A Visit with Ian Sands, Art Teacher at Apex High School

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Ian Sands, one of four art teachers at Apex High School in Apex, North Carolina. I’ve appreciated Ian’s many contributions to Art Education 2.0 over the past several years, his postings on Twitter, as well as the quality of his students’ art work posted online. So when I recently was able to acquire some research funds for travel I decided to take a trip up to North Carolina to observe Ian in action and to see how he integrates technology into his art program.

Over the course of my one-day visit, I observed Ian teaching two Art One classes and one Computer Art & Animation class each of which meets for 90 minutes. In addition to these Fall classes, Ian also teaches Computer Art & Animation 2 and Art History in the Spring. The day began very early on a Friday morning with students arriving individually or in small groups to Ian’s classroom, one of a half dozen or so trailers (referred to as “portables” in Florida) that are lined up behind the school building. While I had some inkling prior to my visit that something “special” was going to happen that day I was not expecting to see the massive project that slowly took shape during the day.

Imagine, if you will, 190 high art students creating a giant mosaic of the Mona Lisa in a school parking lot using over 1,800 balloons and a lot of their own air. If you can’t quite picture that, check out the slideshow of photos below or watch this short video I made on Animoto of the project unfolding during the day.

While the use of balloons to create a giant portrait may seem unconventional at first when you hear Ian describe the history and intent of the project in the video below, using balloons in this manner sounds . . . well, pretty traditional. That was one of my big takeaways from the day.

Besides appreciating Ian’s passion for his art and his teaching, the quality I was most stuck by while listening to him talk about his curriculum is the manner in which he mixes the new with the old, the contemporary with the historical. Put another way, Ian often takes the familiar and makes it strange. This is a strategy I encourage my art education students to follow as aspiring art teachers. I now have a great example in Ian to serve as a role model.

After observing the Monalloon project take place over the morning, talking with Ian about how he incorporates technology into his classes almost seemed anticlimactic. But, that was one of the reasons for my visit. After watching two Art One classes work on Monalloon, we did a brief recorded interview, had lunch with Ian’s colleagues and then walked over to one of the school’s computer labs for his Computer Art and Animation. While we were in the computer lab, art students under the supervision of Ian’s colleague Brenda Brokke worked on Monalloon. As I observed the computer class that afternoon I must admit I was somewhat anxious to get back to the parking lot at the end of class to see what had happened with the balloon project. I’m sure Ian felt the same way.

On this particular day, some of the students in the computer class were finishing up an animation project while others worked on a Photoshop tutorial Ian introduced at the beginning of the period. After several minutes of chatter among the students, they all settled in and began working on their computers. Ian made his rounds checking on individual student’s progress and answering questions. One thing that caught my attention during class was the animation project that some students were still working on, which Ian called “facemation.” This was something new to me. It involves combining live action footage and hand-drawn images (of a mouth) with the result looking like this. I bookmarked this project to share with my students, upon returning to Gainesville.

If I were to characterize the way in which Ian incorporates technology into his classroom, I’d say that his art curriculum drives it’s use. While there is some direct teaching of software skills, for the most part the focus is on learning and applying traditional art content and skills. Technology use by students is sometimes embedded into an art project, whereas other times it serves as a vehicle for Ian or his students to share their learning and work with a world audience. More recently, Ian has been exploring creative opportunities that come from connecting his classroom with another art classroom over the Web (in this case in Canada). Thus far, this arrangement (set up through Art Education 2.0) has resulted in several exchanges of student art work.

Rather than me telling you how Ian incorporates technology into his art program, you can listen to him talk about the subject in the following video:

A Day with Ian Sands, Art Teacher at Apex High School from Craig Roland on Vimeo.

A Scholarship Enhancement Grant from the University of Florida’s College of Fine Arts made my visit to Apex High School possible. I want to thank Ian Sands as well as his colleagues and students for their hospitality during my visit..