24 August 2017

Tech-Spin-Teacher-Feature: Kelly McNeil at All Saints Academy . . .

I remember my dad driving my sister and me out to the middle of a field in Texas to see Halley's Comet. I believe it was 1986 and I was 12. I remember looking through our binoculars and not really seeing anything. I also remember thinking that there were maybe a few other things I'd rather be doing than standing in a field looking for a comet. I know this sounds incredibly bratty. Again, I was 12 . . . I also remember my dad showing us an eclipse of some sort, as well. But I don't remember when this was or the events surrounding it. I've never been much of a science-y girl. I like to look at stars and I love animals and the oceans and mountains and things. But I will never be the person wondering and pontificating about why these things exist and where they came from. It's just never been my thing. But I digress . . . 

Fast forward a few years to now. I didn't travel anywhere special to see the eclipse, nor did I make any plans. I just went to work like a regular person. My new school, however, provided everyone with NASA-certified viewing glasses. Where my school is located in Georgia, we were not going to get the totality event that the mid-section band across the US would experience. Instead we got the little sliver. 

For someone who generally is unexcited about science-y things, I was pumped! Our students and teachers were excited to share in this experience. Between 1 and 3pm, all of us walked in and out of the building about a hundred times to look up with our special glasses tightly wrapped around our heads. My neighbor teacher walked each child out separately to make sure the littles kept their glasses on (below, left). It never got dark, but the shadows changed dramatically. You can see the little sliver shadows in the first image above. I snapped this picture while loading kids into their parent's cars during the end of the school day pick-up.

My friend Kelly, on the other hand, made plans to travel away from Florida to see the eclipse in totality. She took the picture you see above, on the right. Isn't it fabulous? She is also the subject of this here post! We are shuffling things around and doing a new take on the interviews I've been doing with art teachers and featuring a Tech And Design teacher this week! Woohoo! Three cheers for change!

You might remember Kelly from the video we made below, back in April. We collaborated on a project inspired by the air plant curtain featured at Bok Tower Gardens and made out of laser cuts and 3D printed plants drawn and designed by our students. You can see the students working on their designs above.

Kelly raises chickens in her backyard. She has a koi pond and garden that she and her husband continually work on. She has two teenaged boys, a giant dog named Jake, and a very old cat. We met late in the school year, last year, when we were both in the teacher's lounge at the same time. People were discussing who was chaperoning prom and what the theme was. Turns out, the theme was Alice in Wonderland. So of course, I wanted to take part. Kelly and I decided to dress as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and we've been friends ever since!

I decided to open up my interview series to start including people that do not teach art and are not in the field of art because the field of Art Education is changing rapidly. Collaboration is essential. Encouraging tech and innovation is crucial. And uniting forces along many different paths is absolutely necessary. Kelly excels in all of these areas. While she is only just now starting her second year of teaching, she has proven to be a trailblazer and an educator to watch. So without further ado, I give you Kelly McNeil in her own words.

What is your name and where do you teach? What do you teach? How long have you been teaching? Have you taught the same subject throughout the whole time that you have been teaching?

My name is Kelly McNeil and I teach at All Saints Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. I teach Technology and Design and Computer Science Principles. I am starting my second year of teaching now.

How many students do you work with during a week's time?

About 120, but this number can vary. Students have started showing up who aren’t in my classes because they heard from other students or teachers that I like video games, cybersecurity, making apps, or they ask about Girls Who Code. They will come to chat or ask questions and I try to engage and work with everyone even if they aren’t enrolled in one of my classes. I also volunteer outside of the school with youth projects like judging tech-related events and working as a mentor in youth tech projects when they come up. These students are outside of my school but are in the middle to high school age range.

Do you make your own tech-inspired projects? If so, what kind of projects do you make?

Yes, but I don't do this as much as I would like to. Generally I have a lot of ideas knocking around in my head but some of them have yet to come to fruition. Any project that is made in class with my kids, I always make it myself at home ahead of time - this includes doodle bots, cardboard prototypes, LED circuit projects, etc. Everyone who knows me knows that I like to tinker with old electronics and devices. I get donations of computers and laptops to take apart. I have a stack of old laptops that I wipe the operating systems to put Linux operating systems on for kids to get exposure to, including my kids at home.

One of my favorite projects was using a Raspberry Pi, a credit card sized computer, to put together a Minecraft server for my son and his friend to play on. The processor in a Pi isn’t meant to handle a server well, so it wasn’t fabulous but I got to be the administrator and also used the project to explain how a server works to my kids, in school and at home. 

A project I have in the works is to build a display for my classroom with some basic PC components - RAM, processor, motherboard - that has descriptions of the components on the display board with LED above them and buttons underneath the physical component; when a student presses the button under a specific component, the corresponding description on the board will light up.

Do the students know you make things? Have you shown them your projects before?

Yes. I have talked to my students about some of my projects. Specifically in my app class I talk about the apps I've made, and in my technology classes I will talk about taking apart computers, setting up servers, etc.

I have talked to them about my personal projects, but not as much as I would have liked to.

Do you think making your own projects enhances, changes, or helps your teaching?

I think it enhances and helps teaching. I believe that students have more confidence in what you are saying and they are more willing to try it if they know that you are capable of making something technical work.

Does working with young people help to enhance the projects you make?

Young people are full of creativity and I love to learn from them as much as I share my knowledge with them. Many of my projects are inspired by what I can share with them and often sharing ideas with them and seeing how they run with it can lead to new projects and ideas.

What is your favorite thing about what you do?

The idea that I can help shape the future by inspiring generations of students to be innovative and to create, not just consume. I also really love hands-on projects and the freedom to create my own curriculum.

Do you host any large events that feature your students' projects so that the larger community can see what the students are making? What about school-specific events?

I don’t host any events but our school hosts an exhibition for high school to showcase ‘makerspace’ projects and I have future plans to work with the middle school towards this end.

How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?

Most of my projects are pair or group projects. I think collaboration is a key 21st century career and life skill. I get mixed results from group projects--sometimes successful and sometimes a struggle--but I do see growth in the students when they work together. I try to allow as much personal choice as possible but I have found sometimes giving students too much choice leads to indecisiveness or poor productivity. There is a fine balance between giving guidelines and giving them the whole idea for the project. 

Some technical projects are very linear and so it is hard to bring imagination into the picture. Working with electronics, for example: soldering circuits and understanding components is very straightforward. I try to inspire imagination and creativity by showing them examples of projects others have done all over the world that they are able to create with the technical skills they have learned. Programming projects have a lot of room for imagination.

Do you bring in people from the community to work with your students?

Yes! I have brought in an Environmental Engineer, a City Planner, and an IT consultant so far. When I am out and about attending Maker Faires or other maker and tech-related events, I network with others to find experts in subject areas who are interested in coming in and talking to my students. 

What are your top five favorite supplies to use with students, and why?

3D Printer and Laser Cutter - With these machines, I am able to teach 2D and 3D design and lead so many creative projects to make either artistic or utilitarian items for our school or community.

Arduino - Microcontrollers have endless possibilities for teaching circuits and building many projects or inventions.

Sketchbook - Even though most of my class is digital, this analog staple is a necessity. I require all students to sketch ideas prior to prototyping.

ePortfolio - Currently I am using Google Sites but this is because it's easy to use. I have my students document their progress and projects throughout the semester and put all their documentation on their portfolio.

Scratch - I don't know if this qualifies as a 'tool', but Scratch is a graphical, drag-and-drop programming language that is a blast for kids. They can create their own stories, animations, and games fairly quickly and easily and be introduced to many computer science and programming concepts.

Do you have a favorite lesson plan that you could share with us?

Squishy Circuits is one of my favorite lesson plans for introducing a simple circuit in a fun way!!

  • LED
  • 9v Battery
  • Alligator clip jumper wires
  • Play Doh
Start with an open discussion asking students about electricity and what do they know about it. Ask if they know how a circuit works. Draw a circuit on the board. Depending on age group - Ohm’s Law Discussion for 7th grade and above.

Play Sylvia's Mini Maker Show from Youtube.

Put students in pairs or groups. Let them explore Cleo Circuit World while you are passing out supplies - each group gets a couple LEDs, a 9v battery, 2 alligator clip wires (ideally red and black) and a ball or cup of play doh.

Demonstrate for students how to create a circuit with the jumper wires properly hooked up to the positive and negative terminals of the battery then placed in two separate, not touching balls of play doh. Show the two leads coming out of the LED and how the long side is the positive side or cathode - this is important to get the LED to light up and the shorter lead is the negative side or anode. 

Walk around as students are trying to get their circuit to light up. Common problems are the two play doh balls are touching (short circuit) or the LED needs to be flipped around and stuck back into the two balls of play doh. 

Let kids explore by adding more LEDs and different colors. See what happens when more LEDs are added and this leads to a discussion on series and parallel circuits. This lesson is fun and can be scaled up or down for different age groups. Below is an example of a Squishy Circuit frog found on Science Buddies.

Inspiring, yes? Do you remember your art teacher in elementary, middle, or high school? A college professor, perhaps? If so, what made that person memorable to you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Up next: my super hot July teaching in Chengdu, China! Hooray for travel!!

14 August 2017

Road Trip 2017 With Cat Rigby . . .

Over the course of 3 weeks, my cat Rigby and I drove from Florida to Tennessee (12 hours), Tennessee to Texas (13 hours), and Texas back to Florida (18 hours). We stayed in 4 studios and 1 hotel room in three different states. Rigby met new people and animals, and I got to visit with some of my besties. We drove through rain, sun, and wind. And put about 8,000 miles on my new little car. 


While in Tennessee, I visited three different farms—one all the way up in Kentucky—and explored a major art museum where I saw three very complete and inspirational shows. I drove myself around on a self-guided mural tour, and I learned about new artwork being produced by my friends. I booked a 6-week gallery show for my art making, complete with a talk and workshop, for spring 2018, and I taught a weeklong art camp with one of my dearest friends, Emily, at the University School of Nashville that featured art and food from different regions around the United States. Our art camp was called Road Trip, and we “visited” New York, Illinois, Florida, California, and Louisiana. I ate lots and lots and lots of incredible meals! But one in particular dinner was shared with my mentor and her wonderful family in their beautiful backyard. Our conversation flowed seamlessly between art and culture, unexpected tragedies and The Weeknd. And three different times during the 7 days I was in Nashville, my birthday was celebrated!! Yeehaw!!

#1. Gower House Pottery in West Nash

#2. Emily and Chris's House off Nolesville

I was featured on Porter Flea's IG Story. Un-showered and sans makeup, might I add. We had a blast visiting with sellers at this market! Their summer event is always so much fun!


Self-guided mural tour around Music City--so much amazing art!!

University School of Nashville: Road Trip Art Camp

(Our camp was heavily inspired by this fabulous illustration created by Lisa Congdon.)

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Nashville also celebrated Pride while I was there, but I was unable to participate in any of the festivities. But it looked like a good ol' time!!

A visit to Kelly's Tramp Lamp studio. She's the best, and a lifelong friend!

Emily took me to a new little BBQ joint for my birthday. Man o' live! The food in Nashville is to die for. We had Jeni's for dessert!  

Visiting Ms. Kate. Her littles are the best littles around! And she's started a new business . . . Have a look-see!! 

Little Seed Farm in Lebanon, TN

Lakshmi Farms in Anchorage, KY

Frist Center for the Visual Arts

Visiting With my Most Favorite Art Teacher: Camilla Spadafino


While in Texas, I visited sites and friends of my younger self. Rigby and I stayed in Houston for 5 days with my friend—and the most wonderful painter—Wes Holloway. I took a day trip to Austin where I visited the outdoor graffiti gallery called HOPE, walked around the art building at The University of Texas at Austin, ate lunch with Wendy Cook, had a beautiful mid-day chat with my buddy Bob Schmidt—complete with chickens, and capped off the day with my high school chum, Debbie Tolany. In Houston, Wes and I went to The Orange Show, spoke with a mosaic artist about her practice, visited a giant museum featuring two HUGE and thought-provoking shows, hung out in a home-based gallery, and met peeps for drinks and pizza at Axelrad. I missed out on seeing a lot of people in the Houston/Austin area, so plans are being made to come back! (Ahem: Doris, cousin Cathi, and Jennifer.) 

#3 Wes Holloway's Casa in Houston


HOPE Outdoor Gallery 

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Bob's House

Hopping About Houston with Wes

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#4. Arsenal Design in Dallas

In Dallas, we stayed at my community college buddy Mark’s house. He and his wife Audra, and their kiddos, are wonderful peoples! I helped my mom pack up some of her house for a big move: in one day, we took 3 giant loads to Goodwill and emptied out the kitchen and living area. I got to hang with the nephews, mocking pictures of my middle and high school years. To see me off, Mark and his incredibly loving family hosted a wonderful BBQ where we all ate steak. During said BBQ, I exclaimed something about being a “gentlemanly woman” and nearly choked to death on my steak. (This is honestly unexplainable, but I couldn’t stop laughing about it.) Following dinner, he showed me around his fascinating design studio and the next morning I left for Florida.

Mom's House in Plano, TX


#5. Hotel Room in Tallahassee

Up Next: a teacher feature interview with Kelly McNeil, a tech and design teacher, at All Saints Academy.