Friday, September 2, 2011

Lines: To be or not to be.

A simple hand-drawn line poster to reinforce lines used in art class.
My 5th grade brother said something this week that I think is worth noting as an art educator. He said, "Nellie, I wish you would've taken the art teacher job at my school. Since Mr. Tanner retired, we got a new girl this year and she is making us do very babyish projects.'

Gage is very anti-baby anything, he thought the movie Where the Wild Things Are was babish, so I asked him what he meant by that. He said that she was making them do projects using LINES.

Gasp! Lines are babyish? To a fifth-grader, lines probably are babyish. And boring.

Immediately I knew that his art teacher has either recently graduated...or she was in school around the same time I education curriculum at the university level is very interesting to me.

My mentor teacher graduated about 15 years ago and at that time the emphasis was on multicultural curriculum and she infuses lots of culture and art history into her curriculum.

Other art teachers who have graduated either just after my mentor teacher or just before I started, seem to have a big background in the elements and principles. I don't have any hard numbers or facts, I've just sort of noticed this trend in talking with colleagues. 

Pencil tray, lid to a plastic shoe box. Stacks easily.

When I graduated, about 7 years ago, the emphasis was on D.B.A.E. (Discipline Based Art Education). I don't organize my lessons to conform to the aesthetics, art criticism, art production, and art history as put forth in the Getty Model....

I think art is different than other subjects and the art experience has to be more fulfilling than say the mathematics experience. In college, when it came to designing lesson plans my education department forced everyone to conform to the Madeline Hunter model I have done a bit of studying on the new push to improve arts education using 'the big idea' which makes a lot of sense but its difficult to wrap my brain around this method since I teach so many sections of kindergarten, it would challenging to implement.

After Gage said that LINES were BABYISH, It made me wonder how many times teachers fall back on the elements and principles to drive their art curriculum...and how that effects student interest in art.

It made me wonder if kids would be able to connect to art on a much richer level if more art history were incorporated, as much as possible, with less of an emphasis on the elements and principles. Perhaps there is no perfect art will never please every student with every project, but I do hope my brother gets to do some fun stuff this year. Maybe he just needs an attitude adjustment, a little bit of a challenge, or something really fun to spark his enthusiasm.

I definitely use the elements and principals because they are emphasized in the Missouri Grade Level Expectations for Art at the Kindergarten Level...and well, you have to start somewhere with probably kids who have no experience with art. A basic lesson about lines is a great starting point for 5-year-olds because it is sort of a jumping off point....projects incorporating shapes generally follow because they are learning their shapes in their classrooms and it is a great reinforcement to use shapes in art.

Below is the project I do with my kindergarten (and sometimes first) grade classes the third week of school. Generally, there is a short week because of Labor not every class will do this project. But I make up enough strips so that if I need to be gone, I can use it for a sub plan for the classes that missed art due to the holiday, later in the year.

Classroom organization: use a box flat to separate papers by class.
I admit, I saw this lesson on another blog....but I do not know where. I am not the original author. If someone leaves a comment with the link, I will add it here.  

Explain that nearly every week in art, we would be using lines. We can make lines with chalk, crayons, marker, with a paint brush, etc. Point out the line poster and draw lines on the board: zig zag, wavy, straight, rainbow, curly-q, spiral.

I thought it would be fun to play a couple of games using lines. Let’s play the line hunt game: Find lines around the room, use the line poster to pick out different types of lines: straight, zig zag, wavy, curly-q, spiral, rainbow line. Have students quietly point to a straight line found in the floor tiles, concrete wall bricks, ceiling tiles, etc. Have students point to wavy lines, around the room. Try to spot spirals and have students point to places where they see spirals. 

Let’s play another game. Have students stand up. Play the line game: make different types of line with their bodies: zig-zag (walk like an Egyptian), vertical, horizontal, diagonal, diagonal the other way (arms out like an airplane, tilted in both directions), wavy arms, rainbow line, upside down rainbow, crazy spiral….just stretch it out for a few minutes, repeating each line several times. Here are some images of the various lines in the game.
         Line game. Top row: 1. Vertical 2. horizontal 3. Diagonal 4. Diagonal the other way                                                        Bottom 1. Zig zag, 2. wavy 3. Spiral  4. Rainbow Line
Have students sit down. Explain that we are going to use lines to make a design. Explain that each table will get the color that matches their table: red getst red, blue gets blue, etc.

a.     Demonstrate how use the buckets to find a variety of colored strips.
b.     Write name on back of black paper in pencil. Lay the colored strips out on the black paper. Try to use a variety of colors. Students could also glue a strip to the back and write their name on it in sharpie if you don't want to pass out pencil trays. ;-)
c.      Use glue sticks to adhere strips to front of the black paper. Remind students not to eat the glue or smear too much or tear up the glue sticks. I also explain that the glue needs to make a 'skid mark' on the strip or else there won't be enough glue...the paper will fall off.
d.     Demonstrate how to use sharpies to draw different types of lines on each strip. Say: do not take the sharpie and scribble all over the paper. On each strip, draw a different type of line. Demonstrate a different line on each strip, use my examples as a reference.
Once you have demonstrated how to do all the steps, pass out the buckets, then the black papers and pencils for names, then the glue sticks, and lastly, the sharpies. You may have to go around the room coaching students about how to ‘draw’ the line designs on the strips of paper. Sometimes they don’t really understand what to do with the marker.

Save their creations, either show them how to put their papers in the drying rack, starting at the bottom, or stack them, making sure the really ‘gluey ones don’t stick together.

If time allows, use the line drawing example to show students how to draw an underwater scene to take home.  It is important that students can draw a line all the way across the paper. Demonstrate how to put a wavy line at the top, straight line at the bottom, spirals can be turned into snails….a rainbow line can become a jelly fish…and students can add a zig-zag line for seaweed. IF they have lots of time left, let them draw other things like fish, sharks, spongebob, etc. 
Example of drawing at the end, if time allows.
Supplies needed for this lesson: buckets/tubs with colored strips--one per table, use a variety of colors in each bucket, colored construction paper cut into 1X6 strips, Glue sticks, Pencils, Black 6 X 12 paper, Sharpies, White paper for free time


  1. Hey Nellie Mae,

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. It is so simple and yet I never thought to do it that way with colored strips on black paper! Genious! I can't get over the fact that we art teachers are so similar in how we approach the elements and principles. I agree with what you said about the different art philosophies. I was taught the elements and pricniples method in college and discovered DBAE while trying to keep up with current info on art education. I selectively chose to use art history and art production from DBAE because of time limitations for class times and frankly, no kid wants to sit around and discuss aesthetics when he/she could be making a cool clay project instead! With only 45 minutes a week, (if we're lucky), kids want to find out about the project, ask questions on how to's and then start creating. Let the pie in the sky educational theorists come visit my classroom and see for themselves!


  2. Hey Pat!! Thanks for your comments. The colored strip project looks really beautiful on display. Since students are practicing counting, it is great for them to count out 8 strips and sort them by color different shades of the same color.

    As far as the discussion about art philosophies goes, It would be interesting to hear from other art teachers about how they approach curriculum. I start with lines and shapes with kindergarten students because it aligns with their curriculum, but I move away from that later in the year with projects designed around materials or books.

    With my older students, I try to do things that are fun and interesting to me....I get ideas from flickr or pintrest or blogs.

  3. Hmmm. DBAE has been around since the early 80s. I wonder if it isn't a time period of when people went to college, but professor influence? When I was in college, DBAE was definitely emphasized, but elements and principles seem to be emphasized more with state standards. Like Pat, I would say I do more with art history and art production than the others. But, I don't think they should necessarily be equal.