Digging Deep

Digging Deep Workshop at Mississippi Museum of Art

I spent a few hours Thursday, helping teach a workshop at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Elizabeth Williams, the museum’s education director, and Carol Cox Peaster, the director of the museum’s Art Garden, and I guided 15 teachers through Digging Deep, the art/science/nature curriculum we put together earlier this year. We piloted it with fourth graders at Davis Magnet IB Elementary School. (You can read more about the pilot here.)

teachers in art gardenTeachers who participated learned the 20-Second Nature Break, some nature journaling techniques, how to use Private Eye loupes, basic sketching, and how to turn a sketch into a watercolor. Everything we did was with the goal of developing observational skills for scientific research, writing, and making visual art. We didn’t talk much about photography, but I couldn’t resist taking my camera along for some more shots in the gorgeous garden.

orange flowerssculpture with spheredried blossomslightstriangles in circlesipad photo takingbugtransferring sketchsarah talking about writingewilliamsmore orange with deadheads

Davis Students Paint Watercolors

v watercolorFourth grade students at Davis Elementary spent part of their morning completing watercolor paintings inspired by their photographs from the Mississippi Museum of Art’s Art Garden. (You can see more about earlier stages of this project here.) Today’s lessons were taught by Carol Cox Peaster with help from Elizabeth Williams and Ivy Alley. I stopped by to take some photographs and help where I could. I was struck by what the students did to interpret their photographic images in the style of Walter Anderson.

I’ll show you a step-by-step by one of the students.

A starting her drawing on watercolor paper.Here, she is beginning her final sketch — on the fine watercolor paper.

A with blackHere she is applying the black watercolor paint to the outline elements.

A beginning with colorHere she is beginning to apply color.

finishing color

Finishing the color.

Now, here’s a look at the image she took at the Art Garden.
a's flower

Peaster used several books to showcase Walter Anderson’s style, including The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass.
Carol using Hester's bookHere are some other examples of student work:


stinkhorn again
stinkhorn moreYou can see that he is using his photograph as a reference. Here it is:

stinkhornSome students were taking photographs of living things; others of textures and art sculptures.

J and M

J detail
Now, for his photograph:
magnoliaAnd, finally.
manhole covercover 2Now, for her photograph:

manhole cover photo

Choosing Photos for Field Guides

I spent two days this week at Davis, guiding fourth graders as they chose photographs for their field guides. It is always fun to spend time looking through photographs, and these students took some interesting ones. You can see some of their images in previous posts here and here.

Sarah leading selection

We had a few challenges as we worked through this process. First of all, we had a hard time making the 1,490 images accessible to students at school. There is a computer lab at school and there are a few laptops. We did not have/nor could we get permission (central office IT department permission) to save the images to the computer network. There was only enough hard drive space available in the computer lab to save one teacher’s groups’ photos to the hard drive of one computer. What ended up working was saving all the images to four separate jump drives, attaching each one to a computer in the lab, and accessing the images via the usb port.

I worked with each group for about 30 minutes. For the first three sessions each day, I had the help of the classroom teacher. Thank you, Mr. Gunther, Ms. Cross, Ms. West, and the other helpers who taught the rest of the students in the classroom.

Selection worked like this:

  • Each student wrote his/her name and group number on an index card.
  • Each student chose his/her top three photographs. Each student noted the photograph’s file number and a brief description.
  • Then, each student shared with the group the descriptions of his/her top three photos. When there was overlap in photo subjects, I asked each student to pull up his/her image. Then, we talked about which image we preferred and why and took an informal vote. Generally, reaching consensus was pretty easy.
  • It helped to remind the students that we wanted each page in the guide to have unique content, and it helped to remind them of the topic of their particular field guide. (In one instance, a student really liked her photo of a worm, but the group decided that her photo of a fly better fit the topic, which was insects.)
  • As final selections were made, the student circled the image file number and short description on the index card.
  • We printed each image on regular copy paper (by sending a print job to the school’s main copy machine in the office) for reference.
  • At home in the afternoon, I uploaded the selected images to a local photo store, and ordered 4 x 6 inch prints.

discussing an imageI made a sample field guide this week using some photographs of mine. It helped today to have the model with me so students could visualize what their field guides will look like.

At this point, my involvement with this project will shift gears. I have completed my contact sessions with students. Next week, students will make watercolors with Carol Cox Peaster and Elizabeth Williams of the Mississippi Museum of Art. They will also continue their research, and begin to write the text that will accompany each photograph.

More Photographs by Davis Students

pansy with shadowThis is my 500th blog post, a milestone I could hardly have imagined back in August 2007 when I launched this blog. Given my twin passions for teaching and photography, it is fitting that today’s post should showcase photographs by fourth graders I’ve been teaching. These images were all taken at the Mississippi Museum of Art in the Art Garden, using Kodak Easy Share cameras. If you want to see a photo displayed larger, just click on it.

If you want to read more about this project, check out this blog post by Elizabeth Williams, curator of education at the museum. Her post features photographs of students.

texture 1

bas relief 1


through the cheese grater

trunks and blue

texture again

flower sculpture

tree with fungus

lady buggrubantsmushroommushroom 2

Students Photograph Images for Field Guides

cameliaI spent the last two mornings at the Mississippi Museum of Art with Davis Magnet School fourth graders. On the first day, it was overcast and threatened (then, delivered) rain. Today it was cold, but very sunny. Two very different photography challenges. Each group, ranging from three students to six students, went out with an adult leader to captures images for a field guide. The categories ranged from flowers to sculpture to textures to non-plant living things. Students took as few as six photographs and as many as 68. We were working with 12 cameras owned by the museum and two of mine.


I had a fairly elaborate backup system set up to transfer images from the cameras’ memory cards to my Epson photo viewer and my laptop. During the times when students did not have cameras, they worked on sketching. Each had a clipboard with some blank journal pages and a pencil. We also had plenty of field guides and other reference books available for onsite research.

Here are some of the shots that jumped out at me on first glance. I don’t know which ones the students will select next week because it will depend on what makes sense for their field guides. I thought you would like a preview.


purpleseed podspurple 2bare barkcameliaswater from fountain against convention centergreen green greenyellow orangepurple leavessculpture hangingIf you’ve made it this far, you know that many of the students were intent on documenting the plant life in the garden. The students who chose insects had a tough assignment.

lady bugbeetle

Urban Ecoystems

I went out on a nature journaling expedition with Davis Magnet School fourth graders yesterday. Several kids in each class noticed this. One sketched it. Another called me over. We wondered what on earth it was.

kids found this

Another fourth grader noticed this one.
kids found

We were in the Mississippi Museum of Art‘s Art Garden, gathering information for our series of Davis Field Guides to the Art Garden. The students had clipboards, “instant book” journals (see my post), and pencils.

Next week, the fourth graders will be back in the garden with clipboards, journals, pencils, cameras, and a set of published field guides for reference (we’re using Kaufman field guides to birds, insects, butterflies, and an Alabama and Mississippi Gardener’s Guide co-authored by Felder Rushing).

After Wednesday’s session, I went over to Eudora Welty Library and checked out two visual field guides to mushrooms, which I sent to Davis this morning with one of my neighbors who teaches there. So, I know what is in the two photographs above, but I am counting on the fourth graders to find out for themselves.

fourth grader nature journaling

In addition to journaling with me in the garden, the fourth graders had a guided tour of the Mississippi Story with Elizabeth Williams, curator of education, and a drawing lesson with Carol Cox Peaster, the art garden coordinator. Specifically, Williams talked with students about Bill Dunlap’s Flat Out Dog Trot and Carol Cole’s Jackson, MS as examples of landscapes and cityscapes.
e williams with fourth graders
Here are some of Williams’s comments: “It was interesting to see how the students who had been outside and had already used their journal, got out their sketchbooks and began writing everything they saw in the works of art. They were very perceptive and each group noticed very different things about each of the painting. Lastly, we took a look at the four Walter Anderson’s on the walls and tried to develop a pool of words that could be used to describe Anderson’s style. Some students interpreted his word as “bright” “energetic” and “creative”, while others noticed some of the cooler colors he used that might be interpreted as sad or gloomy. All of the students noted that the work was not very realistic.”
hands upHere is Peaster teaching the drawing class.

Carol Cox Peaster leading drawing classIvy Alley, curator of education, docents and volunteers at the museum, led a tour of the art in the Art Garden.

sculptureDuring our last sesion at the museum, the fourth graders brainstormed about the topics they might choose for their Davis Field Guides to the Art Garden.

brainstorming report

Thank you, Beth West, Davis’ IB Coordinator, and Kacy Hellings, Davis’ Librarian, and Julian Rankin, the museum’s public relations coordinator for taking photographs. You can see Rankin’s Facebook album of images here.

Thank you, fourth grade teachers, Jalesha Cross and Jordan Gunther, for guiding students; and two parents who came along as chaperones. We are grateful for the help.

Wolfsnail cooperates!

We had a much better day of shooting video today.

We got the wolfsnail emerging, gliding along leaf matter, and EATING! I am very excited about the eating footage. It will have to be edited — heavily.
It turns out it takes the wolfsnail longer to eat a half-inch prey snail than it takes for our family to eat supper. Gosh! (The photo to the upper left is an old one, but it looks pretty much like what we spent the day watching.)

As fun as this video stuff is …

I also want to talk about two exciting new projects I’ll be doing with third and fourth graders in January and February. I am working with Davis Magnet Elementary School and the Mississippi Museum of Art to pilot a bookmaking project with topics inspired by the MMA Art Garden. My working title is: “Urban Ecosystems: Field Guides to the MMA Art Garden.”

The project with third graders is also a pilot project, in which students will use digital photography to illustrate math stories. Beth West, the coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Davis, and I will be presenting a workshop teaching this new unit at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics convention in Philadelphia in April.

Both groups of students will be using a bookmaking form from Esther K. Smith’s beautiful and inspiring book, How to Make Books. Smith calls it the Instant Book. Here’s the page from Smith’s book that illustrates the steps to make an Instant Book:

how to instant
Read more about Smith’s work here. I made my Dad’s Christmas present based on the Accordion Postcard Album from Smith’s book.

Dad's accordion book

I will be posting in coming weeks about our plans and I’ll be documenting the process as we go along. I look forward to learning a lot!