By Linnea Barth

This year I decided to try something new in my photography class here at I.C. Norcom. I am allowing the students to use their iphones to take pictures! This was a difficult decision, because as we all know as educators, the cell phones tend to be one of our biggest behavior challenges. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve told a student to put their phone away during my instruction, I too would have an iPhone 6! So, I did not take this decision lightly. In the past I have mandated that students in my photography class have, at minimum, a point and shoot digital camera. Some of the problems associated with this policy have included lost chargers, broken and damaged cameras, incredibly low image quality, dead batteries, no memory cards, unusual software that is not compatible with our school hardware, and children forgetting their cameras for days on end, just to name a few. By allowing students to use their iPhones, and Androids I have eliminated the majority of those problems and improved the quality of the images the students are taking! The children have their camera phones every single day, without fail. They are always charged, they always have memory, they always have their camera with them (I think some students even sleep and shower with them!)  And they are never broken or lost! Additionally, many of the newer droids and iPhones have as many megapixels as low end digital cameras did just a few years ago, so our image quality is beautiful!

The students have also been editing their images with ease and skill since allowing them to use their camera phones in class. They are able to crop their images, adjust the color and contrast, make them black and white, and even create collages without ever having to move the image to a computer. In fact, many of the images I have shared with you were taken with a phone, edited then turned in without every have touched a computer!  This is especially convenient for us here in Portsmouth Public Schools where some of the computers are nearly as old as the students themselves, and have trouble running cumbersome programs like Photoshop.

Another unexpected benefit of this shift has been the ease with which the students can turn in their work. I have always used as an easy way to turn digital photographs in to me for grading. In the past, sometimes it was very difficult to get the images from the camera to the computers for many of the reasons I listed earlier. Now, the students can text and email their images to themselves, or me, or simply hook their mini-usb charger (which they always have too!) to any computer.  Additionally, I have had a number of them download the edmodo Ap, which is free and allows them to upload their work directly to me without even using a computer!

While this was a slightly risky decision on my part, and I’m sure I’ll refine some of my policies as the class evolves and I learn some of the pitfalls associated with cellphone photography, but as a whole, I have been pleased with the decision and the way it is working out in the classroom; so don’t be surprised or dismayed if you walk into my photography class and find everyone on the phone!

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By Jamie Cosumano, Churchland High

Finding self requires looking inward and subjecting subject to space; to environment.

Desert and cactus inspired my senses in travel. Sea water and fresh water dazzled my eyes in all traveling directions. All surfaces intrigued, but home would never let go of my aesthetic understanding born early and on a very personal level. As a young child, I wandered deep into the woods, short of getting lost, intent on immersing my senses in the beauty of all things called nature. It draws me today to earth’s clay. I feel much closer to art if I can push and manipulate the media with my hands, without tools separating the two. Pastels allow me to touch and move color on surface, physically connecting myself and allowing a more personal engagement.

Nature is so beautiful in its natural state and manmade materials originally from nature: charcoal, stains, paper – all find interest, and invite interaction. I want this to happen in my art. I want non-objective structure to emerge without intellectual thought or left brain thinking to interfere. I want to develop relationships that just feel right.

Oct 2014

My name is Thomasina (or Ms. D!), & this is my 1st blog, not just as a PPS Art Teacher, but, well…ever! So, to introduce myself a little, I am 30 years old- despite my young & enthusiastic demeanor ;-) –I am from a small town in central Pennsylvania, am a proud pet-momma of a German Shepherd, 2 turtles, & 3 cats, & often frequent places with beautiful scenic views, concerts, & destinations to visit family & friends. Besides teaching public school studio arts, I also teach Introduction to Art History online for a community college where I grew up. Finally, I’m a bit of a nerd…however, I like to refer to myself as a “Renaissance Woman!” My heart is warmed by so much wonder in the world & my soul enjoys the thrill of discovery, which means that my brain must act as both a sponge & a web browser (with 100s of tabs open at once), & my body must take me to parts unknown & often far from where I started. Throughout my journey I have had many adventures that resulted in experiences & lessons learned…which is awesome! To teach art & art history, I, myself, have to be determined, strong, & in a constant state of learning. In the classroom, as in life, some things come easy, while others must be re-adapted several times, &, yet every so often, things still fail miserably & I have to pick myself up & say, “Let’s try that a different way next time.”

One thing that I’ve become quite skilled at is interweaving studio arts & art history. About 2 years ago, I decided that my art history students were missing out on true art experiences…plus, 2 hour lectures with Power Point presentations were killer for me, so I know it was rough for the 18+ year-olds at 8 am. I decided students needed to learn what artists of each decade struggled with, experienced, learned, & loved, so I created a series of simple art projects with rubrics that made sure students knew they’d only be graded on following instructions & effort.

To understand prehistoric cave paintings, students use charcoal, chalk, crayons, or oil pastels to draw the valuables from their everyday lives on a crumpled paper bag.


To understand patterns & the effort in creating stained glass during the Gothic era, students create a paper “stained glass” sun catcher out of construction paper & tissue paper.


Surprisingly enough, students (despite age, major, or year) loved the projects, saying they gave them a break from “typical” college work. They thought of them as a time to relax, have a little fun, & still enjoy a challenge (many consider anything above stick figures to be difficult).  I still have students email me about “stumbling” on a work that they remember from my class…I repeat, they – remember – from – MY – class…not only do they remember my class, BUT ALSO what they learned! Every teacher’s dream-come-true! :-)

The positive experience from introducing studio arts to my art history students gave me more incentive & more optimism of the possibilities of art history in my studio classes (despite age level). I teach as I would in my art history course, I discuss the time period, an interesting fact (sometimes disturbing works even better) about the artist & his/her works. I emphasize the main point (such as technique, medium, etc.) of why we’re looking at the works (or let the students discover it on their own) & then I plant the seed for creativity by giving a concept, rather than step-by-step instructions. None of my students are Vincent van Gogh, so why have them replicate his work?! Allowing students some artistic freedom should be a law!

The most important thing I try to remember is that these students do NOT live in the 1400s or 1700s or even 1900s (feeling old yet?!)…& unless they’re an art history nerd like me (& unfortunately we seem to be a minority), students – don’t – care. They don’t care about the “old dude” or his “lame painting of fruit”…unless I make them understand it instead of just see it. In order to make any sort of an impact, a connection needs to be made. To be brutally honest, a connection to another subject or class might have a 50/50 chance of sticking. What the lesson NEEDS to be connected with are the students. What are they into? More than that, it must reach them on individual levels, meaning: How can this lesson give students the information & techniques I want to deliver, while giving them the freedom to decipher the lesson by their own means?

Teach glazing, atmospheric perspective, & landscapes while introducing John Constable.

D3Dedham Vale (1802)

D4Wivenhoe Park (1816)                                                    

D5 The Hay Wain (1821)



In It’s All Good! (2008), two personal photographs (the land from a camping trip & the sky taken in the backyard one lazy evening) were combined together for an intimate painting of the artist’s euphoria.

Introduce Jasper Johns & create critical thinking by assigning the re-design of a common subject, like the American Flag.

 D7 Three Flags (1958)

D8Flag (1954-5)

D9Moratorium (1969)


Influenced by the rhythmic flow of music & the bright, colorful lights that are present at concerts, America becomes a land of musical freedom in Flag (reprise) (2005).

Georgia O’Keefe invites people to look closer…no, closer…closer! Nature’s beauty is endless & examining it in detail, deciding exactly what & which part of it to connect with & capture, can create an engaging, personal experience.

D11Red Poppy (1927)

D12White Flower on Red Earth (1943)

D13Grey Line with Black, Blue, & Yellow (1923)

D14Created as a birthday present, Beauty (2010) depicts a rose, a favorite flower & an object almost as beautiful as a sister’s life-long friendship.

Create an emotional tone for a portrait by utilizing colors & shapes as symbols like Pablo Picasso.

D15Mother & Son with Handkerchief (1903)             

D16The Old Guitarist (1903)

D17Harlequin with Glass (1905)

D18A forced smile for a school picture that should capture a happy memory & stepping stone in a youngster’s life, in Blues Kid (2004), actually shows the sadness & unsettling emotions of abandonment & separation.


Depict a dream & practice perspective, shading, & figure painting while studying Salvador Dali & surrealism.                                                 


D19Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man (1943)

D20Remorse, or Sphinx Embedded in the Sand (1931)

D21Keep Going (2013) shows the dream of a girl on a journey from a bad situation &, besides having some big, hairy, man-eating spider parts, gave the feeling of going in the right direction, towards something amazing.

I don’t think of teaching students art history…I think of inspiring them. As for teaching students art…I’m just giving them the means to express themselves. Teaching art history in studio art can not only be beneficial, but it can be fun for students as long as they can form a connection. In my experience, allowing students to show their individuality in their artwork makes their art class experience all the more meaningful & allows a means to learn the material & remember it. The “famous” artist images shown here were found on the Internet through Wikipedia & Wikiart. However, the project examples are all mine. In them you can get a glimpse of my life, not just my fondness for learning from the Greats, but my love for nature, my pets  & family, music, & my gratitude of all the experiences I’ve encountered on my journey (some of these go way back). Anybody can appreciate others’ art, but to appreciate your own art means you put your thoughts, feelings, blood, sweat, & tears (sometimes literally) into your work…only then will it be of value, & only then will it carry significance. As an art teacher, I refuse to believe I’m not an artist. I may not be in galleries or be able to pay a bill from a sale, but I appreciate my art…& that feeling I get when I finish a piece I’m proud of…well, that feeling is what I try to teach. Few students will walk out of my class & into art careers, but most will walk out with an appreciation for art & its history, & all will remember it.

Thanks for reading! :-)

Thomasina Durkay

By Erin Griffith-Mosley

Since I have been a full time art teacher and mother of school age children I really haven’t had much time to concentrate on my own art.  So this summer, while contemplating the next school year, I decided to write some new lessons.  Before I write any lesson I try the project out first to see all the steps necessary and if the assignment is appropriate for the grade I want to teach.  This summer I decided to use my sketchbook to do my examples in and also decided to use the same sketchbook to teach my lesson on sketchbooks to the older grades.  I explained how I did quick sketches and only colored the sketches if color was part of the learning process.  I made notes about medium and grade and what I wanted the students to get out of the lesson.  (Mainly because I am getting older and more forgetful but I told the students it was because artists write ideas down and make notes in their sketchbooks.)  This excited the grade 3-6 students however some of them were disappointed that what they saw may not be taught to their grade.  Another advantage to doing the examples in my sketchbook is I saved paper and all my examples are in one place.  All in all I felt like I had a productive summer and many great ideas.

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Jesse Boone Art 1 Foundations  at Cradock Middle School

Students completed a brief study of different parts of Western Art history from Prehistoric until 1400.

During that time students learned that the primary use for art was to communicate with one another.  We discussed how Prehistoric man drew on the ceilings and walls of caves, while referencing the “Cave Paintings” in Lascaux, France.

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“Cave Paintings” in Lascaux, France.

Also, discussing how ancient Greeks and Romans not only used pictures to communicate but had developed a written alphabet.

We compared Ancient Greek and Romans’ form of communication to that of ancient Egypt.  We talked about how the Egyptians used a more pictorial type of writing, while the others used an alphabet that more resembles our modern alphabet.

When discussing Ancient Egyptian art we referenced the “Fowling in the Marsh: fragment of wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun (no.10) Thebes, Egypt, 18 Dynasty, around 1350 BCE.

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“Fowling in the Marsh: fragment of wall painting from the tomb of Nebamun (no.10) Thebes, Egypt, 18 Dynasty, around 1350 BCE.

Studying that Egyptian art followed strict rules of style.  There artwork lacks three dimensional depth, very little overlapping and a persons size in the picture indicated their importance in society, not their placement in space.   Egyptian artwork is very conservative.

After studying this part of Western art history, students created their own rock wall painting.

1st they answered a series of questions based on who they are?  These answers were then translated into personal symbols.

2nd students created a sketch, arranging the symbols from the answered questions into a pleasing well balanced composition.

3rd Students created a single layer of plaster tape, let it dry and transferred the sketch to the plaster.

Finally, students painted their design using acrylic paint, being very careful to observe the Egyptian rule of style, no depth, important images are the larger images.

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Over the past several years, Portsmouth City Public Schools has steadily increased lesson plan requirements.  First, it was Bloom’s Taxonomy.  Then, higher-order thinking questions, differentiation and Marzano strategies.    Administrators began stipulating that lesson plans be turned in weekly.  Several teachers, myself included, experienced frustration as lesson plan expectations seem to rise each year.  Putting overwhelming responsibilities aside, however, many of these additional requirements have been part of art instruction for a long time.  The only difference is that now, teachers are asked to document these strategies in greater detail.

Art educators have an advantage regarding effective teaching strategies, as many of these best practices are holistically part of quality art teaching.  Like previously stated, the only difference now is that these strategies are to be documented in lesson plans.  Most recently, Portsmouth Public School teachers have been asked to document their use of formative assessment.  Formative assessment is essentially the same as checking for understanding.  Summative assessment, on the other hand, is a more final form of assessment.  How do these terms apply to art education?  Art teachers are conducting formative assessment when sketchbooks are checked for evidence of understanding concepts, when questions are asked to see if students learned from a discussion, and when circulating around the art room to see that all students are on target.  So, like previously stated, formative assessment is very common in the art room.

As teachers are now asked to document these strategies, however, some may look for more formal strategies.  Over the past few weeks, I have made a concerted effort to incorporate quality formative assessment in my lesson plans.  Here are some simple things that have worked for me:

formative assessment 3

formative assessment 2


Post-it notes:  After a lesson on sketchbooks, where I presented images from the sketchbooks of Renaissance Artist Da Vinci and film maker Guillermo Del Toro, I asked sixth-grade students to write 2 facts and 1 opinion about sketchbooks on the Post-it before beginning a drawing assignment.  Students stuck these Post-its on a storage cabinet.  After making sure that all students had begun the drawing assignment, I read the Post-it responses.


formative assessment 4

Self-Assessment of Knowledge:  After I presented a lesson on the elements of art and fourth-grade students completed a companion worksheet, I had them assess their understanding of the information.

formative assessment 1

Applying vocabulary and concepts:  Third-Grade learned about the concepts of Foreground, Middle ground, and Background.  We studied the painting “Breakfast of the Birds” by Gabrielle Munter.  Afterward, students completed a guided drawing of the painting and labeled each area on their own.

Links on Art Assessment:

State of WV Dept of Ed

Scott Russell’s Pinterest on Art Assessment

Formative Assessment from the Art of Education

By Linnea Barth
Much like Aimee Sirna said in a previous blog entry, at this particular stage in my life, juggling an infant and a toddler as well a full time job, I do not have a lot of time for making art. One of the creative outlets that I have been able to sustain though has been ceramics. I usually do my ceramic work in school with the students. I have found that working with my students in clay can be mutually beneficial for a couple reasons. The first being that it gives me an opportunity to use my hands for something other than diaper changing! Secondly, I find that when I work with the students their craftsmanship improves. I’ve noticed that when you merely demonstrate the use of clay they are less likely to take the time to create a truly exceptional piece, but when you work alongside them and model creating a finely crafted work of art, they are more likely to become emotionally invested in their work as well. So, I have created many of the ceramic pieces below while working with my students here at Norcom.
I made this vessel a number of years ago when I was experimenting with ribbons of clay and organic finishes.


This is a more recent piece, made only this past fall with my art III students while revisiting my ribbon theme. The finish is a combination of traditional teal glaze with an earthenware glaze lightly brushed over the top in an effort to create a patina like finish.


This piece was made as a gift for my brother, and a demonstration of a relief project for my art I students last spring.


This is a sushi tray from a series I made a number of years ago. I carved the Celtic design into the top of the tray, which was molded over a plaster meat tray mold that I also made. I then dropped crushed red glass into the recessed parts. The bottom echoes the design in the top and was painstaking to cut, score and slip. In the end I was very pleased with the results on this and actually revisited the Celtic design to decorate a working earthenware lamp that I am also very proud of (my husband did the wiring on the lamp for me)…I wish I had a photo of the lamp to share, as I hand soldered a mica shade for it as well, but it is at my parent’s house in NY and they are currently in Virginia and unable to send me a photograph.


By Jamie Cosumano

Something had to give and I had a decision to make. Someone in my class would not be getting the attention needed and I, we, might just have to suffer the loss, I thought…
Then again – it might be ok.
This year, I was challenged with 8 plans in 3 blocks. Not an impossible task, but one requiring strong organizational skills, tenacious nature, and patience. The challenge was further extended into subdivisions within blocks, for example, Ceramics I divides into 3 parts at the end of the year: glazing, wheel-throwing, and sculpting. So in truth, 2nd block consisted of 7 plans, give or take, depending on the month.
So in this class of Ceramics I, Ceramics II, AP Studio Art, and Research/Studio Scholars III, I found myself looking at the last – Marquaine in Advanced Art (III), recently transferred in from Norcom High School.

Marquaines Skeleton 1 114_3902
I set up all lessons and got the balls rolling, but no matter how hard I tried, I found myself pulled into clay, research, and AP matters over the work of this young man – this quiet and contemplative young man, new to our school, other students, and me.
No matter, I was delighted to find that this student kept to his tasks and completed several drawings for me. I jumped in when I felt he was missing a point or going astray, but that didn’t happen often. For my “neglect” I recognized that this student was learning, without my interruption. He was finding his voice without my direct influence or style. He was contemplating important decisions while I was busy: helping another find a better composition, finding center on the wheel, or digging out new materials from the supply closet.

114_3905 114_3909 114_3908
What’s my point? I think that sometimes an art teacher needs to allow a student find their own voice. It’s like what college orientation-for-parents states – “Don’t be a helicopter and constantly hover.” Objectives must be met, craftsmanship and growth are important to address, but if something better is realized, then shouldn’t we as artists celebrate the discovery over our original vision. I believe that students can guide us as much as we know we can guide them.
Marquaine taught me to trust the student. It doesn’t always work – there are situations – but when the right student comes along, guide gently and with care and support – but let them evolve at their own pace. The work will become meaning ful to you, and especially to them.

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These are examples of some of Mr. Craig’s own work.

Artist observe. The trajectory of a ball, the thrust of a twig, the enigma of fog, patterns in the sand,the uniqueness of every cloud, the convolution of an ear, the mood on a friend’s face…. everything has meaning to our eyes. We are nourished by long visual legacy, where we discover our heroes. We are gifted with mentors. Our challenge is to study especially nature, and to feel the human condition in all its complexities.  Nancy Ekholm Burkert

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By Eric Baur

Decoy2Three years ago I took a workshop on Traditional Decoy Carving. I had no previous knowledge about decoy carving, but the workshop appealed to me as both an artist and a hunter. By the end of the second day, I was amazed that I had carved, sanded and painted a decoy.


Since then, the majority of my artistic focus has been on making decoys. After that first workshop I continued to keep in contact with the instructor and eventually joined a decoy carving guild located in Virginia Beach.


 I have enjoyed learning about the craft as well as the history of decoy carving, and I am looking forward to participating in decoy festivals in the future.

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