K’s and Grade 1’s at Mitchell Elementary as Biennale Artists: We are all unique, we are all connected!

dscn6207.jpgIt is tremendous fun to work with energetic and expressive kindergartens and grade ones!  Especially the ones participating in Vancouver Biennale’s Big Ideas project!  These past few weeks, I have gotten to roll up my sleeves, don my painting clothes and paint with passion in bright, primary colours (pun intended).  I even experienced creating art ‘installations’ where I helped to design where and how the artwork would be displayed.

Art is not simply art…it crosses borders and opens boxes in the mind that cross into other areas of curriculum, that help us to develop as communicators, that provide opportunities to explore who we are.


Exploring identity, inclusiveness and community have all been themes we have been working with at Mitchell.  The process was engaging, messy and extremely satisfying!  Students thought about who they were and what they bring to their communities, read some Todd Parr books and then designed and painted their own portraits.  Afterwards, they brainstormed words that expressed who they are and pasted them around their portrait and “Ta-Da!”  Todd Parr Portrait Poetry!  Can you see any similarities and differences in these two classes?  What connects us?  What makes us unique?

In hopes that spring will soon arrive, we also used a tree as a metaphor for how we are all connected.  In this case, students used paint to draw a branch (or created one using an impression of their own arm and hand) and then used their own fingerprints to create the blossoms.  Personally, I love the idea of sharing roots and a strong trunk of values, but, still connected to those roots and that trunk, being able to express individuality, while contributing to a ‘whole, beautiful picture’.  I have seen, through art, how nurturing a sense of individuality alongside a sense of community, has made these youngsters more tolerant, expressive and collaborative…recognizing that though we come from many different cultures and places, we all belong to one big, beautiful world.


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Writing Canadian Identity:Biennale Workshops at General Currie

As part of our Big Ideas Biennale project at General Currie Elementary, grade 4-7 students have been asking big questions about who they are and who we are collectively as Canadians.

Using the many tools of a writer:  repetition, similes, metaphors, descriptive language, rhythm, rhyme, voice…we wrote together this week.  Some think that writers create in isolation, but these poems reflect discussion, collaboration and many voices celebrated in one piece.

Students took the poems they had written about themselves and their identities from a former class and selected their favourite lines.  They then moved to larger groups and, using those lines, wrote them on strips of paper, laying them out to create new poems, restructured slightly to reflect the theme of ‘us as a nation’.  As a finale, students performed the poems using tableau and spoken word.

Their work is mighty and moving, insightful and inspiring.  Only a couple of examples are featured here, but the creativity shown is worthy of being shared on a national and international level.  I did suggest we bring in the Prime Minister to hear them perform these.

It would be interesting to do this activity with students in other countries and explore the similarities and differences between voices across the globe.

I hope you are as inspired as I was!  dscn6098dscn6110dscn6109

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Art Exploration: Learning From Kindergartens at Mitchell Elementary

dscn6074dscn6064dscn6061dscn6075Everything I needed to know I learned in Kindergarten. To play, to inquire, to engage, to listen, to share, to be open to new ideas, to get along with others and to create without borders or restrictions. I’ve been working with a group of K/1 students at Mitchell Elementary on a Vancouver Biennale Project
that explores identity.

While viewing and experiencing each other’s stories and traditions, we are developing an understanding of our commonalities and connection, thus building a healthier and more caring community. Last week we ‘played’ with colour and noted how it made us feel, what it made us think of and what it might mean in different places.

Students played some drama games and went to different sensory tables with different coloured objects on them and were invited to play with them.  Some made dragons under a red bathrobe, some pretended to be feeling fish scales on an ornament, some commented these remind me of jewelry that my mom wears.  Afterwards they wrote poems.  Below is a sample.  I am always so impressed that K’s and grade 1’s are so expressive with language.


Reminds me of swimming.

Makes me feel calm.  

Blue can mean sadness.

If I see it in the sky, I feel happy.

If I see it in the pool, I’m ready to play!


Ms. Lau did a particularly great exercise with them.  She put objects on a table, some connected, some not.  Then she shook the table.  The single ones broke or fell, while the connected ones stood or remained together.  The lesson, we are all stronger when we are connected.

This week we visited the Biennale installations: The Meeting by Wang Shugang and Human Structures by Jonathan Borofsky. What did we do? We played, we interacted, we ran, we touched, we ducked down and ran under things, stood on the shoulders of statues and discovered both the art in public places and the artists in ourselves.  We connected.  I look forward to exploring further the importance of connection, empathy, expression and understanding in the weeks to come!

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I Am Poems: Exploring Identity at General Currie Elementary

Some of the most difficult questions for anyone at any age to answer are:  Who am I?  Where do I fit in?  What is my culture and how do I express it?

As part of Vancouver Biennale’s Big Ideas project http://www.vancouverbiennale.com/learn/ I am working with grade 4-7 students and teachers at General Currie Elementary school in Richmond.  Our theme is exploring identity in all of its shape, sizes and disguises and the factors that influence it.  Using drama, spoken word, mask making, digital photography and technology (Book Creator on i-pads), we are mining our inner artists and discovering ways in which to share our feelings, thoughts and concerns in the hopes of finding connections in our diversity and empathy and enlightenment to bridge what may or has divided us.  These are definitely BIG IDEAS.

We will be visiting the Biennale installations A-maze-ing Laughter and Engagement in Vancouver’s West End to inspire and inform our explorations.  How do we relate to one another?  What makes us the same?  Different?  What language does laughter come in?  What is ‘relationship’ and how can we strive to improve our relations at home and abroad?

We began with who we are, the hope being that in understanding ourselves and those closest to us, we can then venture into imagining ourselves as others and tapping into their voices…the voices of immigrants, refugees, historical characters, a community of people then and now, as well as build positive visions for the future.

Using drama and the I Am Poem format, all students dove deep.  Many of the student poems struck me, many words and phrases provided perspective into the hearts of my neighbours.  The one below, in particular.  Written by a grade seven student, it captures, not only her present day experience, but what could have been the experience of those who went to residential school or those Japanese Canadians who were displaced during the war.  It speaks to feelings we all feel as humans and to hope.  So profound, moving and beautiful, this word…hope.  Enjoy.


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How We Express Ourselves: An Overture of Student Highlights from Brockton

How do you express yourself?  Do you draw, write, dance, act, sing, paint, tell stories orally or digitally…?  Students at Brockton from K-Gr. 6 did all of the above throughout October and November in our residency together.  If I were to make up a new catch phrase for this amazing school, it would be: “Brockton:  Where Education is Inspiration”.  Students and teachers alike fuse creative expression, personal voice.learning and global sharing in all that they do.

Let’s journey to grade one for example.  We explored many different forms of visual art and painters.  In one class we used drama and movement to recreate some of the lines and shapes Picasso used in his paintings.  We then looked at some of his work and wrote poetry as a response to what we saw.  Here are two of the poems the class wrote collectively in response to “Bathing Girls” and one of Picasso’s portraits:

Bathing girls.

Having fun in the sun.

On a rocky beach.

On a sunny day at lunch.

To swim, to play and to relax.  



Sells flowers somewhere hot.

In spring, summer and fall.

To make people happy.  


Now on to grade two.  Students engaged in a play building process to learn the elements of a story and the elements of a fairy tale.  They all contributed to writing it and developing their own characters (characters such as The Flying Pig with Bacon Wings).  Parents helped to make their costumes and helped students to remember their lines.  The biggest challenge was narrowing down and incorporating so many creative ideas.  They performed it at an assembly for parents and peers with great confidence and a warm welcome.  They created the magical worlds of Brocktonia and Planet X and pitted good against evil.  What do you think happened in the end?  Look under Student Plays to find out!

I am grateful for having been a part of the Brockton family and for always being welcomed warmly and enthusiastically.  Watch the blog for additional highlights from the grade 5’s poetry unit in 2017.





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Halloween Howlers: Poems From Brockton Grade 5 Students!

If you’re in the mood to have shivers run up and down your spine, then read on.

Halloween Screamers! Alliteration poems by grade 5 students at Brockton! I have just begun a full school residency at Brockton Preparatory School in North Vancouver. It is delightful to see how enthusiastic everyone is about writing, creating, taking risks and exploring their inner artists! Here is some Halloween themed work by grade 5’s in Ms. MacRae’s class.
Alliteration Poem: Screaming skeletons scare surrounding spectators!
See it Be it Poem: Deranged zombies.
Chasing Humans for flesh.
In a cemetery that had just been struck by lightning.
At 1:21 AM on Friday the 13th.
Because they were energized.
One of the visiting international Thai students was so excited he asked if he could do an illustration. It is featured below. Happy Halloween everyone and my inspiration spread like a zombie apocalypse!

Run for your life!

How to:  Alliteration Poems:

These short twister poems encourage similar beginning sounds (alliteration) and/or a repetition of vowel sounds (assonance.)


    • Choose a consonant and two vowels
    • Brainstorm words that have these combinations.
    • Using these words ask students to make a sentence. Then using these same words, create another sentence which follows the same theme.
    • Hold a twist-off.
  • Invite students to come to the front
  • Start a rhythm with the presenter
  • Ask the student to repeat their twister 3x
  • Vote to decide who best represented their work (e.g. no flubs, great pacing and meter, expression, and so forth.


Be It See It Poem:  This poem is based on an embodied scene. It uses diction to evoke an image or sensory experience.

Line 1: Who

Line 2: What

Line 3: Where

Line 4: When

Line 5: Why


  • Divide into groups.
  • Invite each group to create a tableaux (a pose or still picture) of a scene.
  • Ask the audience to read the tableaux. What do they see?
  • Create a list of strong sensory words,
  • Ask the students to translate an image into language.

Happy haunting everyone!


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The Brighouse Story Fence: Part 2: The Big Paint!


Joe in our woodshop prepping the wood.

What happens when you lay some groundsheets, pour some paint, purchase brushes and schedule 400 students to create in an outdoor studio? A “Paint fest!”

We were lucky that the weather held for us and we had beautiful, sunny days to paint the final versions of our community fence artwork.

A splash here, a dash there and smiles all around. Primary colours were mixed and painting shirts donned. This was the busiest, most tangible and most exciting part of the Story Fence Project thus far. For weeks, students had been asking, “When can we paint?” Now students lined the tables in a flurry of creativity, all fully engaged in the joy of artmaking! From their blank canvases of wood emerged the story of their community. EVERYONE was an artist. We had themes such as Musqueam, Who We Are, Old School/New School, Habitat, Transformation and Farming/Agriculture. We learned facts and familiarized ourselves with the unique features of life along the river. I was personally inspired by the poems written collaboratively in the voices of the children that explained each segment and by moments where students, accompanied by their E.As, incorporated their handprints into the design, reinforcing the school motto, “Samuel Brighouse Elementary: Where Everyone Counts”.

Personally covered in paint from head to toe, I was as joyful and proud as each of the student artists through the weeklong painting process. Teachers, principal, vice principal and parent volunteers joined in. We kept the area pretty much spotless so the ‘mess factor’ did not impact the school grounds or building in a negative way. When the painting was complete and the artwork dry, it was sent to SD38 to be varnished and drilled. We now await its return before we move on to Stage 3: Hanging Our Outdoor Gallery! Stay posted! Thanks again to ArtStarts Artists in the Classroom grants and to the staff and PAC at Samuel Brighouse Elementary for making this happen!


Young artists at work!


Works in progress! Yes, we do have beavers, owls and snow geese in our neighbourhood!

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