A Day with Kris Fontes . . .

computer lab

This past week I traveled up to Union City, Pennsylvania to visit with Kris Fontes, the Art and Graphic Design Teacher at Union City Middle/High School. I previously met Kris at the 2006 NAEA Conference in Chicago and we share a mutual interest in artist trading cards. But, it was Kris’ student work with lego animation and other digital media that brought me to Union City to see firsthand how she integrates technology into her art program.

I spent a full day with Kris in her art classroom and computer lab on Wednesday. Over the course of day, I observed a seventh grade class and a high school class, which each met for 84 minutes, and two sixth grade classes, which each met for 45 minutes.

Highlights of the day for me included:

  • Watching the seventh graders take turns manipulating the NGA’s Mobile Maker on an interactive whiteboard. They then worked in small groups on creating their own mobiles.
  • Observing the sixth graders work with Storytelling Alice and Architect Studio 3D. Storytelling Alice is a programmable environment intended to motivate middle school students to learn to program computers by creating short 3-D animated movies. It was created by Caitlin Kelleher as part of her doctoral work in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. The students I observed seemed to enjoy coming up their own stories and handled the programming aspects of Storytelling Alice with ease. The same is true for the sixth grade class that worked with Architect Studio 3D, which was developed and designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust and Educational Web Adventures.
  • Lastly, I especially appreciated observing Kris’ high school graphic design and animation class. Within this diverse class, there were students working on rotoscoping, digital storytelling, Wordle, Photoshop, lego animation, movies, and more. During the period, Kris moved from student to student checking their progress and offering guidance where needed.

Some of my takeaways from the day include:

  • This is my third encounter with interactive whiteboards this year, and I’m sold on their usefulness as a teaching and learning tool in the art classroom.
  • Although I once taught students to program a computer using languages like BASIC and Ceemac, I gradually gave that practice up in favor of using application software. Watching sixth graders work with Storytelling Alice renewed by interest in programming as a valuable learning experience.
  • I frequently advise art teachers to view their students as partners in learning how to work with technology in the classroom to achieve the best results. It was refreshing to actually watch an art teacher in action who practiced this attitude in her classroom.
  • Similarly, Kris does an amazing job of customizing learning for each student in her high school class. I’ve heard and read a lot of rhetoric this past year about the use of technology to individual learning (e.g., see Disrupting Class). Kris is the first art teacher I’ve observed who is able to do that successfully, and with some finesse.
  • Perhaps the biggest thing I walked away with is a renewed respect for just how demanding yet rewarding teaching art (with or without technology) can be.

The following short movie (a little over 5 minutes) will take you through Kris’ curriculum and day in her own words. To learn more about Kris’ art program and see samples of student work, check out her web site.

Kris Fontes, Art and Graphic Design Teacher from Craig Roland on Vimeo

A Scholarship Enhancement Grant from the University of Florida’s College of Fine Arts made my visit to Union City Middle/High School possible. I want to thank Kris Fontes as well as the administration, staff, and students at Union City Middle/High School for their hospitality during my visit.