Any teachers out there?

There’s this great program that they do in Rachel’s school called “Art Through The Ages.” It’s completely run and taught by the PTA and the idea behind the program is to teach kids both history, and art history, while also giving them an art class. The time period is discussed along with what things were happening in the world and a particular region at that time, art during that time frame is shown and discussed, and then the kids get a chance to try their hands at creating similar art using similar methods from the time. Rachel loves the program. She comes home and tells me all about what she learned, and what she made.

This year I offered to help. Honestly, I really didn’t think they’d need me or that they’d pick me to lead the lesson. I thought maybe there were better trained people and I would just be helping them. I chose the Renaissance time period. Yesterday we had the training, and I found out that, in fact, *I* will be leading the lesson. (There was someone listed as being available to help me – but I haven’t heard from them).

So the history portion (as far as I understand it! Someone PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong!) talks about the shift from God-centered thinking and artwork, to human-centered. People sent less money to Rome to the Church. Because of the bubonic plague, there were just less people around in general, which meant less famine, less (business) competition and a “middle class” rose into being that had more expendable money. Some of this money was spent on the arts; Music, plays, artwork. Artists could make a living on their craft – and this gave rise to an explosion in creativity.

This is the point that we’re supposed to do an activity with the kids to get them to “feel like they’re in this time” – and unfortunately the activity just made no sense to me. The activity they had revolved around having a few kids pick a “job” (for example: corn farmer) and having them set a price for their product – and would the rest of the class pay that much, (if there’s just one corn farmer – do you have much choice) – and then if there are more corn farmers – how does their competition and price change.

I just don’t get the connection between that activity and the Renaissance. There’s got to be another activity (non-art-related – that comes later) that can give them a better understanding of the time period. Unfortunately, I’m on my own if I want to try something different (which we’ve been given the freedom to do) but aside from the fact that I 1) suck at public speaking even in front of kids! and 2) suck at teaching in general – WHAT?! What do I do??

The ART portion of the lesson I think I can do (or at least do better than what is planned for the HISTORY portion) – I’ll be covering the new concepts that came about during the Renaissance such as “vanishing points”, “foreshortening”  – I can show paintings during the Medieval time and compare that with paintings during the Renaissance. I can show how vanishing points work – etc. Then the kids are to try their hands at creating a “fresco” (which actually isn’t really a fresco – from what I understand – fresco means painting on WET plaster – secco is painting on dry plaster. Most FRESCO’s were a combination of fresco and secco because while the fresco had more permanence, the colors couldn’t be as vibrant – so most artists went back over their fresco and added details with the more vibrant colors – secco) The kids will be painting on DRY plaster. (Do I bother to explain the difference between fresco and secco? They didn’t even mention it in the training and just said the kids will be doing a fresco – which is wrong!)

But what about the HISTORY portion? Any ideas? Any resources? (I could use more painting samples too – any websites out there that have a lot of examples I can show the kids?) (I should probably add that this is for a 4th grade class)

Man, I am NEVER doing this again!!! There’s a VERY GOOD reason I don’t homeschool – I absolutely SUCK at this!


  1. Gillian
    Nov 3, 2009

    hoo boy. (not sure how to spell that but the first part should sound like a sigh)

    As a teacher I am saddened and pained. My colleagues will occasionally complain that they don’t get parent help. Well, this is a clear reason of why not! Would anyone dream of a doctor asking for volunteers for something other than handing out a routine paperwork or something? There is knowledge in teaching, there is experience in doing it well. Grrrr.

    I have seen one PTA-type sponsored activity that utilizes parents as teachers of a one-day presentation and does a GREAT job of it. However, it is two days of training (I think two, two-hour sessions) to prepare for an 80-minute presentation and it includes well thought out materials, timeframe, basic script, handouts, etc.

    That all said, let’s look at the particular situation you’re stuck with, uhm, in.

    Small group work (like stations or centers or whatever your district calls it) could be very effective especially since you say here and you’ve written before that presenting to a full class isn’t too comfortable for you.

    But setting up those station with clearly written out expectations/goals/directions for each station, materials, etc. takes hours of work. IDK why you would be tasked with that. Teachers can justify doing that if they think they’ll use it year to year etc. But your goal is something like just to help, to show your daughter you care, etc. I wouldn’t recommend getting involved up to that point.

    Honestly, as a teacher and a parent, I would advise you to do what was sketched out for you to do. Ask the teacher or the PTA contact person (whomever was your trainer) for all materials stating that you just want to make sure the students understand the materials. You could go crazy searching all the great web sites out there… but that isn’t your job. Sorry, I’m digressing again…

    The whole emergence of the middle class can be experienced as the suggested activity, (which, by the way was the exact activity I used when I taught my sixth grade students about monopolies… obviously tailored in the opposite way where first there were eight sellers and then there was just one…)

    What materials were you given? Monopoly money? Items to sell? Jobs to pick? Please, please tell me you were given something!

    Another activity for the art group:
    – ahead of time, you set up butcher-block paper taped to the Bottom of several desks pushed together (or a table) Students have to lay down on their backs on the floor, (you can bring in a towel or three), and paint a la Sistine Chapel (he lay on his back to do it)

    Not sure if my rant helped…

  2. Jennifer
    Nov 3, 2009

    They gave me a few jobs to hand out but no ‘play money’ – that adds to my lack of understanding for how they’ll be able to follow the activity. There was some materials but it wasn’t as much of a defined script as I would gave liked. They left a lot open – which would be fine if I was more confident in the material (like I am with the ART) but obviously history (even art history) I’m not.

    So you think that activity is still useful? (but maybe if I hand out some ‘money’ to a few students…)? How does it show an emergence of middle class? (I totally see how it shows the issues with monopolies…)

  3. Gillian
    Nov 3, 2009

    I agree with your skepticism about how it shows Middle Class but I can see how it could possibly teach about emergence of Middle Class. First, people earn more money so they can buy more things which, in turn, the money used to buy things allows others to earn more money.

    I need to brush up on my history, too, (sorry but I haven’t really taught the Renaissance period for 8 years), but I think before the emergence of the Middle Class it was a bit of a feudal/king system of the haves and the have-nots.

    Here is how it could possibly happen:

    Begin with 3-5 mins of whole group instruction, preferably where all are seated around you. You give a very brief intro that they are going to feel what life was like and you expect them to follow directions and treat the materials with respect. Tell them you want them to think about what is happening and, after, you will discuss it.

    Step 1: Demo the feudal system.
    Materials: Play money, popsicle sticks or index cards with names of jobs and, possibly, a picture on the jobs also.
    Start with a specific amount of money and jobs. Ask who wants to be king. Pretend to look around but my guess is you should probably pick Rachel :-) Give her all the money except for a few dollars. Ask her to walk around and collect all the dollars. (This is the part that gives me pause about if it should be Rachel b/c they won’t like this action!) You want to engineer this so people really think it is unfair. Actually, maybe you want to make the teacher the “king” at this point?

    Step 2: Demo the gradual change in system
    Materials: Same as step 1 but with more jobs
    You’ll need some way to announce that now time has passed and now it is year xxx. You may want to repeat what some people experienced such as, “I heard John say this wasn’t fair!” Remind students that you are now going to give out the same amount of money as before but to the people who have jobs. (Optional materials: extra pieces of corn or paper with the word corn on it, shoes, etc. so that others could buy items with the pretend money.)
    Allow students to buy and sell items. Allow approx five or so minutes. You’ll need to circulate to see that they participate and to help engineer the outcome that the money is much more shared around than was in the feudal system. Ideally, you’d want a few enterprising people to “create” a job for themselves. Sometimes this could happen organically in that a person will say something like, “I will offer to carry your money if you pay one dollar” or something like that. You can also whisper to a student to offer a service to another student for pay; such as pretend to do homework for that student or something like that.

    Ending activity: Announce that time will be up in one minute. When approximately 30 seconds passes, one effective way to get this age group’s attention is to loudly count backwards, 5-4-3-2-1… works really well especially if you actually lower your voice slightly as you count backwards (still being heard but they have to get quiet to hear you)

    Ask them to sit back wherever you had the opening activity. Ask them to hold any $ they have in their hand and quickly collect it.

    Wrap-Up: Brief discussion about what they learned, but it would really focus on what they felt. Ask leading questions so you get the answers you seek. Make sure you collect all the materials.

    Total time for lesson: approx 25-35 minutes depending on size of class and their attention

    * * * * *
    Things to keep in mind:
    – This is just their introduction to the time period. You are not responsible for making sure they know this for the SATs :-)
    – They will remember fun. I know it can be hard, but try to smile.
    – If you are able to get about 80 percent of the class’ attention the whole time, (and it won’t be the same 80 percent the whole time), then you’re doing okay!
    – Stage whispers or slightly lowering your voice can be more effective in getting a group’s attention than raising a voice, plus it has the possibility of being less frustrating for you
    – You are NOT the designer of this activity. You are not responsible if it doesn’t meet the unrealistic expectation. You are responsible for supervising and for doing your best. Focus on involving them and the rest will happen.
    – Remember that it may look (and sound!) like chaos, but that can absolutely be a valuable part of the learning process.
    – If you go over or under time, don’t worry about it; it is the teacher’s problem or the school’s problem for not properly preparing you. Again, just do what you can.
    – Even if it doesn’t meet your expectations, just focus on the positive whenever Rachel is in remotely in earshot, even if all you have to say is that you enjoyed seeing more of her or seeing her class. (I’m sorry if that sounds patronizing; I don’t intend it that way at all. Clearly you are an intelligent person but I’ve seen a lot how a parent has an opinion about something that a child just takes on, even if the child feels different or the child feels like there is then a chasm between home vs. school; that can be hard to repair.)

    Of course, all this is just my opinion based on my experiences. Yours may certainly be or become different.

    Would love to hear how it turns out!

    Sending you positive thoughts…

  4. Gillian
    Nov 3, 2009

    PS: Sorry for such long posts!

  5. Jennifer
    Nov 3, 2009

    No! Don’t apologize. Your suggestions are very helpful! 😀

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