The Power of Art & The Art of Asia: Part 3

I apologize for my absence – these past few months have been full of professional development opportunities I cannot wait to share with you!  But, for now, let’s finish up with the final installment of the Power of Art series.


This is part three of a three part series on my Power of Art implementation plan and Asian art unit.  If you would like to start from the beginning, please read this first:



This post will focus on: Expanding Current Lessons and Adding Enriching Activities


The first time I taught Asian art, I used a lesson plan for bamboo painting with foam brushes from a fellow university art education classmate, Jessica Berkeley.  I absolutely love the way she demonstrated the “dab and pull” technique that made painting bamboo look so easy!  Once students grasped that concept, she explained how to make leaves with the side of the foam brush.  I still use the lesson she shared (Thank you, Jessica!) as an introductory activity before using the bamboo pen / brush combo tools I discussed in my last post.  Now, the students can use those painting techniques with authentic tools and materials – and make comparisons between the brushes.  Both tools will produce a similar result – it’s the technique that’s the focus, so if you do not have bamboo brushes, don’t fret.

I had also been teaching origami in 6th grade, but at a different point in the year.  It made sense to bring the two lessons together for a more in-depth study of Asian Art.  I found a pin on Pinterest for pop-bottle bottom blossom painting that fit right in, too!  You may remember that activity from the first part of this series.  But, I still wanted more!


Before being granted entry to the Renaissance Club at the Lab School of Washington, D.C., we were charged with remembering a password.  The word was “cochineal.”  I remember the word vividly to this day because of the way in which it was presented.  Our tour guide to 15th century Europe was Noel Bicknell.  Noel bent down on one knee, grabbed his chin, and said “catch-chin-kneel.”  We were all expected to not only repeat the word, but also to demonstrate it (mimicking his movements.)  As we entered, we noticed the environment of the room was undoubtedly set to suit the time period.   A hefty solid wood table was strewn with wool in various stages of the felting process, a pot was boiling liquid on the stove, an unfamiliar smell permeated the air, heavy red drapes framed the windows and fell to the floor, and we were invited to sit at the surrounding benches.  I immediately picked up on the sensory-driven environment of the room.  I easily identified which of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences were being activated.

Noel went on to discuss how students delve into the study of the club’s theme.  Each student plays a character role and becomes part of the historical context.  Next, Noel demonstrated how to separate the wool, passed around felted pieces, and then showed us student examples of apothecary hats (hand-measured, cut, and stitched).  Impressive!  But, we noticed the student hats were red and all of the wool / felting materials were white.  Noel brought out a mortar and pestle with tiny dead bugs inside.

Do you want to take a guess at what those bugs were called?

COCHINEAL!  You got it!

What we were smelling was a solution of crushed up cochineal and water, the making of a red dye for the felt.  This natural dye’s name is Carmine Red.  It is used in food coloring and cosmetics.  Noel went on to describe the characteristics and habits of the bugs, their native geographic location and habitat, and how the economy surged when these little bugs became a hot commodity for Europe’s wealthy.  The entire experience made me recall that password.



This image is from ABC News

You may remember a story about coffee giant, Starbucks, using bugs in their pink drinks.

Now that you know what cochineal is, how do you feel about Starbucks using it as a beverage coloring?

So, I applied the vocabulary memory technique, “password,” to our Asian Art unit.  I developed a password for the term sakura.  (Sakura means “cherry blossom” in Japanese.)  I pointed to my sock, then made a hoot owl noise, and followed with my best monster impression – holding my claws way up in the air and shouting “rah!” (sock-oo-rah)  Bonus points were offered if students remembered the password the following week.  I forgot about it – they reminded me!  That alone provided confirmation that the password was highly effective!  But, that’s not all!  They also went on using it for the rest of our Asian Art study!

To further explore, we learned about the growth cycle of a cherry blossom tree with the help of the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s website.

And, I read the story of Sadako Sasaki concurrent to my origami lesson – making the connection between history, non-fiction text, and art of this culture.


The Power of Art workshop was pivotal in the development of enriching activities for this unit.  I continue to have ideas for future implementation in this and other units.

What do you think?  Should I add a little Kabuki Theatre, Shadow Puppetry, Haiku, Chinese Pottery, or Koinobori kites next year?


The Power of Art & The Art of Asia: Part 2

This is part two of a three part series on my Power of Art implementation plan and Asian art unit.  If you would like to start from the beginning, please read this first:


This post will focus on: The Five Senses & Authentic Materials & Tools.


Activating The Five Senses:

They say that scent is the strongest sense tied to memory.  Because our olfactory glands are so close to our brains, the slightest hint of a familiar smell will cause us to remember something we have associated with that scent quickly.  However, this is one of the most difficult senses to activate in the classroom.  So, how can we engage this and other senses to complement instruction?


The most common form of gathering information is through the audible sense (listening / hearing).  Adding visuals to a lecture or text helps students make sight connections with content.  But, what about those hard-to-teach-to other senses – like taste, smell, and touch?  Presenting actual objects that the students can feel (texture) makes learning more realistic.  These items may also have a scent or odor, and / or can be tasted.  Teachers must be mindful of allergies, of course.  But, bringing in foods from other cultures, fragrances to fill the room, and / or artifacts to pass around can be much more powerful than hearing about it or seeing it.


For our Asian Art unit, I brought in a cherry blossom scented wood diffuser to activate students’ sense of smell.  I picked up a lucky bamboo plant at the local garden center for them to touch (and later compare with their bamboo pens).  We tasted Arizona green tea and snacked on strawberry flavored Pocky (to match the color of cherry blossoms).  Students were also introduced to traditional reed pipe and bamboo flute music that played as they entered the classroom.












Some other great scent ideas are: tart burners or candles (Party Lite pictured); Fabreeze flameless luminaries; and bar or liquid hand soaps (Bath & Body Works, Dial, SoftSoap).  I also really like azuki (red bean) or matcha (green tea) cookies and botan rice candy to eat, but these items are difficult to find and can be expensive depending on the number of students in your classes.



Now that the stage had been set, I started to focus on Authentic Materials & Tools.

Participants of the Power of Art workshop received a generous art supply gift card to carry out our implementation plans.  With those funds, I chose to purchase authentic tools for my 6th grade students’ use: bamboo pen/brush combo tools, sumi-e ink, rice paper, and pine soot sticks with grinding stones.  These items are considered to be the The Four Treasures of the Scholar’s Studio. (Note* I also purchased brayers and barens for my 8th grade printmaking unit.)


Students viewed examples of ukiyo-e paintings and were given hands outs as reference for writing kanji symbols.  They loved the feel of the bamboo pen / brush tool and felt that using it made them more like Chinese Calligraphers.  Acquiring more authentic tools and materials will continue to be a focus of mine for future units.




I hope you have enjoyed reading about how I implemented what I learned from the amazing Lab School of Washington, D.C. teachers through the Power of Art workshop.  Look for the final installment in this three-part series that focuses on Enrichment Activities.


The Power of Art & The Art of Asia: Part 1

This is part one of a three part series on my Power of Art implementation plan and Asian art unit.


After being fully immersed in club presentations during my tour of the Lab School of Washington, D.C. (through the Power of Art workshop last year), I began thinking about how I could create those kinds of experiential learning scenarios for my students.

I wanted to start with the very next unit I’d be presenting upon my return: Asian art.


To begin, I considered what my implementation plan had been based on:

  • Engaging students through classroom environment
  • Providing students with authentic materials and tools
  • Activating the five senses to make concepts “stick”
  • Expanding my lessons / units to include a variety of enriching activities


This post will focus on Classroom Environment.

First, I took the pop-bottle cherry blossom activity idea from Pinterest (multiple re-pins, original user unknown).  Next, instead of having students work at their tables, I temporarily adhered craft roll paper on the windows.  Then, the students took turns adding their blossom to the tree I pre-painted on the paper.  We discussed how rice paper screens are used as dividers in the home as students viewed examples of traditional and modern day screens.

The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries have extensive collections of Chinese and Japanese art.  There are fantastic teacher resources at their website:

 84%22+Cherry+Blossom+Shoji+Room+Divider-wayfair  688804307-sears

These are some examples you can find at and

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Just the simple task of taking the paper off of the tables and putting it onto the windows made the concept of painting a faux rice paper screen more realistic.  We showcased these collaborative pieces in the 6th grade hallway.

*Note: When I developed this lesson last year, the timing was off.  This year I ensured that we began this unit as the National Cherry Blossom Festival was occurring in Washington, D.C.  The NCBF website features include: a prezi on the cherry blossom life cycle, a live web cam, and fun coloring / activity pages.  Check it out!

Interactive Bulletin Board

I spent quite a lot of time on Pinterest this past summer seeking out new ideas for my classroom.  One of the cool things I found was  interactive bulletin boards.  I must admit I am terrible at maintaining bulletin boards.  It seems like there are so many other things I need to do in a day, week, or semester that my bulletin boards are always neglected.  I needed to find a way to maintain interest, schedule changes, and involve students.  Since students are aware of and sometimes use social media, I chose to divide my bulletin board into three sections.

The first section is dedicated to facebook.  This is where I feature artists we are learning about.  At the beginning of each new semester, I select a few of the fake facebook profiles my students fill out as a “first day of class” survey, too.  Here are some examples of what that looks like:

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The second section is based off of Pinterest – why not?  That is where inspiration struck!

In this section, I pin supplemental information for the lesson / unit we are studying.  Some examples are below.  For 7th grade’s intensive study of color, I included the color wheel and several color schemes for reference.  For 8th grade, our Principles of Art Pinterest board included hints about the functions of each one.

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The third section is home to our twitter feed.

Students are given a writing prompt and they are charged with developing a tweet.  Each tweet must meet the 140 characters-or-less standard for twitter.  Students can add hashtags if they like, and their twitter handles start with the traditional @ symbol.  Some twitter feed prompts focused on: “What is creativity?” and “Why is Art Important?”  I find this to be a great way to integrate writing into my art classroom.

A new twitter feed starts tomorrow as we venture into the world of Graffiti.  Students will be composing tweets based on the concept of public art: “What makes public art good or bad?  Why?”

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(note to self: purple on purple is NOT a good idea)

Having these sections change to suit our current lesson or unit really keeps me on a “schedule.”  I don’t have to stick to a weekly or monthly set up.  And, with 3 sections, I can tackle them one at a time instead of all at once.  The best part, though, is the student interaction.  They are excited to read each others’ tweets and profile pages.  They notice when the artist changes and I can reference those supplemental materials as I teach.

Thanks fellow Pinners!  What great inspiration!!!

NOTE: I do not promote the use of social media without parental supervision / approval.  All references to social media in my classroom are paper-based or “fake.”  Students are not permitted to access these sites in the classroom.

Look what came in the mail!


I am ready to share more letter monsters and number animals with my students!  Supplementing my [borrowed] “Alphabet Friends” lesson plan with these great books and videos from the website really helped the students launch into creating their own original monsters.

Maybe we can raise some money to bring Steve Harpster to our school next year!

We love HarpToons!

HarpToons is publishing company created by Steve Harpster.

I came across HarpToons this week when I was looking for a way to freshen up a lesson I’ve been teaching for a while.  The original lesson was shared with me by Mrs. Becky Gartley.  It was titled “Alphabet Friends.”  In the lesson, students warm-up their drawing skills by focusing on facial features, body parts, and props they might use to turn the first letter of their name into an Alphabet Friend.  Once they’ve warmed up, students select the best face, arms, legs, costumes and props for their new creature.  This lesson is always a hit, but I was looking to expand it a little more.  So, after performing a search, I came across HarpTooons.  I love the style Harpster uses: bold lines, easy-to-teach instructions, and recognizable alphabets and numbers.

Steve Harpster shares video demonstrations and provides free speaking engagements (within a 3 hour drive from Cincinnati – too bad for me 😦 I’m just a little too far out of range).  His website was so awesome that I immediately ordered the complete set of drawing books for my classroom!  I used the videos with my 1st grade students this week and they were excited, engaged, and eager for more!  Adding the content from HarpToons will provide a richer learning experience for my students as they embark on creating their own Letter Monsters.

We love HarpToons!  Check it out: