Category Archives: Me

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

In my paid job (yes, I need to make the distinction), I teach a couple of classes on how to be successful in college. As the instructor, I introduce students to effective note-taking methods, growth mindset principles and library research skills, among other topics. Although I like to write and take notes by hand, one of my favorite activities is to make mind maps. It’s just the right combination between art and writing. Creating mind maps is a generative process. Creating mind maps to learn means developing a deeper level of understanding.

A picture of a mind map for the book: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

My completed mind map of the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

When you are forced to synthesize the information you are reading or hearing, your brain forms new connections to that material. It’s connecting the information you know with the new material you are learning. I wouldn’t recommend it for initial lecture-based notes, but it’s great for going back and really learning the material. It forces you to organize the information so that it makes sense. In effect, you are “studying” the material, but you get to do some art at the same time.

Step 1: Take Notes

A really good mind map starts with written notes. I teach my students to use the Cornell Method for taking notes since it provides an easy way to quiz yourself (and research shows that quizzing yourself is one of the most effective ways to learn the material).

These aren’t in Cornell format, but I don’t need to quiz myself on the material…I merely want a reference for later.

Step 2: Pick out the Key Points

As with most books, typically, you don’t need to memorize everything you read. Pick out the key points that you want to remember. It could be key dates or relationships. For my book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein, I wanted to remember some of the many tips she gave for crafting a successful children’s book. She has so much useful information, one could do a mind map on each chapter. I want something inspiring to hang over my desk. To nudge me when I get stuck.

Step 3: Complete a Rough Draft

Now that I have the information, I need figure out how to organize it on piece of paper. Plus, I want to think about how to draw some visuals to go along with it. Visuals tend to stick in our minds better than words. According to Sketchnote Handbook author Mike Rhode, you don’t have to be an artist to make your notes more visually appealing. But since I like to draw, I’ve added in some sketches. For my first draft, I had to figure out how I was going to fit everything on the page. I knew I wanted to focus on the elements of crafting a good story, so I made sure to devote a large part of paper to those concepts.

A picture of creating a mind m ap rough draft

This is super messy and sat in my book while I gathered more notes, hence the creases.

Step 4: Use a Pencil

Since I like to change my mind a lot, I use a mechanical pencil to complete my final mind map. After I’m happy with the placement of information, I’ll use a variety of ink pens to outline the material. My current favorites are these Micron pens, purchased at my local art store. I like the variety of pens — each with a smaller nib. The 001 size was perfect for the fine writing I needed to include.

Here’s a close-up of my almost completed mind map.

Step 5: Add Color

Once I outline everything in black, I like to go back and add color. In fact, this is probably my favorite part. I love a good coloring project.

a colored picture of a mind map for the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

I used Faber-Castell color pencils to complete the map.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

Ultimately, this mind map took me a couple of months to complete (hey, I’m busy)! That wouldn’t be realistic for a college student. However, I could have made a map for each chapter, rather than trying to cover the entire book in one mind map. Use your judgement and decide how you want to use the mind map. For me, this map is the perfect size (11 x 14) to display over my desk.

 

Watercolor Practice – Big Ben

Last month, I started a Craftsy watercolor class with the fabulous instructor, Kateri Ewing. That being said, I’m only halfway through the course. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been wanting to work on a picture of Big Ben for the last six months. Let me emphasize that this is watercolor practice. I can see that I made a lot of mistakes. The completed picture doesn’t have the right “feel” to it, I think. I need to loosen up a bit, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that!

a picture of a hand-painted watercolor practice picture of big ben

The reference image and painting prompt is from the book, No Excuses Watercolors by Gina Armfield .

Watercolor Practice – Knowing Your Materials

I had grabbed the random 140 lb watercolor paper that we had (probably bought for the kids), but it did not hold up to multiple water glazes. I think I wrecked the paper tooth in the upper right corner and I’m not even sure how that is possible…

I was also using a large (size 14) synthetic watercolor brush for the background and it was the first time I used it. Lesson learned. Test ALL of my brushes first. My other brushes are size 2 and size 8, both sable (or something similar).

Watercolor Practice – Drawing

For the past year, I have been returning to my ‘fine arts’ roots. I’ve always “made” creative things while sewing, knitting, or quilting, but it’s only recently that I’ve been dedicating time to drawing. Last year, I took a color pencil class through Craftsy which forced me to draw more. I discovered that I loved it…and missed it. A lot.

Since I wanted the drawing practice, I chose to sketch out Big Ben rather than copy the line drawing from the book. It was fun to figure out how to add the shading with cross-hatching. I think this is an area I can work on in the future.

a ink drawing of Big Ben, to be used for watercolor practice. Inspired by the book, No Excuses Watercolor

I love using ink and watercolors. I like it better than trying to replicate an exact picture.

I’m looking forward to tracing this Big Ben outline and trying again with a different approach. But, I should probably return to class. Or maybe not.

Current Projects

Keeping Track of Projects

My husband and I tend to forget all of the really cool things we do – and work on – each year. We get caught up in the day-to-day activities of working, teaching children, worrying, making lunch (and dinner), cleaning the house (again) and shuttling kids to various activities. Like most people, we are often busy, so we need a little help remembering all of the unique things in our life. We are fortunate to experience new places  – and make a lot of cool stuff. Here’s what we’ve been working on lately:

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. He' sitting it on a top of a re-purposed bookshelf (which he made years ago).

Joe created a desktop (for me) from piece of plywood and trim. It will sit on top of a re-purposed bookshelf. Oh yeah – he made the bookshelf years ago.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh that he created a 4-H project.

C (age 7) was so interested in the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, he created a 4-H project. Two weeks ago, he presented his project to a 4H judge. My shy, reserved son beamed when the judge praised his work.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

R (age 11) wanted to submit another project for the 4-H non-livestock fair. (He won a grand prize last year). This one is on his favorite architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Liz has been developing her colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had years ago.

I have been developing my colored pencil skills. This drawing is based on an old penguin calendar we had; I used Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils.

Joe took our distressed, chipping dining table and stripped it. He then proceeded to sand, stain and lacquer it – repeatedly. It looks amazing.

FETC 2017

Code to Learn: Using Scratch to Demonstrate Learning

I’ll be at FETC this week – and will be talking about my hopes and dreams for how to use Scratch. I’ve done a lot of research on coding and creativity and I’m bringing my ideas to FETC (thankfully, my poster was accepted)! I will be discussing the in-depth learning projects I have done with some of my students. I also have a passion for integrating coding into the curriculum and would love to see if other teachers are doing the same (check out my Wright Brothers course).

Creativity in Coding

For the last few years, I have been teaching Scratch during the summer months. Most of the time we do projects related to video games or general learning projects (animations, mazes, etc.). My one-week camps do not leave enough time for in-depth research projects. However, for those returning campers, I am able to challenge them with more advanced Scratch projects. I’ve had students create interactive country projects and create fractured fairy tales. Even though I am not in a K-12 school, I hope teachers will find these ideas (and lesson plans) useful.

After reading articles by Mitch Resnik, Karen Brennan, and Samuel Papert (most well-known for his book, Mindstorms), I felt like they had created Scratch for this very purpose. After a bit, I realized they had. Check out their Scratch foundation.

Regardless, I think our mission is the same – to keep the creativity in coding. To use Scratch (and computers) to create and not just to consume. For the record, I am not affiliated with MIT or Scratch, nor do they endorse this poster session (though, I hope they would if they knew about it)!

If you will be attending FETC this week, I will be talking about my poster session on Wednesday, January 25 from 4:00 – 5:00 PM  – Booth #2500.

UPDATE: To find the Scratch lessons, check out the Scratch Lessons, Challenges & Prompts page.

Following our interests – drawing

Evolution of a Drawing Parent

When I was pregnant I had dreams of all of the cool things I would do with my child. We would sit together and color, go for long walks and do a lot of drawing. All of the parents can see where this is headed, right? My first child was born and he hated to color; he refused to pick up any writing instrument. He wanted to build, destroy and take things apart. He was fascinated by machines, noisy toys and television. So, I quietly put away my own interests (art and drawing) for his interests. We bought him wood blocks and spent hours building. We jumped into legos and computers. We taught him to create with these things, rather than to passively consume them.

a picture of a kid's drawing

Drawn by R, age 11. We’ve done some prep work from the book, Drawing with Children.

Same Parents, Different Kids

A few years later, we added another son to our family.  He seemed quieter and more willing to pick up a pencil, but he was enthralled with his older brother’s antics. And so I waited. My older son showed an interest in drawing (around age 8) and my younger son (now age 7) is also showing a strong interest in drawing and art history. I can’t say that I am an especially patient person, but I am thrilled that their interests are finally dovetailing my own.

A picture of a kid drawing a skyscraper.

C, age 6, drawing an Atlanta building for the city project.

Drawing Instruction at Home

Four years ago, a friend turned us onto Mark Kistler’s online video lessons. Since we’re homeschoolers, we buy a yearly subscription through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op. The videos are separated by skill level and novice artists can stop the videos as much as they want. He takes the students step-by-step while infusing his lessons with the language of art. He speaks of perspective and shadowing. He addresses the importance of direction and the size of foreground objects. He does all of this while drawing – it’s his natural language and the students don’t realize they are picking up art terms. It gives them the confidence to add these elements to their own drawings.

a picture of a blob monster, drawn by a 7-year-old.

Drawn by C, age 7. Instruction by Mark Kistler.

Returning to Drawing

Although I incorporated art into our daily life anyway – it was to help the kids learn to love art – not really to increase my own drawing ability. During their younger years, I felt like I needed to become an expert educator/parent and so my art took a back seat for the past eleven years. But, after a little bit of soul-searching this past year (mid-life crisis, perhaps) and thanks to a few other resources (the book Essentialism, and the web site, Craftsy), I have brought art to the forefront of my life. I am drawing more and refining my ability. Thankfully, my kids are on board.

A picture of a hand-drawn, pencil drawing of a lily.

Drawn by Liz looking at a color picture of a lily.

 

Mistakes and First Drafts

Recently, my ten-year-old has been testing out my kid-friendly sewing projects. Although he has been sewing off and on since he was four, I’m grateful that he is so willing to test out new projects. This summer, I am teaching beginning sewing to a group of kids between the ages of 10 and 14, and he is the perfect age to see if my projects are ‘doable.’

A picture of airplane pin cushions

All made by kids, ages 10 and under

Sewing Mistakes, First Drafts

For the last two weeks I have been asking him (and my almost 7-year-old) to work on a lot of sewing projects. We’ve made cards and pins, bookmarks, wristbands and pin cushions. But, some of them didn’t go exactly as planned. For example, my older son wanted to make a bookmark – one where he sewed the right sides together and then flipped it inside out – except that it didn’t really work. He was frustrated, embarrassed and disappointed. He was also really afraid that I would take a picture of it! He shouldn’t have worried because I completely understand. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and hate for them to be paraded in front of me. I undoubtedly learn from them (quite a lot), but I quietly sweep them under the rug.

drawing of elephant

No, this is not a mistake, but my pride is about to take a beating. I feel obligated to show a picture of a “good” drawing. I can’t let the first drawing I post to this site be a terrible one. See? I’m no different than a 10-year-old!

Since he occasionally reads this blog, I devised this post as a way to parade some of my own mistakes, or first drafts, as I like to call them. Of course, these ‘mistakes’ are entirely self-selected. I’m not showing you the really ugly ones, nor am I parading all of those things that I’ve said (and shouldn’t). Nor am I writing about the times I’ve lost my temper or forgot that something was cooking on the stove. Ahem.

Just like a written paper (or blog post), I rarely create a perfect paragraph without a lot of tweaking. The same thing goes for our ‘maker’ projects. Below you will find some of my first drafts (ugly that they are…)

First Drafts

first draft of LED project

This was one of my first drafts for the LED constellation project. I was attempting to cover up the copper tape and SMD LEDs with a layer of painted tracing paper. It doesn’t look that good…

A badly drawn picture of my left hand

Ugh. This is awful. A quickly drawn sketch from a few years ago shows that I still need to work on capturing 3D images on paper.

A picture of sewing scraps

I started making this bag…over 6 years ago. Maybe even longer. I need to fix it slightly and then it will be close to finished. In the meantime, it’s definitely in ‘first draft’ mode.

A picture of a bad paper soldering joint

My soldering skills still need a lot of work and frankly, I’m not even sure how to solder conductive thread and conductive ink. It’s ugly. I gave up and just used tape for the second one.

Picture of sketches of nametag

These are some of the sketches, or first drafts, of the hand-sewn name tag I am making.

Just think – these are only the items that I could actually find in the house. Imagine all of the other things that I’ve had to redo so that it was just right, or at least good enough. As long as we are learning new things, we will have first drafts. And, second drafts. And, third ones too.

Rainy Day Reflections

Today I am listening to ::

:: Calum cooing and giggling on the floor next to me,

:: the thunderstorm rumbling (quite loudly) all around me,

:: the cats meowing with discontentment (about the storm),

:: Ronan and I singing – as per his request this morning.

There will be a lot of singing and thunder rumbling in our morning. As a kid, I loved rainy days – it meant the perfect excuse to lay around all day and read, read, read.

And, when we get tired of reading, I think some gluing may be in order.

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(Homemade apron – made by Aunt Jackie – check!)

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(Contentment with a q-tip, glue and some scraps? Check!)

What are your rainy day plans?

for the weekend

On the docket for this weekend: out-of-town friends, a zoo visit, and some mama-crafting! Heck, the house is already (mostly) clean, I may just party all weekend.

Well, except for the laundry. But, that doesn't count.

Here's a little preview:

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Have a wonderful weekend.