Syria Crisis

The following text has been shared from one of my students’ blog posts.  Her observations and reflections convey the importance of providing independence in our learning environments.  I am proud to share her thinking on my blog, and must commend her for being brave enough to let me post it here.

The Differences

Before starting this assignment, I hadn’t realized how different art classes were going to be between high school and elementary school, although I should have. Even after we were given our first assignment I was oblivious to the alteration between schools. In fact, I didn’t notice the changes until later on, when we began the Syria Crisis project.

The first difference I noticed was probably the most difficult one to over come, which was that we never used to express our thoughts and ideas through our artwork. The assignments we were given were always limited in ways where we didn’t have to put much thought into what we were doing or trying to create. So when the time came where I actually had to express my ideas, I found myself lost. I’d never been particularly good with art, or sharing my thoughts, so having to put the two together was a challenge in itself.

The second difference I found between the schools is that there are so many more options in high school. We used to regularly stick to drawing and cutting, but then all of a sudden we were surrounded by things we rarely/never used before. It was interesting being able to pick what you wanted to experiment with and use for your project, although it was kind of intimidating as well, having access to all of those new possibilities.

The third and final difference ties in together with the first two, and that’s having responsibility over the design. Of course we’d occasionally had to come up with our own design for art projects, but never the same way we had to for this assignment. Alongside having to express my ideas, and having those new possibilities in high school, coming up with a design from pretty much nothing was difficult, and to say the least, frustrating for me.


 After uncovering those three differences between the art classes, my opinion on the Syria Crisis project changed. I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as I had been expecting, and for the most part, I was right.

The problem with my planning was that I spent too much time thinking about the design and what I wanted to do, rather than what I wanted to use. I know the design itself is probably more important, but a big part with why I was struggling was because I didn’t know how I should design it. It wasn’t until about halfway through the week did I start experimenting with different materials.

After that, I had began to develop a preference towards what I wanted to use, (printmaking) so I began to think up some ideas for the actual design that could work with that material, and what message I wanted to get across about the refugees.

I spent another while trying to come up with something, but unfortunately, nothing. That’s when I decided to take a different approach. Looking back at how we were kind of connecting our artwork with what Picasso did in his painting, Guernica, I decided to do a little research on it.

I found out that a lot of his painting revolved around symbolism. For instance, at the top of the painting there is a light bulb with light rays extracting from it. At first glance, it looks out of place from the rest of the artwork, but it has a deeper meaning. The word light bulb in Spanish is bombilla, which out of context, in English, is bomb. So although it looks like a good thing in contrast to the surroundings, it is actually representing the bombs that were released onto the people of Guernica.

Taking the idea of using symbolism, I decided to do something along the same lines and use symbols to represent the pain and suffering Syrians are going through, but after what seemed like forever, all of my ideas looked plain, boring and just didn’t get the message across.

At this point I had only about three days left before the assignment was due, so I was pretty determined to think of a design to use. I went home that night, and actually forgot about the deadline until I was just about to go to bed. I spent the next hour browsing the internet in hopes of coming across something that could make my mind snap, which is exactly what I found.

After reading a few news articles about the Syria Crisis, I realized how popular the topic was over media, yet how no one knew exactly what they were going through. That’s how I came up with the words; Seen & Heard but Not Understood.

I figured it was simple yet it got the point across well, so all I needed was a picture to go along with it, and for some reason my mind seems to work better at 2am on a Thursday morning then any other time I actually need it to function properly, because it didn’t take me long to decide on using a face of a Syrian, only I couldn’t actually draw a face very well so I stuck to the blank outline.

The next two days I prepared to get the mirrored outline of my design onto the piece of rubber in order to begin carving the picture into it. I was fortunately able to finish with time left over to do the first test print, so that’s exactly what I did.

It turned out better than I expected, and was surprised that after most of my time was spent coming up with nothing that could help me with the project, I still managed to think of something reasonable, and actually finish it in time for the deadline.

Many thanks to Angel, who allowed me to share her written reflections on this blog.



Posted in Art Education, Education Reform, Growing Success | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Students Respond to the Refugee Crisis Through Art

Images help us think.  They help us understand.

My grade 9 art students were invited to respond to the refugee crisis:  a situation created by war in Syria.  Thousands of people have been left with no other option than to escape their home land and try to find refuge in another country.

Students began to understand the power of art when we explored the history behind Picasso’s Guernica.


“Probably Picasso’s most famous work, Guernica is certainly the his most powerful political statement, painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during Spanish Civil War.” Source:

We began to develop an appreciation for art that may not appeal to us, but that carries a message much more powerful than any realism could portray.

Next, we discussed a famous photograph from the Vietnam War.  Nick Ut captured the horror war when he photographed young Kim Phuc shortly after she had been burned by a napalm attack.

Images can affect change by raising awareness and by sharing a common concern.  We learned this lesson very recently when news and social media shared the image of a young boy’s body, washed up on the shore.  Aylan Kurdi drowned when his family tried to escape the war in Syria.

Immediately, Canadians questioned our immigration policy along with our country’s leadership.  Our class watched an interview on Canada AM, where Canada’s Immigration Minister explained some of the challenges in this situation.


Our class began to wonder about our own response.  What could we do?  How could we use art to improve this situation?

Students began to think of potential images that they could create.  Perhaps, by sharing these artworks, we could affect change.  Maybe, someone would look at these artworks and find a way to help people from Syria.

This is my sculpture I had made in response to the crisis, while I was making this I could really imagine the emotion and the suffering of the people in Syria. I was inspired by “The Scream” which was created by “Edvard Munch”. I immediately knew what I wanted to do after reading about the crisis, I really wanted to be able to represent the powerful feelings I had inside of me regarding this situation.           I decided I would use clay to represent being stuck and trapped and feeling like there’s no escape, I chose to put my persons feet inside of the clay on the ground to help show that he is stuck.

“The scream” really inspired me because when I look at the persons face I imagine fear and of course somebody screaming and I imagine it being for help, so this painting really helped me create the face of my sculpture to show the fear of my Syria refugee.
In conclusion I believe that Canada should assist Syria because in the end we are all humans and they do not deserve this, we can only imagine half of what they’re actually experiencing. ~ Raena, grade 9

Montana’s clay sculpture

“My group choose to do a picture of the superman symbol
this symbol represent the wishes of the people.  How they [must] wish they had a super hero to fly in and rescue them from the war.” ~ Joseph

Clay sculptures by Nicholas, Emma and Cydney

Clay sculptures by Nicholas, Emma and Cydney


Clay sculpture by Sage

The Earth is supposed to mean the refugees, the moon is the government and the stars are people walking by. Without the moon the Earth cannot function properly so we need it. The moon helps us function waves and help keep the time of day. Did you know that the moon helps control the spin of the Earth? No? Well it does It’s gravitational pull on the Earth acts like a break on the spin (or “drag”). We need the moon for a lot. Now onto the starts they represent how many people just don’t care about these things. Quite a lot I know. They are called bystanders (yes they are not only involved in bullying) actually, I guess they could be considered a bully because they just stand there and watch without doing anything to help. Now onto the refugees, they need us for warmth/shelter/food. Think of it like this, what if that was your family. You would really want to help them badly. So why aren’t we helping them, why are we just standing there staring? They have families that love them as much as we love ours, people that need them as much as they need us. We need to help them. We shouldn’t be taking this and dropping it onto the ground. Even a little can do a lot. ~ Jeffrey (animation by Jeffrey, Andrew and Jaden)

My students are hoping that their art will be seen by the United Nations.  They are beginning to understand the significance of countries working together for the benefit of others in need.  They want the chance to help people who don’t have a voice.  If you would like to help my class, please share this post with others; organizations, students, friends and family.  Together, we can make a difference.

Posted in Art Education, Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

What If I’m Not The Best Teacher For You?


I am an art teacher, but every now and then, depending on our school timetable, I will be asked to teach a course that I’m not as familiar with.  This year’s grade 9 applied Geography students don’t seem to mind too much; they’re understanding, and they’re willing to learn course concepts along with me.  I hope they know how much I appreciate their patience with me.

Today, we discussed our plans for this week:  “Show Me The Learning!“.  This week of review is meant to help me assess their understanding of course content.  I explained that a test is just one way to help me gauge how they are doing, and this might be a nice way to avoid “test stress”.

After the students completed the questionnaire (and some of their first blog posts), we discussed the activity again.  Students began to understand that they might be more comfortable with certain topics, and that their explanations might even help others learn better.  Why bother with this?  Because I’m not perfect.




My role is to educate, which might mean eating a slice of humble pie.  Take a step down from the podium and sit in one of those lovely desks.





Posted in Education, Education Reform, Ontario, technology | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Art is a Verb

That moment when your mind begins to connect the dots, when the world makes sense in a new way, you experience an epiphany!  …and then you find out that someone else thought of it too.

My mind is so active when it creates art; it discovers, analyzes, anticipates, reacts, expresses, compares, contemplates, decides, reflects…  …and the very experience of all this activity made me wonder why art appears as such a stagnant word.


While working on the drawing shown above, I shared my ‘epiphany’ with the world…

“Art is a verb”

…on Twitter and Facebook.

Then I happened to read Erik Wahl’s post, which was much more eloquent than my own:



In all honesty, I’m glad my drawing turned out the way I hoped it would, but it is only secondary compared to the thought process behind it.  This is why it is critical to make learning visible in the classroom, to provide multiple ways that we can collect evidence of student thinking.  It is our responsibility as educators to assess knowledge and to recognize progress — to realize the connections that our students are making.


Posted in Art Education, Education Reform, Growing Success | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Power of Encouragement

Every Child Needs a Champion

Encouragement means more than you know.  If things come easy to you, you may not be aware of its power.  But, if you have ever struggled with learning anything, encouragement can mean the difference between giving up and giving it another go.

This summer, both of my children agreed to sign up for swimming lessons.  This was an easy decision for my daughter, who loves the water, but not such an easy decision for my son.  Like me, my son is a bit uncomfortable in the water.  His entire first class was spent just getting into the pool.

By the end of the first week of classes (the sessions were two weeks in length), each student was given a progress report.  Rather than handing the reports to the parents, they were given directly to the students.  I held my breath, because I knew that it hadn’t been an easy week.


My son smiled from ear to ear!  The message from his instructor was clear:  that she saw how hard he was working, and that she had faith he could move forward.  Our family celebrated that day, because it meant so much to all of us (yes, learning is a family phenomenon)!

Always, always, always, look for the good.  It may be big or really small, but treasure it. Those who show only a little bit of good may be working harder than anyone can see.

p.s. After two weeks of lessons, my son felt comfortable enough in the water to begin enjoying a bit of time in our backyard pool.  :)



Posted in Education, Growing Success | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How Can You Move Forward?

For sale on Etsy: The Blooming of Madness #251. Link to buy in bio. Much love!

A photo posted by Christopher Poindexter (@christopherpoindexter) on


We play it safe.  We follow the rules, we toe the line, we are pleasers.

If education isn’t meeting our needs or the needs of our students, how is our complacency helping?

Amy Burvall’s recent post on Instagram caught my attention:


"I'd like to be the builder of bridges"… Connecting people through her art is @selahmooon for #3ofme

A photo posted by Amy Burvall (@amyburvall) on


The idea of building a bridge to help others is significant, because we are creatures of habit, and sometimes the idea of making changes for ourselves is too overwhelming to handle. Thank God for those who are bridge-builders, supporters, encouragers.

If the idea of a bridge is too much…



…consider the way a canal works instead. You may need to make changes, but at a slower pace. If you are hesitant, think of a way you can move forward, even if it’s gradually.


The Rideau Canal #Ottawa

A photo posted by Colleen Rose (@colleenkr) on



“What do you do with the fire in your belly?”

~ Christopher Poindexter



Posted in Education, Education Reform | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

ArtEscapes & The Group of Seven

In just over a week, ArtEscapes will be held at the Red Rock Marina and Interpretive Centre.  Seven local artists will be participating, and I’m looking forward to being part of this exciting event.

Over the past week, I have worked with some friends from the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area (many thanks to Sylvio (Hoss) Pelletier & Sadie Gross for the invitation!).  Together, we have looked at some of Frank Johnston’s paintings which were created in Nipigon in the early- to mid-1900s.

When Johnston's painting is  superimposed on a picture of the Nipigon River, you can see how much wider the river has become.

When Johnston’s painting is superimposed on a picture of the Nipigon River, you can see how much wider the river has become.

We’ve had some interesting discussions about the landscape and the reasons why the river’s appearance has changed so much since the time when Frank Johnston would have visited our area.

It’s going to be very interesting to discuss Frank Johnston’s over the next while, now that we have located the areas where he worked.  Parks Canada will be using historical (topographical) maps to help show the gradual widening of the river — what a fantastic way to combine art with geography!



Posted in NorthWestern Ontario, Ontario, Regional Art | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment