Peer Observation

Today I went to art class. Administrators encouraged teachers to observe one another, and offered class coverage to allow us to see someone else teach. I picked art teacher Andrea Puentes, because I believe her style is similar to my own in many ways, but I have always wanted to learn more about art. Doing so can improve the way I teach graphic design.

art class

Art teaching giving instructions

The third period class, Pre-AP Art I, was working on plans for a still life drawing. Ms. Puentes gave them several minutes of instruction, tips for how to do a good job, pointers about how to use tools, reminders of their timeline, then let them work. She made a few behavioral redirections, but gave a rationale for them, too (for example, they shouldn’t use their phones because they can’t be drawing at the same time); when two boys tried to hold a conversation during this time, she stopped talking until they stopped.

Once they started to work, the class got really quiet. I call this the “sweet spot” in my own lessons–the moment when everyone knows what to do and is doing it. To help set a mood, Ms. Puentes played music in the background:  she asked the class what type of music they would like. I play music sometimes, but I could do it more consistently.


One of my 8 sketches

I drew! The task was to create 8 sketches of a large combination of objects in the center of the room, in order to determine a focus for a still life drawing. While my sketches were not as detailed as the students’, I worked seriously for most of the period. I felt inadequate to the task, because I had missed prior instruction. This is probably how students feel when they are new to a class, or return from a prolonged absence. Taking the role of a student gives me chances to develop empathy for them. It’s also interesting to see my students in a different environment. One student who struggles in my class is a very good artist, so she shines in art class:  she worked diligently all period, whereas in mine she distracts herself.

art class slide

Art class teacher directions

Being part of art class was a nice change of pace–a good way to spend my conference period. I wish I knew more about art, but I appreciated the opportunity to learn a little more, and I recognized ways in which a few of the concepts (Rule of Thirds, negative space, etc.) overlap with what I teach in Digital Media.



Data Visualization, Part 2: Connecting with a Local Expert

While reading a local newspaper during the summer, I noticed one of their authors, Emily Royall, had the title Data Director in her byline. Intrigued, I reached out via email and we later met for coffee. My initial idea was that perhaps she could supply us with data and my students could visualize it in some way that could be useful to her for an article. We came up with better ideas.

During our face-to-face meeting, Emily became enthusiastic about my students, and agreed to come be a guest speaker.  We scheduled her visit for the day after I gave the required district lesson about digital citizenship; topically, this worked perfectly. As a data expert, Emily had lots of advice for my students regarding online privacy.  One of their favorite moments was checking their Instagram categories to see how the app had categorized them as potential targets for advertisements.

Emily is the CEO of her own company that uses design and data to highlight inequities in society. As an artist, she had a project that could use our help. She was staging an exhibit at a local art gallery. Emily had downloaded her Facebook data file and printed out the comments she had posted, which required 700 pages. She planned to fold each page into the type of fortune tellers students make in middle school. We helped. At the end of the day, we had a tall stack of folded papers.  On October 5, a local gallery hosted the opening of her exhibit, and students were able to go see their work on display.

Forming this partnership with Emily Royall allowed my students and I to dive deeper into the ways physical objects can represent data, as well as to understand how our actions online create data.