Muses Go To School RSA

I view art as bridging the communication gap between everybody.

I grew up in a tiny German town and my family was the only American family in the nearby vicinity. Thus, my siblings and I were very close because none of the neighborhood kids in town could talk to us.

Until one day when I was rollerblading up and down my street and so was a girl who lived across from me. Eventually we began communicating, I knew enough German and she knew enough English. So we became friends. Which was lucky, because her family had a pool. More seriously, I got to immerse myself in the German culture by hanging out with her and her family.

However, I didn’t know enough German and she didn’t know enough English. One day she yelled at me that I really needed to learn her language since I was in her country (she was kind of right).

When words weren’t enough we reached to the staple of any 9 year old’s girl possessions, sidewalk chalk. I remember drawing things like “Wanna go on a bike ride to the forest and go swimming in the lake?” Or explaining what a “state” was in the United States of America.

I think we drew more with chalk than any other typical kid activity. Because we didn’t really have to talk, we could just draw together.

In our schools I feel that there are things kids want to say but don’t know how. Art gives them the outlet that other facets of school just can’t.

My current 6th graders are driven crazy by having to do art. What I need to work on is creating the kind of environment where kids feel free to take creative risks. Even if that risk is just picking up that pencil and drawing a line. I think children (okay and most adults) are so fearful of being critiqued for their artistic ability and it paralyzes them from even attempting anything artistic. But if I can show that I’m not going to grade anything and that I value the work everyone does I think that will be a step toward eradicating, “But I can’t draw!”

Mrs. Bennett

My art history professor once told me that when we procrastinate we’re actually just going through a mental to do list. It just so happens that we move homework to the bottom of the list, and usually put hours of TV watching at the top of the list.

That’s a positive way to look at it, so that’s what I’m going with.

I’ve had a list of blog ideas on my office chalkboard since the beginning of autumn quarter.

Those titles are “Pride + Prejudice = Backwards lesson design,” “pop culture in schools” (which I think I frequently talk about) and “Game of Teachers.”

Today, in lieu of a major literacy project, I will explain how I view Mrs. Bennett as being the master of backwards lesson design.

Mrs. Bennett/ lesson planning guru

Just so you know, I’ll be spoiling Pride and Prejudice plot points here. So if you haven’t read it go download it on amazon for free right now- I’ll see you in a couple days.

There are three stages to Wiggins and McTighe’s backward lesson plan model.

Stage 1: Identify desired results.

Stage 2: Determine acceptable evidence

Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction


Stage 1-

Mr. and Mrs. Bennett have 5 daughters. For archaic societal reasons none of the daughters can inherit the fortune or the house that the Bennetts live in. Only a male relative can.

Mrs. Bennett’s desired results: Marry off her 5 daughters so that they can be well taken care of. Hopefully one of the daughters marries the male relative who will be inheriting the house.

Stage 2-

Acceptable evidence: Is the man rich? Is he a cousin who can inherit the house? Then, yup, go ahead. Pick any of the 5 to marry.

Stage 3-

The book opens up with Mrs. Bennett absolutely excited over Bingley moving into the neighborhood. Why? Because he’s rich. Mrs. Bennett has  her eye on the prize.

She harps on Mr. Bennett until he pays a visit to Bingley and gets the family an invitation to the party Bingley is hosting.

She’s so good as this backwards design thing, she even has Jane (the daughter whom Bingley is interested in) walk over to Bingley’s house in the rain. Jane gets sick and has to stay in the company of Bingley for a couple days. Mrs. Bennett knows what’s up when it comes to getting her daughters married.

However, obstacles arise. Bingley leaves the neighborhood in a hurry. Mr. Collins, a cousin, proposed to Elizabeth who says no. Lydia runs off with Wickham and does away with her virtue.

Through this Mrs. Bennett pursues and never gives up on making sure her daughters get married. It is her main occupation in life.


When I’m planning out a lesson I think “What would Mrs. Bennett do? Have I gone through the appropriate steps? Have I insured Liz and Jane have invitations to the ball?” If not, I need to make sure I’m continuing to look at the larger picture, which is the skills or knowledge I want my kids to walk away from the classroom having.


What I got to do in my life last week was facilitate a math activity I designed. (Later, upon googling, I found I wasn’t the first person to think of this exact project.)

I had previously in the week taught 3 consecutive lessons leading up to an understanding of proportions. First we did ratios, then we did unit rates, then proportions.

So I went in Friday morning to teach my math/art lesson while my teacher was out. We had a substitute (I’m going to revisit this on my “how I’m making my practice public” post. Sometimes it’s nice to teach and NOT get critiqued, wouldn’t that be wonderful my dear cohort friends?) so my teacher was excited about having to leave sub plans for one less subject.

Bulleted list of notable lessons learned:

  • First, I introduced my lesson. I talked about what “to scale” means. I told them about architects drawing buildings to scale and how the measurements have to be precise, or they’ll make a wobbly building. What the kids were going to have to do is make a drawing of famous buildings and landmarks drawn to scale. They’d have to first figure out the tallest building (I provided a graph for them with the information on it) and determine how large they could draw it on their paper. That would be the scale for the rest of the drawings. 
  • I then asked for fingers for how well they understood the instructions. I got all 5’s. Which is supposed to be good. (But I had 4 kids who later just did not get it. I wish they had been honest, I would have gone over it again!) I’m going to start setting my pace slower in lessons so kids have time to absorb what I tell them.
  • I gave a short introduction to the buildings. Like where they were located in the world. Told them the Pyramid of Giza was the tallest man-made structure for 3,800 years. Now the Burj Kalifa in Dubai is the tallest and that was the building Tom Cruise climbed in the latest Mission Impossible. One girl told me later in the lesson she had never heard of any of those buildings except the Space Needle. I asked, “Even the Leaning Tower of Pisa?” She asked, “Is it actually leaning? Do they serve pizza there?” If I added more background knowledge in about the buildings this could easily be a social studies/math/art lesson.
  • Fast forward to the lesson- A girl who was literally falling asleep during my proportions lesson was livid about not understanding how to create a scale. (Because this girl did not understand the substitute thought the entire project was too hard. Seriously? Don’t come in knowing thinking you know the class context.) One of our autism kids was livid because I told him to round to the nearest 1/2 inch for drawing his buildings on the paper. Remember, I had mentioned that architects have to be exact in the measurements or the building will be lopsided? Rounding wasn’t cool with him. Which I can appreciate. [Lesson learned- DON’T BE LITERAL] Then I had three kids about to take me out because I was requiring them to draw.  I asked them if they would have preferred homework from the book and they told me yes. [Lesson learned- Have worksheet available for backup? (Nahhh make them do art!)]
  • My kids all grouped up in their friendly cliques and worked together. And I thought it was wonderful! They were talking, but they were on task and were working really hard on their project. However, I would like it if I didn’t have to remind them every 4 minutes that they were getting too loud. Is that just a teacher dream?
  • One of the kids went off on his own and started researching the heights of other buildings he was interested in. I wish I had made it open ended for everybody!

Application of proportions was hard for the kids. But not everything should be easy. It would have been nice to have one less adult in the room critiquing 1. how I was pushing the kids and 2. the noise level that I was accepting of in the classroom. I could have dealt without that. Thankfully, my CT and field supervisor don’t act like that.

Here’s the initial worksheet they had to fill out!

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And here are some of the art projects!

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These aren’t finished! They had to head to music and I  had to head to campus for our math field trip day 🙂