Art at your pace for Tupelo elementary school students

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Students are in motion in Jamie Baker’s art class at Rankin Elementary.
Spread throughout the classroom at the third- to fifth-grade school are stations where students can sketch, paint, write, upload their work to the Internet or watch tutorial videos. If students aren’t working at one of the various stations, they are moving from one to another.
Baker calls it a “choice-based” art class where students can work at their own pace. When they finish with one project, they can watch a video about how to do the next one. She is available to facilitate and answer specific questions.
One of the advantages of the approach, Baker said, is that gifted students can really push their potential.
“For a long time, I have had students that wanted to do more but they would have to wait on others,” Baker said.
“This has really helped with my advanced art students who work really hard and stay focused and have the stamina to do 20 projects.”
The students work on a series of projects throughout the year. They’re currently finishing up a piece of art that represents themselves and their interests and are beginning one based on Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers painting.
For each project the students go through several steps: they watch a video podcast about the project, make a sketch, watch a second video about it, create their final project, write a reflection about it and use a program to upload it to the Internet.
An important part of the self-directed classroom is Baker’s use of technology within it. Thanks to a grant from the Association for Excellence in Education, the room is stocked with four iPads and three iPods, plus a Flip video camera and an iMac computer.
Baker has used the technology to create podcast videos of her lessons, and students use the iPads and iPod devices to watch those videos.
“I’m so excited about these podcasts,” Baker said, adding that students can rewind the videos or watch them as many times as they need to if they don’t understand something.
As fourth-grader Jeasmine Bell, 9, began her sunflower project, she watched a video of Baker explaining it.
“I wouldn’t know how to draw some of the flowers, but I look at the video, and it tells me how to draw them,” she said.
Classmate Justin Clauson, 9, agreed.
“I get to use creativity to draw stuff,” he said. “… When drawing your projects, you can listen to the steps.”
Baker said creating the podcasts has forced her to be more efficient with her lessons and condense the time she needs to explain things. That is particularly helpful since she only sees each of her students for about five hours each month, she said.
She can also stop the class and show the videos to everyone on the projector if something is causing particular problems.
“It is a method of instruction delivered to students through mobile learning,” she said. “It meets their needs where they are and is available 24 hours a day.”
Students can watch the podcasts at home, she said, and other teachers can also use them in their classrooms.
“I’ve had some students tell me they work on their projects at home,” she said.
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com