we might go through the line three times or more. This way students got to work on various stages of the painting. At the end, the teams had to choose one person to put the final mark on their team artwork. We evaluated and judged the paintings the teams created and decided as a class who did a better job and why. Then, I had an opportunity to share more background on the works of art.

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I’ve done this relay race with students just creating a portrait or an abstract picture, but I found using the works of art from the NCMA created more depth and that the students were more interested in participating.

Now, I can skip off into summer knowing my students got that last little bit of knowledge in their heads and hopefully stirred their creative beings to keep creating their own unique art over the break.