Tag Archives: CMSD

Building a Biome From Scratch

Watching students become more confident and willing to take risks made this a very memorable experience. The 2017 spring semester was the start of my PAA journey and began with a residency in Mrs. Reynolds’ 7th grade class at Michael R. White STEM School. The goal was to reinforce knowledge of abiotic and biotic factors of an ecosystem. To a 7th grader I’m sure this sounded about as much fun as watching paint dry. To make this much more engaging, and utilize 21st century skills, we decided that they would create their own animated biome presentation using Scratch. None of the students had ever used Scratch before. They had to learn the interface and the visual scripting all while presenting accurate, standards based information to their audience. This would be challenging, and they knew it. They were very rambunctious and filled with nervous energy when the project began.

One student in particular sticks out in my mind. Let’s just say he was not the most cooperative. Initially, he was often cracking jokes, having side conversations, and generally just fooling around. He seemed to have little interest in the project. However, by the last few sessions he was leading his peers in various techniques and code application. At our final session, he was visibly upset when reminded that it was our last day together. In a weak voice he asked, “So we are never going to see you again?” I told him that I would be around the school and that he could always go online and use Scratch on his own. He then told me that he wanted to start making Scratch games and be an artist.

The transformative power of successful experiences never ceases to amaze.


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It’s what we talk about in Cleveland.

I am writing this during a day off from school (the fifth in less than two weeks) due to ‘continued, dangerously low wind chill temperatures’ or ‘extreme weather conditions’ as some news channels proclaim and am thankful this was a fall residency and not scheduled for now. The second grade students at Michael R. White STEM school scripted, performed and recorded their own weather reports from both their news room and outside. With this age group repetition (each class produced three reports throughout the fall and into the winter) was not monotonous, it was an opportunity to learn new vocabulary, improve upon past experiences and polish the performances. There were less than twenty students in each class and everyone was engaged at all times, rotating through different production roles as the sessions went on.

On our first production day there was a student who seemed less than thrilled to be selected as a news anchor. His demeanor made it apparent that he was frustrated and angry, but it quickly became evident that he was just afraid of forgetting lines and messing up. Through positive reinforcement and witnessing his co-anchor forget her lines a few times (without any negative repercussions from the others in the class) he began sitting a little straighter, his hands no longer covered his mouth when he spoke, his legs lost their jitters and his voice began to project. All of this over the course of ten minutes. He had transformed into someone new. He began to smile when he made a mistake instead of covering his face and putting his head on the desk. From that point forward, regardless of his assignment, he was also the default script assistant, memorizing the words for each production and mouthing them to the new anchors from his role of camera operator or lighting technician. As an educator, it was really amazing to see how much this program impacted how he held himself and I see so many more situations where this confidence can serve him as he grows.

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Collaborating for Deeper Understanding in the Classroom Lab

Read more about the Kindergarten/2nd Grade Shapes and Boat Residency here.


Artist Educator, Dina Hoeynck, guiding the build phase of the design process with an Orchard kindergartener.

My favorite part of this residency was being able to work in small groups with students and empowering them to use real tools to build from an authentic boat plan.  In most residencies there is only one artist-educator leading the class, so you have to come up with broader activities that engage a classroom of 25-30 students.  However, with this residency for Orchard STEM School’s kindergarten and 2nd graders, I had the opportunity to collaborate and co-instruct with another PAA artist-educator, Dina Hoeynck.  Having a team of two artist-educators allowed us to delve into areas of instruction with younger children that require a more contained learning environment.  Because of this, we were able to work one-on-one with students and transform the classroom into a lab for creating and experimenting. We introduced students to the proper use of tools throughout the various steps of the lab’s design process.  Students were able to develop focused work practices and proper safety procedures.  Through this collaborative work, we saw students gain a new skill set and exercise and refine their  fine motor skills.  The result: Students used their new skills to help measure and cut one-dimensional plastic boards into multiple shapes for the construction of the boat and demonstrated a deeper understanding of how to create a three-dimensional object.


Reading boat plans with students.


Measuring and cutting the coroplast (corrugated plastic) for our boat.



Dina and student Preston assembling boat during the final stage of the design process.


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Seeing Clearly

A student from Mound's 6th grade class with his team's in-progress torso casting.

A student from Mound’s 6th grade class with his team’s in-progress torso casting.

Students in Mound’s 6th grade classes are currently working on see-through sculptures of the human body for their STEM project.   With a focus on the organs and the cells that make them up, students started the process with their primary teachers, learning about six of the most important organs in the human body.  They were asked to use internet to research each organ and compose a short paragraph about each.  For the next phase PAA introduced students to Graphic Design using Adobe Illustrator, working with their previously composed text we made small informational tags to help viewers understand the structure and functions of the organs.

Today we began clear tape casting of the students torsos, the students were making art and loved it!  Casting is great in that way, its almost magic to see students with little to no knowledge of sculpture have instant success with creating a life size human torso.

Next week we will be using colored tape to construct full scale models of each of the organs.  The last step will be to combine the torsos, organs, and informational tags into the students final sculptures.

Stay tuned to the PPA Artist-Educators blog for more progress and to see the students completed Projects.

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