4 Fantastic Ways to Celebrate Learning through an Art Passion Project

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Want to keep your upper elementary students excited and engaged after state testing? Passion Projects are for YOU.
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My 5th grade teammates and I organized PASSION PROJECTS every year after state testing. I focused on ART.

Introduction: A Time to Celebrate Learning

After the celebrations and collective sighs at the end of state testing every year, many students and their teachers may find themselves asking, “What now?” I have an answer to that question that focuses on 4 fantastic ways to celebrate learning through an art passion project (and other passion projects)! Join me as I take you on a journey through one passion project that I loved when I taught 5th grade.

So what are 4 fantastic ways to celebrate learning through an art passion project? In short, they are:

  • Offering student choice
  • Going on field trips
  • Learning through direct instruction and from experts
  • Learning by doing
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A project highlighting visual arts was natural for me because, although I am not an artist, I love art.

Celebrating Learning Through Passion Projects

During the review weeks leading up to the testing weeks, all of the 5th grade teachers implemented a positive behavior rewards system to allow students to earn points for their place “in line” to choose their project. Points were meted out based on a variety of desired behaviors – listening respectfully when others were speaking, walking quietly in the hallway, keeping materials organized, completing work, maintaining good grades, demonstrating high growth, attendance (yes, I know this one is controversial – I wouldn’t include it now), and others. The students would continue to earn points during the testing weeks.

After testing was over, the teachers would tally the points and rank students based on their point count. Then, we set up a “choice” station and called children in small groups (in order) to choose their ideal passion project. Don’t worry. We ALWAYS had more spaces in every group than were needed and the groups tended to balance out because we often had a student teacher who could take a smaller group. (In other words, we usually had about 100 students and offered 140 spaces so even the last child to choose had choices.) Choice time was TOP SECRET because we really wanted them to choose a project that aligned with their passions and not with their friend group!

Then, the teachers were ready to roll out their PASSION PROJECTS!

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Students were able to learn from experts, create using a variety of materials, and talk about their learning throughout the process.

A Celebration through an Art Passion Project

My art unit was designed around local art museums, installations, and attractions such as the Denver Chalk Art Festival, The Clyfford Still Museum, The Denver Art Museum, The Eye and the Horizon, and more. We went to the museums on the same day because they were right next to each other. We spent the morning at Clyfford Still, ate lunch, and then spent the afternoon at The Denver Art Museum. The Clyfford Still Museum always had a guided tour led by knowledgable docents whereas at The Denver Art Museum we went on a self-guided tour. Since the Denver Chalk Art Festival was in the summer, we studied pieces from the previous year and created our own on the playground.

We also spent time outside observing nature. Some days, we would sit outside on different parts of the school grounds and draw, but at least one day we went to The Eye and the Horizon and worked there.

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Students were able to study a variety of artists and types of art through field trips and in class sessions.

We studied artists and styles of art, as well. Each Monday, I would highlight a type of medium or an artist. I launched the unit with a study of the Renaissance and we would enjoy “painting the ceiling” Michelangelo style by lying on the floor and painting on pieces of paper that were taped under the tables.

We learned all about portraits and still lifes through the works of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, and others, all about pointillism from Georges Seurat and other artists, and all about pop art from Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and more. My students worked with chalk, charcoal, watercolors, tempera paint, colored pencils, oil pastels, collage materials, and clay.

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Students learned from field experts and by using a variety of media to express their own ideas.

What I loved best about this passion project was that anyone could walk into the classroom when students were working and never know that there were 25 or more students in the room. The concentration and engagement were palpable. Not only were students creating, but they were also learning a little art history and geography.

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What questions do you have? Let me know in the comments.

Conclusion: Celebrate Learning in Similar Ways

In my years of teaching after I left Denver, I have found ways to celebrate learning in similar ways. I haven’t implemented full-blown passion projects, but I have found many ways to offer opportunities for artistic expression throughout the year – often after big tests but also through project based learning, STEM and STEAM projects, and more. I keep two huge plastic bins full of art supplies in my classroom that I break out on occasion. They’re always a hit!

Please leave any questions you have for me in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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