Extending my classroom out into the world

by Frank Korb, ’02

I began my teaching career in 1996 with a Macintosh IIsi in my first classroom, hooked up to nothing. I worked out lesson plans in Microsoft Word, worksheets in QuarkXPress. I produced booklets and flyers with my laser printer and, if I was going to be gone, I would try to record a VHS tape lesson for the kids to watch. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I carried floppy disks from home to school so I could work on lessons in both places. I tried to stay ahead of the pack. Again, that was 1996.

During the next 14 years, I became very secure and comfortable in my classroom. I knew my topic, fine art, very well, and the kids seemed to enjoy the artworks they created. Change was not in my immediate plans in 2010.

Then, one day, my principal said he thought I might be interested in a grade-school training session on lesson planning. I wasn’t sure what he saw in me that gave him that feeling. Perhaps he figured, as an art teacher, I was open to new ideas? Or maybe he saw I was doing everything I possibly could to be one step ahead in the digital age? Or could it be because I volunteered for every committee possible? Or, quite simply, did he just see something in me that I hadn’t seen yet?

During this day of professional development, educational consultant and author Janie Pollock told us she was going to change the way teachers engage with students. Her goal—and ours that day—was to improve the education students received. She demonstrated how and why test scores improved when planning took on a new sense of importance. Her acronym GANAG (which stands for Goal setting, Accessing prior knowledge, New information, Applying the new information, and Generalizing) gave all the grade-school teachers, and me, the opportunity to reflect on how we prepared our lessons, how we might better plan our classroom hours, and how we might better engage students in a way that would allow them to become more active. She taught us how to help students develop an “automaticity” in the classroom.

I felt skeptical when I left the session, even after a short personal conversation with Dr. Pollock. But, as it turns out, this day changed the way I looked at my teaching and it marked the beginning of a wonderful friendship with Dr. Pollack. Since then, I’ve committed to the GANAG techniques as well as other educationally-sound and data-driven experiences to help improve student learning.

Using what I learned that day, I switched from maintaining a functional and successful art department website to a more personal approach, one I set up specifically for the students in my classes – “Day to Day in the Visual Arts with Frank Korb.” I can revisit my very first posting, Jan. 27, 2011, and compare it to a more recent day, May 23, 2014, and I am amazed to see the changes that have happened during a few short years.

Nearly 700 posts later, the blog now serves as a storehouse of information not only for my students, but for me as well. At first, I intended to keep my writing “local,” and to focus on the kids in my classes. I wanted to have a starting point every day that allowed them to focus on the larger ideas behind a particular unit of study and to offer access to the classroom from outside the building. All those simple goals sure changed fast.

Since then, my posts and ideas have grown beyond my front door to around the world. The site now is a resource for the kids. Each class has its own space when questions arise about art projects. I post assignment sheets, examples from past works and inspirational artists, and handouts there. Through the use of technology and social media, I have reached out to the visual arts beyond my immediate community, creating more than 150 YouTube videos that extend my classroom into the wider world. My videos about perspective drawing are especially popular. I also post videos whenever I cannot be in the classroom with my students. The ease of using my smartphone (and even a not-so-smart cell phone in the beginning) and uploading the video to YouTube is helpful. A close cousin to those VHS tapes I used to leave for substitute teachers to show my class, today’s technology reminds my students that I am always around, always looking out for them. They know I’m concerned that they are receiving the best from me, even when I can’t be there.

I once tried connecting with kids on Facebook. I have since lost the username and password, but I am still trying. However, I’m fairly active on Twitter, which helps me connect with people outside my school (although a few students have joined conversations online). I also use WordPress for book studies and online student portfolios. Google Drive helps in saving paper, but more importantly as a device to teach and instill the significance of collaboration and a variety of the National Educational Technology Standards. Google Docs, Google Form, Google Spreadsheet and Google Presentation are tools that I use for writing papers, collecting surveys and tests, managing budgets, keeping lists, and creating online exhibitions of artworks to share.

Additionally, my blog connects with home. At the beginning of each semester I send two invitations through our PowerSchool email. I do this multiple times to reinforce the importance of parent/guardian-teacher communication to support the pinnacle of our educational triangle – the student. This email asks parents/guardians to sign up for my blog as well as my Remind101 text messaging plan (a one-way communication of 140-character messages). It is one thing to communicate with the students, but it is entirely different – and equally important – to communicate with parents. I go so far as to give each child (and parent/guardian) my business card with email, website (blog), school phone, and cell phone information to emphasize one more time the importance of communication.

Despite how I’ve come to rely on social media and other current technologies, one thing I’m always reminding myself and my students is that while technology is a great tool, that is all it is. As often as I push ideas around online, at work I’m even more committed to pushing ideas around in the classroom, on paper, and with others in collaboration. From the classroom, my students’ ideas have been able to reach outward into the world they live in and those worlds they have not yet experienced. Receiving photographs, commentary, and interactions from artists around the country and world still would be possible, but highly less likely without the use of the technology that we currently have. Social media is here to stay, so I find it important to teach the youth that while we can have fun with the technology (SnapChat, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) these tools can help move us as a society forward and change the very way we see and experience one another.

Frank Korb, a visual artist and educator, has been teaching art for 19 years. Korb works with high school students of all abilities, aiming to instill the process of learning, with all its frustrations and successes. He teaches the importance of setting day-to-day as well as lifetime goals and emphasizes the practice of reflection on those goals. Through technology, he brings daily goals to his classroom and the world. Korb earned his B.F.A. in graphic design and art education from the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater and his master’s degree in visual studies from Stritch. He teaches visual art and is the chair of the art department at Waterford Union High School in Waterford, Wis. He maintains a professional artistic career (www.frankkorb.com) and is a marathon runner. Korb was one of 20 educators selected in May to attend the White House Social during Teacher Appreciation Week. A roundtable discussion focused on educational concerns and best practices with White House officials; the White House Social included Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Join the Twitter conversation with Korb and other attendees on Wednesdays from 8-9 p.m. at #WHSoc20. Korb lives with his wife and daughter in Burlington, Wis.