Monday, June 30, 2014

Tommy McHugh - The Empty Chair - Revisited

While I was reading the newest book for my next grad course, "Your  Creative Brain, " by Shelley Carson, Ph. D., I learned about an English artist--Tommy McHugh. He came about being an artist a little later in life--after he suffered a couple of strokes. Before his strokes, he was a builder and it is said that he didn't have any artistic tendencies. After his strokes, however, he became a prolific writer, painter, and sculptor.

I enjoy more abstract pieces, so I really enjoy his work--it has a dreamlike quality that reminds me of the swirling thoughts that go on in our brains--or, at least in my brain. McHugh explained that this creative work helped him process the waves of thoughts and images that started to come into his brain as he was recovering.

McHugh was as passionate about encouraging people to be creative as he was about creating his art. He said, "We all have it--we just don't believe we can do it." He explained in this video that we can direct our paths both in life and in our minds. We can unlock the cells in our brains and do more. He encouraged people to break through whatever is keeping them from trying new paths: self-doubt, money, fear of judgement…and just do it. He explained that once you start accessing those cells in your brain and creating new pathways, more creativity will come.

Imagine if you were given a gift such as this…what would you do with it? You have been. Ready, set,  GO!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Just Read: "Imagination First: Unlocking The Power of Possibility"

I just finished reading the book "Imagination First: Unlocking The Power of Possibility" by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon. I have to say that I didn't know what to expect from a book on imagination--I think of myself as a pretty creative, imaginative person, so I didn't think I necessarily needed a "how-to" book on imagination to get me going. I also wasn't sure if people who aren't imaginative would be able to develop their imaginative thinking just by reading a book. 

While not a beach-read, this book is relatively easy to digest.
Do you need to own it? Maybe not, see if you can borrow from your library
and then make the call once you've read it.
The book itself is easy to read and discusses the 28+ Practices that people can use to develop their imagination. It isn't meant to be a how-to per se, but offer you some thoughts on creative thinking that you can then apply to your own life. The authors state that practice (actual repetitive "doing") makes the 28+ Practices more meaningful and, like working out, exercising and building your imagination is not about being "done" but about staying loose as you practice again and again.

What I liked about this book is that, although I'd consider myself an imaginative person and a creative problem-solver, this book helped me to outline some of the tools I use every day and have come to just assume everyone else uses too. I like the challenge of designing with limitations (Practice 6)! I constantly hoard bits of eye-candy and quotes and ideas (Practice 7) that allow me to create a bigger "pool" of ideas and inspiration from which to draw from. I love calling up my 85-year-old grandmother and talking to her about my schoolwork (Practice 10)--it allows me to get down to the nitty-gritty and think about the basics of what it is that I am learning or teaching that week.

I also enjoyed reading this book as a parent as well as an educator. I don't know it all and sometimes I can get caught up in the junk of running a household or getting through the lesson before the class is up and miss some of the little details with my children and students that would encourage creativity and imagination. I think this book encouraged me to slow down and make sure I am not killing the creativity and imaginations of the people around me (obviously, I would never do that on purpose, but when my child comes up to me at dinnertime to show me a picture she drew, I could take a minute or two to ask a couple of questions about it and really look at the picture--dinner can wait!). In the classroom, I can design lessons that help my students break away from the status quo of constantly seeking the "right" answer and allow them discern where right and wrong answers matter (spelling and math) and where they don't.

As an educator, this book provides some interesting ways of thinking and encouraging imagination in ourselves, our classrooms, our teams, and in our communities. Here are a couple of ways I am inspired to use the information gained from this book in my life:

  • Watch what I say to people when they are sharing their ideas with me--make sure I do not "kill" their creativity and imagination. Use phrases such as "Yes, and…" to draw out their ideas and allow them to expand upon them.
  • Take more risks in my creative thinking--ask "What if…" more and encourage others to do the same.
  • Make more of my art lessons open-ended and allow the students to "finish the ending."
  • Work more with others--collaborate.
  • Focus on the process and not the end result.
  • Create a safe environment in my home and school where mistakes can guide us.
I think this book is a valuable resource for an educator, an administrator, or a parent to not only encourage imagination, creativity and innovation in themselves but also in others. As a parent and as an educator, I know I have a certain power with the lives I am entrusted with. I want to make sure I am encouraging critical thinking, passion and imaginative learning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Project That Really ROCKS!

I'm a little behind with my postings, but I wanted to share this great project I did with my after school "Spring Into Art" class for Mother's Day. Not only is this a great project to show mom you care, it's great for pretty much anytime! I mean, who doesn't like painted rocks, wire sculpture and poetry?!? ;-)

This piece was made for me by my 4th grade son.
He enjoyed this project and liked writing the poem about me
(to read it, scroll down).

I linked this project to nature, of course, and Alexander Calder, since the wire portion reminded me of his stabiles and standing mobiles. Check out this one at his website,

This project can take off in a variety of directions: you could skip the poem and focus on creating a mobile-like structure where students explore balance, or you could use wood or foam core for the base, or mount the poem or a famous quote to the base…it is really up to you! Although the poetry piece makes a great integrated arts project.

Here are the directions for the version we did…Enjoy!

Rockin' Stabiles

Supplies Needed:

  • A rock the size of a softball, or so…
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes, water buckets, paper plate palettes, newspaper
  • Medium gauge copper wire (I think ours was 24 gauge, but check to see what works for you)
  • Wire cutters
  • Poem/Thank You Note Worksheets
  • Pencils
  • Plain white index cards (we used 4"x 6" ones)
  • Fine point Sharpies
  • Pretty colored paper or card stock (optional)
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Craft foam scraps
  • Hole punch

1. Select a nice rock for your base, brush it off and paint it with the acrylics. Let dry.

2. Choose a poem/thank you note worksheet to work with. I downloaded the Diamante template from for the students to use. I encouraged the older students (4th grade) to use those. For the younger students and ones who struggle with writing, I let them write a thank you note to their mom. I provided a template for the thank you note as well, to prompt them a bit. As a mom, either writing is appreciated! 

My son wrote this about me:
Beautiful, Awesome
Cleaning, Cooking, Vacuuming
You are very awesome.
Resting, Eating, Playing
Cool, Calm

3. Once the students were done their writing, I proofread them (although I let some of the creative spelling go sometimes because it was just so darn cute!). Transfer the writing to the index cards using Sharpies to make a nice-looking final copy.

4. Glue the index cards with the final writing onto a pretty piece of paper to create a nice border around the poem.

5. Cut a piece of wire to about 36" long. Wrap the wire around the rock a couple of times and twist the ends. One end can be a spiral to hold the poem you've written, the other end can curl out and around like the arm on Calder's work. You can cut smaller pieces of wire to make a mobile-type structure at this time, but I had students cut a shape from craft foam, punch a hole in it, and hang the shape from the arm.

6. Place the poem/thank you note in the spiral portion of the stabile (you may need to secure the note on the back with a bit of tape).


My other son, who is in first grade, was finding it hard to write that day,
so he painted the rock and created the wire heart sculpture instead.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt and Sketches

Are you heading outdoors with a bunch of kiddos to look around? How about a Nature Scavenger Hunt? A couple of years ago, I worked for the Nature Center in town, Peabody Mill Environmental Center, and they sent me off to a Kindergarten to do a class visit. I thought an outdoor exploration of the playground, discussion about plants and their parts, and a sensory nature walk/scavenger hunt would be great! I met with multiple classes that day and we had a blast!

This is a great project and can be adapted for an outing with a bunch of scouts,
a camp experience, an art classroom, general classroom, homeschooling field trip, etc.

Prepping For The Lesson:
This is a nice lesson that requires very little prep--although you may want to buzz around the playground before the kiddos join you, so you have an idea of what is out there that you might want to point out to them.

Also, you'll need to print out the scavenger hunt form--I used one from The Bird Feed NYC--they have a bunch of them there (and some other neat stuff too!). We would all be using the same form and filling it out as a class (each class got their own). I glued the scavenger hunt form to a large piece of construction paper, so I would have room to draw my diagram of a flower and its parts. I also wrote some good scientific words on the poster such as: look, listen, touch, smell, observe, identify, dissect, and collect (apparently I misspelled dissect the first time around!).

I also brought a bunch of star stickers, a sharpie for me, some pencils and sticky notes, too.

Starting Off:
I met the classes in the art room and told them that we'd be heading outside to do some exploring. We talked about using out senses to experience the world around them. However, we would not be using our sense of taste! No licking the trees! I then went over the rules for outside behavior and how we'd be working together to complete the scavenger hunt form.

Moving Outside:
We went out and sat down. We experienced the playground by using our senses and we discussed what we heard, saw, felt, and smelled. We checked off as many things from the scavenger hunt form that we could while sitting there--it was quite a bit!

Then I let the children move around and I pointed out a few things that I thought would interest them, such as a little mushroom I found, etc. We stopped and looked at a dandelion and we discussed the parts of a flower and I drew them on the poster and labeled the parts. They loved this part and they really enjoyed dissecting the dandelions and seeing up close the parts of the flower!

Wrapping It Up:
We took a couple of minutes to see if we could find anything else on the list, then I brought them over to the picnic tables and gave them each a pencil and a sticky note and invited them to draw a picture of something they saw, heard, touched, or smelled today on the walk. I them glued their sketches all around the edges of the poster and gave the finished piece to their teacher to display in the classroom.

In the future, I could make the poster a bit better, I think, but I really liked how this easy lesson came together and I loved the sketches the children drew--it was great to see what they took from their time outside.


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