Grid Jig

I have a couple of projects that make use of a 2″ grid. Students create their own grid for use in a drawing but there are always a number of absent students, students who fail to complete the grid correctly, and students who have to begin again. There are also new students added mid-project sometimes. In these situations, a grid shortcut is very handy and I finally caved in and spent a little time and effort creating a 2″ grid jig out of wood and masonite that I had laying around. I put together a wood frame and spaced strips of dense fiber board for straight-edges. I can produce a grid in about 20 seconds and they’re back to work. The advantage, of course, is time saving for the students and teacher. Also a little conservation of materials. The disadvantages are the time to make the jig (30 minutes for me) and certainly if your focus is to make sure each student knows how to create a grid on their own, this doesn’t accomplish that.  The jig is also not adjustable. It is for a blank grid of two inch squares and that’s it. For me, it will be a great time-save for those compatible projects I repeat each year.

Easy Re-Entry

While the security policy allows teachers to have classrooms unlocked on my campus. For a number of reasons, I prefer to leave the actual mechanism in the “always locked” configuration.This way I don’t have to lock and unlock it every time I step away. Students who arrive late, hall pass users, students who are called away and then return…They all knock politely and wait for me to answer. It sounds ideal but I have stop what I am doing and walk across the room to answer the door. This can happen several times in a single class. Students often knock even if the door is unlocked. This is likely because they assume it’s locked without trying.


Linear Perspective Demo

We’re working with one-point linear perspective in 6th grade at the moment. I like to use my TV display for demonstration. I’m having pretty good results from laminating drawing paper and using wet erase fine-point markers to draw the steps while students follow along. Dry erase was handy but I prefer pens with a finer point than I have been able to find in dry erase. I keep a box of baby wipes at my desk for several uses but they are great for removing lines of wet erase marker from the demo sheets.

Resource Booklets

I have a library of resource folders, booklets and sleeves for student use. I keep all resources for a project together in a set for each table that I can provide year after year…updating them as needed. I have manilla sleeves, plastic sleeves (all color coded) containing laminated sheets or stapled booklets of handouts, examples, and instructions. Sometimes a booklet of sheet-protected pages is best. I have found Nicky’s Folders 8-pocket model to be perfectly awesome. They are durable and colorful. Most recently, I have complied some texture shading examples from various artwork that I found online for students to study as we lead up to a scratch-art project.

Wander-proof Tables

This semester, I glued my furniture cups to the floor with a clear variety of Gorilla glue. The glue drying clear is an improvement over the amber-brown color of original Gorilla Glue I have used in the past. I tried one in an inconspicuous area first. After a few days the cup was easily removed from the polished floor tiles by tapping it on the side with a hammer or other tool. The thin residue is easily removed with a blade scraper. I am also still lashing pairs of tables together at adjacent legs. I originally thought maybe the tables being attached might be enough to help keep them in place so I didn’t begin the year with the furniture-cups. Unfortunately, although the lashings helped some, the table still moved around too much to satisfy me. This semester I am using the cups again. I am trying it with less cups to see if it works…two per table. I can always add more if needed. Gorilla Glue is supposed to be activated with water so I took a wet sponge around with me to slightly dampen the base of the cup before applying the glue. This type of glue expands so I just used a pea-size drop in the center of each cup.

Sanitary Wipes

One of the handiest things I have “discovered” for art class use are Pampers Sensitive Wipes. When working with messy materials, chalk pastels for example, my hands would tend to get very dry from all the excessive washing throughout the day. These wipes have a bit of moisturizing effect and are quick and easy for clean up so I don’t have as many trips to the sink. They remove a surprising amount of filth, but when ones take into account what they are made for…I guess it makes sense. They are also great for initial removable of spills from clothing. (more…)

Painting in the Classroom

I have had good results using tempera paint for middle school art. Being water soluble means that I never have to be concerned about paint spills or brushes and materials not being cleaned completely. Tempera paint can sit for a year and still be dissolved easily in water. I recommend avoiding the cheapest tempera and go with the higher-end products. It is still student grade paint but you get what you pay for as far as brighter colors and better coverage.  I purchase mine in pump-top gallon jugs. I use tempera in an opaque painting application. I prefer watercolor paint when I switch to those projects but I’ve found that liquid tempera also works well for watercolor techniques. My projects make use of primary colors, plus white and black. (more…)

Mail Mirror Man

My box is up pretty high in the mail sorter this year. I like to check it as I pass by the workroom but I couldn’t tell if there was a page or two in it without walking right up to and even putting my hand inside the shelves. I ran across a little convex mirror in a box of junk recently so I stuck it on the back wall of my box.  Additionally I stretched a smiley guy image and stuck to the shelf itself. Now I can pass by the window in the door to the workroom and tell if I have mail without even stepping inside. I don’t need to go in if I can still see the grin.

Photo Booth

Each year, my more advance art classes do a project using a photo of themselves as a reference. I have a number of projects that may use these and I add to the list regularly. Earlier in the year, I have the students take digital photos which I keep on file until we are ready for them. I always had to set up my camera in the back of the room for a week or two while the photos are taken. I quickly found that students are more at ease and it is less distracting if I set up a screen of some sort with the camera behind it. I have used cardboard and other things for this set up. This year, I decided to build a free-standing screen to be a “photo booth” that doesn’t use up a table and takes up less room. I can also mount some lighting easily on it. It’s working out pretty good.  (more…)

Grip strips

In searching for a solution for hanging art in my newly renovated classroom, I settled on Grip Strip rails. I purchased three 4 foot rails and three 8 foot rails for the wall in my room. Inside the rail is a series of plastic cylinders. Slide a paper in the rail and it tucks behind the cylinders. Gravity pins the paper inside. To remove, you just gently lift the paper up and forward and it falls out. So far, these things rock! No more poster putty, tack board, etc.

Camera Rig

Moving into my renovated classroom required me to design a new camera rig for my display system. I still haven’t seen a better adjustment solution than the long handled mount that I took from a discarded video camera tripod. I had to purchase a 1/2″ steel rod, which fit perfectly in the camera mount. The rest of the rig is just an arm built of steel pipe and fittings. It is mounted to a wood panel that replaces a ceiling tile. It will accept any camera with a video output. Next time, I will get one that has a remote control for the zoom. (more…)

Rennovation Progress

I visited my old classroom last month to check out the progress on the renovations. They had the wallboard up and appeared to be working on the heating/AC duct work. No significant room layout change other than an added storage room, lower ceiling and it appear I will have less windows.

Furniture Alignment

My classes meet in a small portable bulding this year. To make better use of the space I have set up my tables in continuous rows. I bought some cheap lashing straps to attached all three tables in each row together. They function as one table and stay neatly aligned. I’ve been pretty pleased with it.


Moving Out

It has been an unusually busy start for the first of the year. Renovations begin in my building this year so I had to move out of my classroom. I’ll conduct classes in a portable building classroom for now. The plan is to move back for the 2016-2017 school year.

Art Display

For the remainder of the school year, I will be rotating displays of the student artwork in my school’s cafeteria. I save their projects all year so there is quite a bit of it. We used to have a single art show event but that has been displaced due to renovations on my campus.

Musak Video

I had some problems with the old ipod that I use to play background music in my classroom. Until I get it figured out I made some DVDs with Windows Movie Maker. I combined some instrumental music with some footage of close-up lava lamp action and then used a separate video converter to render it in a DVD format. I used DVDshrink to author the final disc in which the same video repeats 2-3 times. I think it runs 2 1/2 hours before I have to press play again.

I like this thing…

I picked up two of these from Harbor Freight over the holiday. It’s already proving to be as useful as expected in the classroom. The price was $18.99 in-store. I notice that the price online has gone up (since a week ago) to $19.99. I don’t know if this price has been updated in the stores yet but I am glad decided to purchase two of them when I did. All metal construction and very handy storage for probably any classroom. I use mine near my desk for supplies that I need access to. The trays are 12″ across and it’s 18″ high over-all The bottom two trays have larger compartments and the top two have more smaller ones. As it requires assembly, one could easily leave out some dividers to adjust the compartment sizes.

Which brings me to the one negative and it is that virtually nothing comes assembled. There are no less that 75 tiny bolts with their accompanying washers and nuts. It is by no means difficult. It just takes some time to do it all….Particularly if you’re assembling two of them.

Classroom Muzak

As students work on projects, I find it beneficial to play some instrumental background music. With the right music selections, it tends to set a relaxing mood and helps them stay on task. In this post, I thought I would comment on what kinds of music I have found to work well. (more…)

Mystery Art

I have not arrived at the perfect solution to students neglecting to identify their artwork. There always seems to be a handful of papers with no name and so, cannot be graded. One helpful strategy has been to designate a place that students can retrieve unidentified artwork. For me, installing some clips at the back of my classroom allows me to post unidentified work out of the way but students can still see it. Students are also updated regularly as to their average and any missing work they may have. Nevertheless, at the end of a grading period, there are usually three or more unclaimed papers…completed…that those student never bothered to get credit for. The clips are also large enough for the occasional lost item such as a stray colored pencil, ruler, or marker cap.

Aestheometry Designs

Students are currently working on their Aestheometry design. Pictured here are the materials that we use daily. Upper left: Nineteen different aestheometry practice sheets that are distributed over several class periods. Upper middle: The large paper with the number four is a student folder that we create at the beginning of the year. It’s a 18×24″ sheet of heavy paper folder in half and labeled with the student’s name and class period. Upper right: A green cardboard ruler I provide for my students and a plastic/mesh zipper bag for individual student materials. The pink card inside is numbered according to the student’s seating assignment. Among other things, the bag contains a hard-lead pencil and eraser. Lower left: A manila file jacket for resources. One of these is supplied to each table. Lower right: The contents of the manila resource folder. A booklet of aestheometry instructions and examples. It’s probably around 10 pages front to back and corner stapled. Also, three examples printed in color and laminated so they can be reused. In fact, my goal is to preserve all the file jackets and their contents and use them year after year. (more…)

Prison Tool Control

I don’t use them all the time, but for some materials and situations, these blocks make things much easier. Dad calls it prison tool control because it’s among the methods of accounting for tools used by inmates.The advantage being that one can see at a glance if all the materials have been returned before dismissing students. If the block is full before distributing materials, then it should be full again when materials are put away. Easy. Right now I have three blocks that each hold 24 items. I wish I had made them to hold 28 or 30 as my classes are larger these days. One has small holes for pencil-size items. The other two have medium and large holes. Scratch-art tools and special markers have a tendency to “wander” unless special arrangements are made. Of course, one does have to be diligent about using them. Forget to check the block once and you’re back to replacing those lost items. If a school district has a wood shop program, special favors could be called in. They are easy to make, but a drill press is really a must in my opinion.

Subtle Reminder

I’m the type who will lose track of time while focusing on other things and be caught off-guard by the bell to dismiss class. Of course, the bell ringing before my students have been instructed to put away materials once in a while is not a big deal. Still, I would choose to be consistent and allow appropriate time in every class if it were possible. At the same time, I don’t want to be a clock-watcher. If you carry an iPhone at all times, I recommend looking into Alarm Clock Pro in the app store. I’m sure Android has similar functions/apps as well. Alarms Clock Pro is one of many apps that allow the programming of multiple silent alarms. As for myself, the Invisible Clock is a better choice because I prefer not to carry my phone around in my classroom. The Invisible Clock is a pocket-watch with some unique features. One can program up to 12 individual alarms for a 24 hour period and can be switched easily from beep, to vibrate, and to off. It can be carried in a pocket, clipped to clothing, or worn on a lanyard. (more…)

Organizing Reference Material

In efforts to better organize my room and materials, I put a lot of time in preparing student reference materials to be used more easily year after year. Student reference materials are simply hard copies of examples and instructions. Some are, of necessity, printed in color…which means they are not cheap to produce and need to be used over and over. These are typically laminated or placed in clear sleeves. Sometimes the sets include stapled booklets. For me, the best solution is to provide a package for each table. I have 24 tables with double seating at some so a few students share. Each table gets a file jacket, which is a manilla or plastic envelope that holds letter-size sheets. Depending on the need, some are flat and others expand to 1″. Inside are placed all the materials and resources that we share for a given project. Of course, it takes a bit of effort to collect and assemble these and I add a bit each year, but the idea is that they will be ready to go when needed. I teach different grade levels, so my resources needed to be in a form that is easy to distribute and collect for individual classes. At the end of a project, the jackets are collected and stored in an expanding document wallet. I use a separate wallet for each project and label them for quick retrieval. (more…)


If a classroom door needs to be left ajar, these door cushions work well. They are intended to keep toddlers from getting fingers pinched but they also work well to prevent a door from slamming or latching. Tethering with some cord keeps it from wandering off. It’s a simple shape constructed of dense foam rubber, so it would be easy to make one and save four or five bucks. One of those, extra thick swim noodles would probably make a couple-dozen of them.


Keep Your Students in Line

You think you know who you’re dealing with? How many of your colleagues glue their desks to the floor?

Mmm hmmm. That’s what I thought.

I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years so its clear that I think it’s awesome. Clear acrylic furniture cups…The little plastic discs that are intended to protect the floor from casters and furniture legs. After I set up my classroom tables, I proceed to glue a cup to the floor beneath all four legs of the 24 tables in my room. My tables are NEVER moved out of place. I never hear the grating sound of a table being scooted around. The polish coat stays intact since it won’t be ground away with table legs and grit. I love it. Our custodians strip and re-wax every summer. In May, I remove all 96 cups, store them,  and start over again when August rolls around. It takes about 45 minutes to do the whole room.

Where Did I Put That?

Art teachers jealously guard their collection of artwork examples. Irreplaceable. Some are teacher-created examples to be sure but the bulk of the collection often consists of student art that has been abandoned or left behind over the years. A few years ago, I set up a method for organizing my project examples. It has proven to work very well for my situation. I use inexpensive “Red  Rope” paper portfolios in a wire paper rack. A lot of student work fits into the 14×20″ size but I also have a number of 20×26″ size for those larger projects. The portfolios fit perfect in a typical wire “posterboard” rack. I label the edges to make certain projects easy to find.


Red Rope portfolios are available from a number of suppliers.

Care for the Chair

These things are great! Nylon caps with felt pads for the feet of your classroom chairs. They are silent and they prevent those streaks, scuffs and worn areas on the floor. Forget about those ridiculous looking tennis balls stuck on chair legs. When I got these, my concern was that the felt base would not last  and I would have to replace them too often. It is safe to say that I was mistaken….kind of amazingly mistaken. I installed these around 12 years ago and the original ones are still intact. I have used a couple dozen spares to replace ones that have been lost. Pretty impressive considering all the grime that students track in every year.

I bought them from Shiffler Equipment. These days 100 caps costs around $30…well worth the money in my opinion. They also sell a tool to help remove them when necessary. The manufacturer suggested a dab of glue when installing to help them stay in place. I understand the latest model of the caps is deeper and may not need the adhesive.

Portable Pencil Point Processor

It’s probably unusual for a teacher to prefer not to have a sharpener permanently installed. For the most part, I rely on handheld sharpeners in my classes. Even before I shifted to the manual sharpeners, I didn’t care for having a wall-mounted crank model permanently installed. My solution was to have a crank sharpener mounted to a concrete stepping stone. I used PC-11 epoxy to glue the sharpener and a couple of handles to the stone. I also added felt pads to the bottom. This solution allowed me to move the sharpener and even put it away when not needed.

Easy Receipts

Gotta love a good stamp. There is a student art fee at my school to help purchase some of the supplies used in class. A few years ago, my school began to issue student planners. I promptly purchased a custom date stamp so that I could stamp the “receipt” in a student’s planner and stop writing receipts all the time. Even without the planners, I believe a date stamp receipt would be of use for many teachers who are responsible for collecting funds.

Zipper Supply Bags

I’ve had a lot of luck in my classes with these zipper supply bags. The ones I purchased were from Dick Blick and I was originally concerned that the zippers would not hold up. A couple of year later they are in good shape even with daily use.  One had a zipper tab fall off…just the pull tab, which can be replaced with a piece of cord or something. A handful were abused by students but only cosmetically damaged and still function fine. Overall, I consider them them indispensable.