To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Observing Nature: a Teachers Course 8-12-09

Well, THAT was fun! Last Wednesday I taught the Observing Nature Workshop for teachers for the first time at North Mountain Park Nature Center, in the pavilion. It was a gorgeous day, in the 80s, with a flirty little breeze.

I had taught the sketching/journaling half of this workshop previously to a group of children ages 8 to 13, but this current group was adult teachers and nature center volunteers who wanted to learn how to teach the same class.

Still untried, the second half of the workshop looked great on paper, and would consist of debriefing the teachers on their experience as students (observing, sketching and journaling nature), showing them how and what to prepare to make it work, and then jamming on their ideas and suggestions. I was scheduled for three hours, and ran over about ten minutes at the end, but everyone was so into the process that only one person left before it ended. That's a good sign.

So. Here's what we did. After introducing myself, I explained that they were to take the first part of the session as observing teachers but also "as children," and I would teach it as I would teach the course for kids. To clearly signal my role, I put on my orange baseball cap to signify that now I was Teacher and they were Kids. This was very helpful in keeping things straight, because if I wanted to comment to them as teachers I could whip off my cap to speak, then clap it back on again to get back to the curriculum. I'm not sure why, but that drew laughs every time I did it.

As with the Observing Nature class (click on the link above for more info) we began with a Right-brain introduction. If non-artists are to teach this course, this grounding in the process will help them feel confident enough to teach it to others. The photo shows the contour drawing of the hand (drawn without looking at the paper) on the right, and making a modified contour drawing on the left (okay to look from hand to paper while drawing). The contour drawing always gets some chuckles because a blind drawing looks so silly.

With the confidence gained from the hand drawing (quite a bit of confidence, in fact), they were up to the task of drawing either an oak leaf or a bone. Here are some of the drawings they produced.

Now I put an Observation Tray on each table and encouraged them to rummage around in them, pulling out interesting things and guessing what they might be. They found these intriguing, as I hoped. The "trays" were simply cut-down boxes ~ you can see some examples beneath my improvised flip-chart in the image below.

Creating and filling the Observation Trays had entertained me mightily for the last couple of weeks, as I roamed along Bear Creek, through the woods around my house, and along roadsides gathering goodies to put in them.

I had found some amazing things. Owl pellets, oak galls, bark beetle tunnels on sticks, yellow-jacket nest paper, quail eggshells, raccoon scat (they're in order below)....and much, much more, including lizard and woodrat scat in little tamper-proof boxes (that's a lizard scat with a white blob at one end, the signature of a lizard poo). In fact, there are about thirty items in each box, and four boxes, so that's close to 120 items. I collected four of everything that I could, so the trays are very similar, but each has some unique things in it. Click on the images for a close-up look.

The Observation Trays are an integral part of the course, both to center the students and pique their interest, but also to serve as sketching/journaling models if the weather isn't conducive to trooping outside to draw.

By now they were eager to get started, with ideas about things to look for, so I assigned them to groups of four and sent them out to sketch (the only thing missing was an assistant/guide to herd them around. Kids need these, but I figured adults could keep on track and hang together without a leader).

Here are some of them sketching. It was pretty hot in the sun, but if that's where your subject is, well, waddaya gonna do? One journaler's solution was to drape her overblouse over her head. Others found more comfortable benches to sit or draw on in the shade.

And they went through every trial and tribulation faced by every child who takes the course ~ and every joy and wonder as well. The magnifying glasses, hung on lanyards around their necks (with stern caveats to not remove them until they returned to the classroom ;^) and proved extremely popular. The journalists made some fascinating discoveries as they got close-up and personal with their subjects.

As with the children's class, I think it only fair to show you what they produced. After all, only one of these people had much in the way of art backgrounds. That person had enough confidence to make her journal entry in ink (a sure sign).

So here are the journal pages. There were fourteen workshop participants, so it took me quite some time to get these tweaked, and I confess that I didn't spend as much time getting the shadows out as I would have liked. But they DO look good, don't they? And now they can teach this to the kids, right from the workbook. One reason I know they can do it is because I purposely refrained from giving any art advice to anyone as they were drawing. This keeps everything on a level playing field ~ they didn't learn because I'm an art teacher, they learned because everything they needed was in the workbook they were working from.

I visited them three times during their time out sketching, mainly being supportive or answering questions (not giving advice except once when I forgot!), then I whistled them all in with my sports whistle, offed my Teacher-to-Kids hat, and we finished off the workshop by going through the Teachers Manual I had produced for the second half of the class, complete with Class Plan, Assistant's Guide and Checklist, Permission Slip, Observation Box instructions, Resource List (did you know you can buy owl pellets for $2-$3?), and other good things.

We wound up the class with an open discussion, as Kari, one of the students but also the organizer of the workshop, took notes on the flipchart.

I did forget to hand out the workshop evaluations until after more than half of the people had gone, but four of them generously stuck around to fill them out anyway, and the results were encouraging.

End analysis: a serviceable workshop with absolutely GREAT people. I had WAY too much fun.

1 comment:

Linda C. Miller said...

Irene..I just love your write ups. I am just starting a Master Naturalist training course that will last until March.

I hope to take what I learn in that class and begin teaching drawing classes as you do here in Williamsburg.

I want you to know that you are so blessed and I thank you for all your sharing through the past year. You are a special!

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