Teacher Showcase: Digital Meets Paper with Jennifer Bucher

Timberstone’s Celebration of Creativity features wonderful student artwork merging digital process with paper construction. Check it out!

TS Creativity #1At Timberstone Junior High, a celebration is gearing up. Tables with student projects stand against walls near the entryway. The media center displays books for sharing and selling. Students are rehearsing to perform at a snow-rescheduled concert. And student art adorns the walls, greeting visitors as they enter through the main doors. It’s all part of the annual Spring Celebration of Creativity happening on the evening of March 9th.

Nestled in that impressive collection of student work hangs a series of photo collages celebrating prominent African Americans. Those collages are a twin effort on art teacher Jennifer Bucher’s part. First, they helped her guide her eighth grade students through an exploration of African American achievement. Second, they helped her introduce her students to digital photo editing through Pixlr, the web-based photo editing tool. While the first goal is crucial to building our students’ awareness of identity and diversity, it was that second one that engaged Lexi, one of Jennifer’s eighth graders. Lexi compiled a collage of imagery celebrating Dorothy Dandridge, the accomplished actress, singer, and dancer, and while compiling, manipulating, and editing that collage, Lexi found herself excited about art.


Lexi’s Dorothy Dandridge collage plays with color and space.


Like her fellow students, Lexi followed directions to find images of a prominent African American, import those images into Pixlr, play with them through sizing, bordering, overlaying, and adjustments, print them, and finally attach them to a paper background with foam foundations to “pop out” certain images in a 3-D effect. The result was an unassuming, yet dynamic collage that played with color and dimension. Lexi also composed a short biography of Dandridge to accompany the collage. Her presentation now finds itself on a wall to your right as you enter Timberstone.


Jenna’s Rosa Parks collage conveys a scrapbook impression.


When asked about her experiences with the project, Lexi explains that she has been playing with photo manipulation through simple apps on her phone. When she explored Pixlr, she encountered a range of more powerful tools, but they felt familiar to her because of her smartphone play experiences. That play merged into directed work through Pixlr and Jennifer’s direction. Lexi enjoyed the process and found herself expanding the boundaries of the project by adding “sticker” images from Pixlr’s library to dress up her imagery of Dandridge. One day, Lexi hopes to work in the field of artistic design, maybe as a make-up designer or art teacher, and her play/work with computer-aided visual design is adding depth to her student experiences that will eventually shape her life’s career.


Mahmoud’s Muhammed Ali collage uses its 3D effect to punch at the viewer.


Until then, Lexi and her fellow eighth graders have contributed to the creativity coloring Timberstone’s halls. Each student, teacher, administrator, and parent that enjoys tonight’s celebration will enjoy the gift of that work.

Interested in Pixlr? Check out this tutorial exploring some of the cool effects Lexi played with!



Teacher Showcase: Real World Art with Bethany Cooper

Join Bethany Cooper as she turns her eighth grade art class into a graphic design firm.

On a late-October afternoon, Bethany Cooper transforms her McCord art classroom into a graphic design firm, and each eighth grade student that enters takes the role of a professional designer. These young designers have been tasked with producing engaging and enlightening video biographies of famous people for junior high teachers to use as learning material. Each designer will succeed or fail based on their ability to engage a junior high audience while educating them. The thirteen year-old becomes a twentysomething professional.

This day is little different from Bethany’s frequent projects designed to make art relevant to her students. Last year, she unleashed her students on the world of social media by teaching them how to design and market t-shirts through the modern online producer teespring (Many actually made money; one, hundreds of dollars). Rather than merely hoping her students will have fun with art, Bethany hopes they will learn how it has both personal and functional value. Today, that means her students have entered a video editing lab in a graphic design firm.

Bethany works on the model example at her Mac while students watch the work on the SmartBoard.

After gathering her students at the front of the room for verbal and textual instructions and modeling, Bethany asks her students to go to their seats, log into their Chromebooks, and log into PIXLR, an online photo editing tool that provides a basic, free, web accessible alternative to Photoshop. Each student loads an image file of a famous person from some area relevant to a core junior high class. From the multitude of screens appear George Washington, John F. Kennedy, John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman, and a host of others. These images are .png-formatted avatars of the person students chose. At this stage of the process, each student is using PIXLR to “cut out” the avatar from its background with incredible precision. The separated avatar will feature in a full video with still images, video, visual effects, and sound to tell the biography. Imagine a cut-out picture of a person glued to a popsicle stick and used as a puppet. The same thing will happen, but through digital animation.

As the eighth graders work, the room becomes dark and quiet, with most students plugged into the music of their headphones and only a few quietly talking to one another. Bethany observes, “This is what real editing looks like, a bunch of people staring silently at screens.”

During the process, Bethany calls out guidance. Her advice sometimes reminds the students of their role playing in admonitions like “I’m telling you, as your boss in this graphic design firm, that this will not cut it,” referring to her model example’s roughness, and she continues with the word client to refer to the project’s audience. Each student understands that the process of art in this context is a relationship between a producer and a consumer.

As students work, Bethany offers assistance.

Bethany also helps her students understand the tools they use, especially the difference between the processing power of a Chromebook and her own Mac, suggesting best practices for dealing with the tools available to them. Bethany is an expert in digital art, so she made sure to test her project on a Chromebook to learn its limitations. Each student is not only learning design through this process, but they are also learning the important and sometimes challenging role of technology in that process.

Two weeks later, when I revisit the class, students are producing the video featuring the avatar that they created in those early days. But now that the avatar is complete, the work moves from PIXLR to WeVideo, a simple video editing tool liked by many. Bethany takes the same instructional approach: direction, modeling, workshopping. She shows students how to “rip” content from YouTube and import still pictures from Google Images to use in their productions. She shows them how to manipulate the different clips into a whole on the WeVideo timeline, inserting and modifying titles, music, and visual effects. As the students apply these techniques, short snippets of assembled video appear on their Chromebooks, providing glimpses of a finished project.

Students “plug in” and get to work on the sometimes painstaking work of digital photo editing.

The value of Bethany’s project comes not in her adoption of digital tools for video production, but in her career-oriented framework. No student in her class will forget that art is part of a process that involves business, aesthetics, teamwork, and stakeholder impact. And that message is not built because it will be “fun” for her students. In fact, one student explains that. “It’s not as fun [as traditional junior high art projects],” she says. “I understand the real world application, but it’s not what I thought visual design would be.”

Still, this young woman’s comments, made during the early stages of production, disappear into the background as completed videos begin to take shape. When students see the life of FDR expressed in a playful animation with rap narration and understand that the playfulness was their creation, the smiles and laughs take over. “Fun” is had, and Bethany has taught them a valuable and authentic lesson about the role of art in the real world.


Do you have questions? Contact Bethany at bcooper@sylvaniaschools.org or check out these helpful links!

SDL Resource Introduction: WeVideo

SDL Cool Trick: Turn Your Chromebook into a Movie Studio!