Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Around the Holidays students' minds are full of everything but school. They are excited and distracted, so that is why it is important as a teacher to not fight it, but to just go with it.

Almost every year I find an inspiration for some easy but worthwhile art project to go with the holiday or fill the gap. This year it was "Snow Bear." I used it with the Kindergarten and a few of the 1st grade groups. I really like it because it is simple but there are some big art concepts connected with the project.

I saw this really cute drawing of a polar bear on Pinterest - but wanted a story to introduce it- give it some context. I googled all my libraries with no luck, but found the book I wanted at Powells for $1.95! Pretty good. I went there on the way home and was all set.

So "Snow Bear" is a simple story of a polar bear cub exploring his/her arctic neighborhood, kind of like "The Pokey Puppy," getting lost in the process.
The illustrations are simple yet perfect examples of the use of cool colors.
I read the story, and then students were introduced to the color wheel- warm verses cool colors. They were also shown how colors are warm and cool "relative/compared" to each other, just like "tall" is relative to what you are comparing it to. This is yet another concept in art class where I tell the students "what I am telling you is true most of the time, but completely wrong at other times. Art contradicts itself often."
The color wheel is a great invention, as it is very readable and helpful on simple to complex levels.

Then the students were taught the simple way to draw the snow bear and asked to use cool colors in the background, and invent a hat for their head using "warm colors."
This project also contains a lesson on positive and negative space - but warm/cool was plenty to talk about with the Kindergarteners - I saved the positive/negative addition for the 1st graders :)

Snow Bear

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Committing to your work - committing to yourself.

Trying is hard.

Trying takes committing to working when you may rather talk with your friends.
Making art isn't always fun, sometimes it is just production/work.

My belief it that a good "work ethic" is the key to success in this world.
Work ethic + education/opportunity = whatever you want to be

Making ART requires huge work ethic!

The 4th graders have been working diligently on their Symbolic Self-Portraits and I wanted to share one - that is over-the-top in effort and development.

When a student takes the challenge and wants to push the limits and do her/his BEST.....


Friday, November 6, 2015


2nd grade sunflower study

Hi - This is not the most popular topic, even with me, but as I wrote we are in the 3rd year of the arts tax and time to start measuring student learning.

I have explained the new grading criteria to many of the classes and even clarified the specifics that "if I taught it, and we practiced a concept or skill, then I will be looking for it on the final project."

The students seem fine with it all, as one girl told me yesterday "Oh our classroom teacher grades us all the time, on our homework and even on our tests."  Kids are great aren't they?

For instance, the 2nd graders are doing a drawing inspired by a sunflower still life by Van Gogh.
They looked at real flowers and realistic drawings of sunflowers. They practiced.
They also were introduced to some new pattern making techniques "zentangles" that might work well for the seeds in the center.

So I told them, when I go to grade their final drawing, I will be looking for:
  • number of sunflowers
  • are the petals more natural 
  • are the centers complex? using one of the zentangle techniques or a complex technique the student invented herself. 
I explained if the sunflower has triangle petals and a checker-board center, then "you are not showing me you learned anything in our 2-3 classes of practicing." "Show me what you learned, show off."  They get it and appear to be enjoying the challenge.

Here are some of their "studies."

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Conferences later this week, time to see student work on display


As you head into the school in the next week, please take time to admire your child's work and the art made by the other artists!

In the 3rd year of the Arts Access and Education Fund -Arts Tax, the visual art teachers in PPS have already begun the necessary work for starting or reviving an arts program. In year 3, our goals are beginning to shift, from basic start-up to more refined expectations for student learning. *

PPS hired about 40 K-5 visual arts teachers and we meet once/month to share information and professional training.
Last year we rewrote the Visual Arts PPS Standards, the criteria to be assessed for the standard report card.
You will see:

Overall Effort
Refines and completes works of art.
Creates through appropriate use of tools, techniques, and studio space.
Responds and finds meaning when viewing works of art.

The grading values are:

Key for effort and expectations
+Consistently demonstrates           
V    Often demonstrates   
/     Sometimes demonstrates
--     Does not yet demonstrate
NE   No evidence   
Key for Academic Performance
E     Exceeds: Demonstrates STRONG skills/concepts
M     Meets:  Demonstrates grade level skills
CM  Close to meeting:  Applies MOST grade level skills
N     Does not yet meet:  Applies SOME grade level skills
NM  Not enough work to determine grade level skills

 Soon a team of us will be writing a K-5 Art curriculum, as the most recent one was written in the early 1990's. This activity is a great opportunity to update information and to coordinate with the new national standards, which were developed in coordination with the Common Core initiative.
National Core Art Standards

*Please know that regardless of Standards, my overarching goal for all my students is that they understand that Art is HUGE, a variety of media, is ordinary and extraordinary simultaneously and open to specific and infinite interpretation.
Art is fun, as working with materials is fun and learning new processes and ways to think and be expressive is fun. Being confident in your skills is fun, so that those looking at your work really see and understand your ideas.
No matter what, these beliefs guide everything I do in the art classroom in my commitment to give students a solid studio experience and training. Hopefully they can leave my program feeling confident and capable as artists, regardless of what Standards  need to be delivered or assessed. NH

Friday, October 2, 2015

such a delight...

Let me share these images with you from the 1/2 blended class.
I had all the 1st + 1/2 nd graders look at Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, a typical art project, but it is such an inspiring painting. 
I told them that in many places in the world to learn about art, students are instructed to "copy" the art. In the process they become more familiar with the content and the techniques required to render the image. Actually, it is a pretty effective way to build skills, but against all the American ideas of "personal expression."

Anyway, the students love Van Gogh's work and many know of Starry Night and were quite willing to take the challenge, though don't think I didn't hear a "...that is too much detail!"

In my opinion, what is especially wonderful about these drawings is how the students SAW the painting and reinterpreted it.

I applaud them with loud clapping, here is a bit of their wonderful work!

Friday, September 11, 2015


I have been back one week and still have not seen quite seen everyone (because of the holiday and A/B rotation), but will re-greet everyone by mid-week next week.

Updating all the grade level pages is a few weeks out, because of this slower start. Please forgive me.

One of the first projects I do every year in Kindergarten is a cut paper sunflower. There are several educational reasons, but also because they a just so beautiful and every child can be sucessful.

This project is a great way to see how well students handle scissors and glue. It also has multiple directions, which is challenging for young minds. Each one is quite different which I like to think is a nice reflection about the different personalities with each class....and everywhere.

Here are a few from yesterday's class. Pretty wonderful!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Welcome Back

Welcome back to school!

Those who know me know I had a family emergency right at the beginning of the school year, so I had a late start to class. I will be working hard to catch up in the next couple weeks, BUT that will not affect the student classes.

I am happy to be back to see all the familiar student faces and a few new ones. As my substitute says, "It is fun to teach at Capitol Hill because the students have good art skills and know what to do in class." Compliments to you - Students!

My plan is to have a fun year (as it always is) and to bring some new projects in to the rotation, so we all continue to learn and grow.

More later.
Nancy Helmsworth

Sunday, May 31, 2015

We are winding down, though art class runs through the last day of school.

I have enjoyed the school year and have tried some new projects. The students have risen to a higher level of learning and skill development. Capitol Hill has many great and strong art students.

A big Thank You to Pam Wilson, who has wholeheartedly supported this program from the start. I have worked for many, many Principals and she is by far the best!

A huge THANK YOU to Darcy Peterson, who managed and installed the Art Show this year. As the school grows the undertaking is increasing! to say the least.
A couple parents, Emily Stiffler and Emily Wilmerding have stepped up to co-chair the school art show next year. I am hoping for parent representation from each classroom as a team leader to support the show and art program. Please let me know if you know you want to be involved.

Teaching art is really so much fun.
Thank you for sharing your children.
Nancy Helmsworth

Here are a few pieces you haven't seen:

3rd grade -Charles Demuth study

Kindergarten - Hermit Crab

5th grade - Action Self-Portrait

4th grade- Backpacks

1st grade- Enchanted Hat

3rd grade- Abstracted Portland Bridge, Joseph Stella study

1st grade - Penguins

Kindergarten - Paul Klee study - "Castles"

2nd grade - "Build-a-Bear"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Capitol Hill annual Art Show
May 1st 5:30-7:30 pm
@ the halls of Capitol Hill School

Every student in grades K-5 will have 2 pieces of art on display!
Please come celebrate their efforts and creativity and enjoy the musical performances in the cafeteria.
Food will be available.

We need help setting up the show, volunteers are needed.
Please email me if you have time to help.

Yay for all the artists of Capitol Hill School.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Arts Education Poised for Comeback in Nation's Largest School Districts

Posted: Updated:
After years of budget cuts, and a narrowing of curriculum at public schools across the country, urban school districts, such as New York and Chicago, are taking bold steps to expand the school day curriculum and once again invest in arts education.
Owing largely to mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, school districts of all sizes spent years focusing educational goals very narrowly on improving test scores in just two subject areas -- English Language Arts and Math. This came at the expense of the arts, music, and other subject areas that were not being tested.
Fortunately, the tide may be turning, and arts education may be making comeback.
Take New York for example. This past July, after a multi-year campaign organized by The Center for Arts Education, and the release of a ground-breaking report by the City Comptroller that revealed major inequities in the delivery of arts education in city schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council agreed to a four-year $92 million investment to improve and expand arts education citywide.
In the first year alone, the initiative has led to the hiring of arts teachers in 84 city schools that were underserved in the arts. Over 120 schools have also received grants to partner with the city's rich array of arts and cultural organizations to address pressing educational priorities, including engaging English language learners and students with special needs, and fostering parent engagement through the arts. And over $8 million has been committed to purchase instruments and technology and to refurbish neglected arts spaces in city schools.
Chicago has made an equally impressive commitment. Under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city undertook a cultural planning process in which community members identified arts education as one of the city's most pressing cultural needs. The Mayor responded with a commitment to increase the number of arts teachers in Chicago Public Schools, and the district's first arts education plan was adopted by the board of education which made arts a core subject, increased the dedicated minutes of weekly arts instruction in K-8, and added professional development opportunities for arts teachers and general classroom teachers alike.
And through the work of Ingenuity, the organization implementing the arts plan with Chicago Public Schools, an already engaged community of arts organizations and philanthropic partners are more engaged than ever in expanding access to arts education. Along with the city's recent commitment of $10 million for the current school year, the philanthropic sector has already pledged $12 million towards the goal of raising $38 million to fully implement the arts plan, and ensure the arts reach every child.
Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego, as well as other large and small school districts alike, have also embarked on efforts within the last several years to bolster dwindling arts education opportunities in their schools. And while all of these efforts will have their growing pains and critics, the momentum is real, as are the dollars.
So, what gives?
The steady drumbeat of parents making the case against increased testing in public schools is finally being heard at school board meetings, in city government, and in the halls of Congress.
The growing backlash against the test-heavy mandates of No Child Left Behind -- and more currently the adoption of the Common Core state standards -- coupled with an economic upswing and increasing revenues for cities and school districts has presented a unique window of opportunity to redefine what is expected from a public school education.
In announcing New York City's new initiative, Mayor de Blasio spoke of the spark that the arts light in students, but importantly noted that, "The investments we are making here won't just help our students explore music, dance and the arts. They will help these children grow in a way that helps them succeed in school and in life."
In fact, according to a 2012 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, students who have access to the arts also tend to have better academic results overall, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement. And these benefits are most pronounced for students of low socioeconomic status.
Big city mayors, school superintendents, and even the federal government, are noticing these results and taking advantage of opportunities to infuse the arts and music into the school day, and let them act as a turnaround agent for struggling schools.
However, the landscape is ever shifting. Powerful forces are calling for even narrower accountability for schools, as well as teachers, based on student test scores, and support for public schools is always tenuous in light of other funding priorities. And students in high poverty elementary schools are still 50 percent less likely to have access to arts and music classes.
What comes next is up to us. If arts education is truly going to be the comeback kid, we'll need to learn from, and build upon, the initial successes of cities like New York and Chicago, while continuing to make a clear and compelling case for the arts and creative learning as a centerpiece of a quality education.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Art is Elementary - 2
19 PPS elementary schools are having a special showcase of K-5 student art. This event is a specific spotlight on the classrooms funded by the Arts Tax.

The display is in City Hall and a Reception for families will be held on March 5th, from 3:30-5:00pm.

The show will be taken down on Friday March 6th.

Capitol Hill School sent 8 pieces of student art from grades 3, 4 and 5.
I am proud of the work I get to show and would like to include much more.
Many, many of our students are working at a high level!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Heart of Portland was a great success, though as this is the very first year for this event, we learned a lot and will be able to streamline some of the set up next year.

Our art-TOSA, who is responsible for all the arts in pps, K-12 did 90% of the work, with small support crews of teachers. Kristen Brayson did a great job organizing this opportunity to showcase student art work in all the arts disciplines.

Each school could submit one art piece and our 3rd grader, represented Capitol Hill.

But the fun (and publicity, positive notoriety) doesn't stop there!

Art is Elementary-2 is happening again. 
Reception 3/5, 3:30-5:00 pm
City Hall

22x PPS elementary schools who benefit from the Arts Tax funding, are having an art show at City Hall.  I am submitting the work of 8 students to showcase what CH has done with their arts tax funding.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Heart of Portland

We at Capitol Hill have lots to be proud of in the art room.

What is the Heart of Portland - arts showcase?
This is a new and to be annual event to celebrate the arts programs in all the PPS schools.

Please note: The art work of a dancing figure is by our own Diana R and was chosen for the poster art.  Our Diini painted the heart to be used in the logo. Yay and honors to them!

There will be dance and musical performances as well as a K-12 art show on the night of 2/29/15.
The whole event is ONE night only, so please plan to attend.

Each school can submit 1 piece of art. Of course choosing is an impossible task, so one has to just barrel ahead.
3rd grader Izayah G. will have his painting displayed.

 As art teachers we have a TOSA (teacher on special assignment) to support all the arts teachers K-12-all disciplines! She, Kristen Brayson has organized this "Arts Showcase" to direct attention to the existing and burgeoning arts programs within our schools. It is a HUGE job and we are all happy to have someone championing the arts at PPS headquarters. Her position too is a result of the Arts Tax, so thank you again tax paying citizens!

ps- The city hall art show is still in the works. Specifics will be coming into focus in the next week or so. We will be able to show several student pieces there and it will highlight the new visual arts in the K-5 schools.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Do you see your art work here?

Umpqua Bank in Multnomah Village is displaying student art from Capitol Hill School.
You will see some of the 4th grade Owls and some of the 3rd grade Plant drawings here.
If you are in the Village, stop in for an admiring look.
We appreciate their support of our students!
Thank you.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Building a Unit

In my second year at Capitol Hill School, I am still in the process of refining curriculum.
Collaborating and supporting what is already being taught is quite satisfying and efficient. Students enter the project at a higher level of understanding, and thus can be “taken further” in their comprehension. What a win-win situation.

Recently, I have been able to piggy back on an area of student interest. In the educational field, that is called “Constructivist” and is also considered an opportunity to let student curiosity and enthusiasm lead the teaching.

A couple students in the 4th grade have been drawing geometric optical illusions, and making them more complex as time goes on. Their classmates are fascinated and many are learning from the student leaders.
I slowly recognized this as an opportunity to expand their understanding of geometric optical illusions, by teaching the students about Victor Vasarely. But my first step was to learn more about Vasarely myself.

Writing a lesson or unit of study is one of the most fun parts of teaching. I have to gather the information and then think about what would be relevant for the students at their developmental age. I mull over how to craft a series of activities that they can master and would provide the experience and understanding of the concepts.
With Vasarely, I had to study his optical illusions, understand them myself and then figure an easy way to explain them to the students. What a fun puzzle.
Conveniently for me, Vasarely uses all the tricks of color theory and perspective drawing, plus geometry to create his illusions. The color theory and perspective are skills/concepts I already want to teach the students, so devising this lesson fits nicely with my curricular goals.

Vasarely’s story of being an artist also makes sense. We tell our life story and as parents or mentors of children, I want students to take their goals, and opportunities seriously. I value the stories of how choices and opportunities are productive and with learning and perseverance lead one to success. Vasarely is a good example. He took years to find his real niche as an artist, but his work shows the real progression he HAD to take to get there. His optical work is a result of classic skills of painted illusion developed during the Renaissance. Yet he was a member of the Bauhaus modernist movement searching for simplicity of form. He had a strong science background with his studies to become a physician; he was analytical and questioning.This background and curiosity help him devise his Opt-Art style. There are several more timely significant influences that shaped his work, but I am afraid I am getting too tangental here. Ask me if you are interested.

Victor Vasarely’s great and unique work is a direct result of his interest, influences and persistence. He is a good example for our students, whether they absorb all his life details or not. In the meantime, I believe they will enjoy learning to draw and use color to create some classic optical illusions.