It’s difficult to find a clear focus for students as the end of the year approaches. It goes doubly so in a specials class where there are no looming final assessments or tests to prepare for. Any projects need to be highly flexible, because field trips, grand parents’ day, and a host of other end-of-the-year activities will quickly eat holes into the time you spend with your students. So with the hindsight that I’ve gathered these last 5 years of teaching, I’ve given the 4th graders a relatively simple, yet deceptively engrossing project; self portraits.
I’ve had Art Rage, a fantastic painting simulator, installed on my machines all year, but couldn’t find an engaging way to work it into a project as it requires complete attention from the user. Art Rage isn’t just some fancy version of MS Paint, it’s a full on painting simulation that lets you mix colors as though you were using a real brush and paints. It includes all manner of tools including chalk, markers, colored pencils, and paint knives. If you use it for even 5 minutes, you want to keep playing with it for another 15, and then it turns into an hour of kaleidoscopic twirling of paint. I decided a couple of weeks ago that I would let the 4th graders use it to create self portraits. So I fired up the digital camera, took pictures of them while they played with all of the digital painting tools they could figure out, and then used the digital pictures as tracing images on their screens (Art Rage has a nifty feature that makes using tracing images a snap).
What did I discover? Besides the fact that elementary students want to seem to use the paintbrushes as pencils and outline themselves and their facial features before painting (must be a developmental thing), quite a few of the boys enjoyed giving themselves facial hair. Not just any facial hair either; we’re talking handle bar mustaches, goatees, and sideburns that were dangerously long enough to braid and wrap with bows. An interesting situation, as though they were all very eager to grow up and start shaving, or rather grow up and not bother with shaving like they do now and actually have something to show for it. In either case, the portraits are coming out smashingly well, so I thought I’d share a particularly hairy fellow (check out that beard!), and point out that Art Rage is a great program for teachers that want their kids to be creative, but don’t have the art supplies, or for art teachers looking for a way to get their students into digital art without having to go the graphic design route that seems to dominate so many high schools. It does have a paid version, but the free standard version is good enough for this non-mustachioed teacher.