Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Assessment Over the Computer Screen

Assessment is always a challenge in Art Education as the field is referred to as subjective where right and wrong are not so black and white as they would be in a subject such as math or science. In a brick and mortar classroom I often graded final projects based on the work I witnessed students completing in the classroom. I was able see their challenges and triumphs, as well as the amount of effort and time they put into it. Therefore, my methods of assessment have changed since moving to an online classroom. I now use three different methods of assessment for each unit. I still use a traditional project that students complete to show their understanding of concepts and techniques. This project also encourages creativity and problem solving as a traditional project would in any art classroom. However, a project alone does not tell me the whole story about my students’ understandings of content. This semester I have added reading quizzes. Students begin each week by reading the lesson content in my classroom much like a textbook chapter. Previously, I had no way of assessing understanding of their readings until I added quizzes. This week I am teaching linear perspective and the quiz that students take help me assess what students are having trouble and what ideas I need to emphasize in my live lessons. The quiz also helps motivate students to read the lesson, which promotes a deeper level of learning. I also use the quizzes as data to determine the success of a particular lesson and to group students by their level of understanding. My special needs teacher can use them to monitor IEP progress based on the reading level of the quiz content. The third way I assess students in my classroom is through reflective questions about the project and student learning. Students answer two questions that often ask them to share their experiences, proof of learning, and changes they would’ve made if they were given the opportunity to do the project again. Reflection encourages critical thinking and growth and helps me understand what students feel they gain through the lesson. Overall, I feel these three methods have been helpful and thorough in measuring student success in my online classroom.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Beginnings: Welcoming New Students

Like any teacher, the first day of a new year or semester leaves me standing in front of a bunch of strangers wondering what this new group of students will bring. Getting to know this new group of students is important for teaching them, and they must also get to know me. My new semester began last week and I gained 170 fresh faces in my virtual classroom. So, how do I get to know them? How do they get to know me? I take a several steps at the beginning of every semester to build a rapport with my students. When students enter my classroom for the very first time, they are greeted with the opportunity to learn a little bit about me through my “Meet Miss Brown” website. 

I share images and facts about myself like I would if I was beginning the first day of class in a brick and mortar classroom. I email all students and welcome them to the course as well, and I include some helpful hints of where to find important information and where they can reach me. During the first and second week of any new class, I like to call each student and individually welcome them to my class and make sure they know how to use their scanner and answer any other questions they might have. At a number like 170 this can be time consuming, but I feel it is really important that each student knows I am here to help and excited that they are here to learn. 

At this point there is still much for me to learn about my new students. I like to know about their previous art experiences as well as their personal interests. The more I know about my students, the better I can structure my class to meet their needs and build a rapport by helping them incorporate their personal goals and interests into their work. I gather all this information by assigning a survey during the first week of class that students fill out. I learn a lot about them through the surveys and I use the information on a daily basis when I communicate with my students. 
A snippet from my call log I use to keep track of contacting students

I take information from the surveys and enter it into a log. I keep a spreadsheet of every time I contact a student or attempt to contact a student from day one. I started using this method when I subbed as an online teacher last year, but I am convinced that it would be useful in a brick and mortar classroom as well. It is impossible to remember all 170 students, when and what we talked about last, and their interests and hobbies. Having this information at my fingertips helps me engage reluctant learners and build a rapport with each student. When I call and check in on that test they were worried about passing that we talked about two weeks ago, the student knows I really care and that I am paying close attention to them.
By using these steps in my classroom I am setting up for a successful semester for all. I am excited for another great Art 1 class!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Their Words

Last week I finished up my first semester as an online art teacher. I asked students to complete a final test, which included some vocabulary and history but largely consisted of essay questions. I have chosen one question from the final to share that I think really shows how my students felt about their experience in an online art class.
The Question: 
Often times, the arts (music and fine art) are cut from schools for budgeting reasons. Imagine that you are at a school board meeting and art is about to get cut from the school. Share 3 reasons why the art program should not be cut from the school.
The Answers:
“Art programs should not be cut from the school because 1. art allows students to show their creativity. 2. Art brings out everyone's inner thoughts, it allows them to express their feelings. 3. As a student that's been in art, since she can remember, I am not such a good artist. But being in art, I just begin doing a project, and can't stop. It helps me stay calm, as for other classes I am stressing, art allows me to let out that stress. When I pick up a pencil, I feel all the tension being released on the paper. Art is like music in ways, music releases stress for some people, as art does for others.”
“Art programs, just as athletics or other educational programs, allow people to find talents they might not have known they had, and work together to hone those talents. We have to remember that not everyone thrives only on academics, and that many of the men and women we revere in our culture; we revere because of their art. Further more, these revered artists among us may never have succeeded if it wasn't for the support and motivation of their teachers and mentors. It is my opinion that students should be exposed to the broadest spectrum of learning experiences possible. This way there is a greater chance that those in school can find a vocation, talent, or passion, that they can develop and possibly turn into a career or contribution to society someday.”
“Art programs should not be cut from school because it involves critical thinking in deciding how to get work to turn out its best.  Art can bring together different cultures because it is influenced by people from all over the world.  Art has sharing and learning involved as students can share their work and others can learn to improve or show more effort in their work.”
“The art program should not be cut from the school for three main reasons. For starters, art is a way for the students to express themselves and work out their feelings. Art is often times used as a stress reliever. Also, art can provide a satisfying career for people. How else are students to develop their skills and practice, if art is not offered at the school? In order to major in art, colleges require incoming students to present their portfolios. Without art in the high school they came from, that portfolio will be diminished if there has been no formal instruction. Lastly, art provides an opportunity for growth in creativity, and practice in patience and control. In today's world where most things come with instant gratification, art is one thing where the person must invest their time and patience. Art offers an incredible opportunity to practice these skills that are important for later in life. For these reasons, art should remain a program at the school.”
I was so proud to see students showing their passion for the subject of visual arts. Throughout the semester I had the pleasure of watching students become more comfortable creating and sharing art and more knowledgeable about its history. What a positive experience for all!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oh, How We've Grown

To wrap up my first semester class, I decided to do something fun and special for my students in my live lesson today. The students will complete a final test so I knew I wanted to review for it and I have always wanted to play a jeopardy game in class so I needed to find a way to play a team game through the technology I have. The SMART Exchange has many jeopardy templates for use in SMART Notebook. I built a game using all the questions from the final and today I got to play the game with my students. Can students really play this kind of team game online? Yes! I am consistently surprised at how skilled my students are when it comes to working together in a virtual classroom. I started the lesson with a discussion of several examples of the final project for my class that students had turned in so far. My students have improved so much when it comes to discussing and critiquing art. I am so proud every time I get to see their learning in action. I continued the lesson with my SMART Notebook jeopardy game where I divided my students into two teams and had them discuss with their teammates through the typed chat box. They were so supportive of each other and even rooted for both teams. I concluded the lesson with an inspirational video about creativity and not being afraid to share their art with the world. I was met with many happy comments and thanks for being their teacher. I have developed a real relationship with all of my students this semester. I know their personalities, their artistic styles, and their interests. I truly will miss these students, but I am excited to do it all over again. So, can an online art teacher really get to know her students and create a positive and supportive learning environment? Definitely!
Here are some of the students' final projects:


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Working as a Team

In a few short weeks, I will begin my second semester as a full time online Art Teacher. My class is only a semester long, so I am excited to teach the same lessons again with the changes I have made through reflecting and analyzing the results of the first semester. There are three teachers including myself who teach Art 1 at my school. Aside from speaking with each other on a weekly basis, our curriculums are linked together in what we call a “gold course”. I was reminded of how our gold course is a unique feature of an online school. It is a classroom that all three of us can enter and make changes that affect all Art 1 classes. These changes include the lesson content pages, quizzes, and projects. Having a central hub like this allows more than just my reflections to improve my students’ achievement. It opens the door to my colleagues’ reflections, changes, and wisdom as well. We are able to divide tasks and work closely as a team to better our curriculum. In many brick and mortar schools I have observed, the curriculum between the same courses taught by different teachers is often not uniform. I believe this is usually because it is difficult for teachers to find time to compare and evaluate curriculum before the end of the year. Communicating with my colleagues and collaborating on new lessons and projects has never been so flawless as it has been this year via email, live meetings, phone calls, and working on the gold course. We are also currently working together to create our two presentations for the National Art Education Association Conference in New York City this spring. We are each able to work on a shared Powerpoint presentation through the technology provided to us that makes it easy for us to collaborate on this effort too. Though I only see my teammates a handful of times a year, I never feel as though I am working alone.