Category Archives: Uncategorized

Seeing the Art of Children

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Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

~Pablo Picasso

This is the ultimate challenge to artists, isn’t it–to hold onto that wild abandon and curiosity when making art.  As we grow up, for some reason that changes.  How we make and view art as adults does a complete 180, and I believe this issue needs to be addressed.  In this day and age as we talk about creativity and how this new generation lacks creativity, we must ask ourselves how did we get here?  Then, we need to figure out how we can change that.

Somewhere along the line, we are taught that the skill to make things realistic is equal to beautiful/good art.  That coloring in the lines is a goal.  That creation comes with a set of directions that needs to be followed.  Things like expression through messiness and exploration through process go to the wayside.  Does this stem from an unconscious connection to the development of fine motor skills (FMS)?  Perhaps somewhere we think that as we develop our FMS, our art should follow suit–that it needs to look sharp and be realistic.  But, I think that is taking away what art could and should be.

The old adage that says “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comes to mind.   Art could be defined by this, and many people do define art this way.  But, should it be defined by this?  I think this minimizes what art is.  I think children get it right.  For children, art is about the process.  It’s not defined by skill.  It’s not about correctness.  It’s about telling a story.  It’s about making what is in their head a reality.

And, we as adults need to understand that.  We have been told for so long what to do and how to do it that we have lost track of our inner child.  And, as art teachers, we have an opportunity to help create the next generation of adults who can see art and make art as they did as children.

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Art 1 student in-progress work

You have to be in a state of play to design.

~Paula Scher

That is where Teaching for Artistic Behavior can come into play.  (See what I did there?)  Starting at the elementary level, we can not only teach kids how to behave like artists, but we can teach ourselves and our colleagues to see their, the children’s, work for what they intend it to be.  We can stop telling our students what to create and how to create it, and let them tell us what they want to create and how they want to create it.  Each student has her own story and voice to tell it.  We can stop pushing our adult agenda and aesthetics on students and listen to them.

This doesn’t mean we don’t help our students improve their skill.  This doesn’t mean we don’t teach them about composition or color theory or shading or foreshortening or art history.  Those things are important parts of art, and we should incorporate them into our lessons, but should they be the most important or central part about art?  We need to help guide our students on their journey and see their journey for what it is…and we need to look at it at their level.  We need to meet them where they are.  We need to stop telling them what art should look like, but instead ask them what they envision it could look like.

Perhaps a bullet list will help… And remember, these lists are not mutually exclusive and they are not complete and can change with time


What art doesn’t have to be:

  • photorealistic
  • 24 of the “same” image (ie student created “Van Gogh sunflowers”)
  • polished
  • colored in the lines
  • a finished product

What art could be:

  • made of repurposed materials
  • messy
  • unfinished
  • a “failure”
  • a journey
  • outside the lines
  • unrealistic
  • in need of an explanation

What should be your takeaway from this blog post?  That children’s art is NOT adult art.  AND, we as adults need to recognize that and stop judging it like it is.  Does that sound harsh?  Maybe.  But, what if we did just that and helped to make a generation of artists instead of a generation of followers.

 

 

TAB Institute Part Deux

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About 2 years ago, I was told…not asked, but told that we (we being 4 of us that met and became fast friends at MassArt in Boston at the 2nd TAB institute) were going back in 2019. So, I put that kiln on hold I was starting to save for and instaed saved for my return to Bean Town. Fast forward to January 2019. 2 of us could not make it. I was sad. But, I put on my big girl pants and signed up as soon as registration opened. Andy was still going and so many of my friends were going to be there for faculty…I couldn’t not go. And besides, I had told everyone I was going. Lastly, I really needed some PD that was for me and that I was interested in. Come on art teachers–you know what I mean.

My experience this time was like a complete 180 from my first experience. The first time there was about 40+ attendees compared to 80 this time. Also, the HS section grew from about 4 of us (not including Ian and Clyde) to about 20. Gone were the excursions to Fenway Studios and the local museums. In their places were affinity groups, a mini-conference, ample studio time, and a pop-up art show. I was told we had a studio last time, but I couldn’t tell you where it was.

The week was full. Our time opened with Sunday dinner at The Squealing Pig before going over to the Kennedy to tour the student gallery–photos of work, along with artist statements, from a student carefully chosen by each attendee. Throughout the week, we often met with out grade levels, facilitated by a carefully selected group of amazing TAB teachers–Julie Toole, Clyde Gaw, Roni Rohr, Ian Sands, and Clark Fralick.

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On Wednesday we had a fabulous guest speaker, Ekua Holmes.She was pretty amazing. Her voice was so soothing as she talked about her life and her journey.

Thursday was our mini-conference. Experienced teachers were asked if they wanted to present. This was a great day of teachers teaching each other. I learned a lot about my friend Andy and the connection between being an artist/art teacher. Practice what you preach. I presented on TAB and the single media. I like to share, so here is my slide show. (Just know, TAB teachers like to share openly. We just ask, if you take anything, please credit me. Thanks.)


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On Friday early evening, we had our pop-up art show. It was amazing. I mentioned we had ample studio time this year. We had access to 3 studio rooms, which were set up as the wet room, the dry room, and the sculpture room. Clyde had made 3 very inviting spaces. It seemed every time I went in there 20-30 people were spread out in these rooms creating and sharing. It was a wonderful experience. New techniques were being explored. Art was being created–by many that have a hard time finding the time (unlike I fortunately am able to) to create daily or even weekly. On Friday, the student gallery was taken down, and the pop-up show went in. It was amazing to see what came from the explorations of the week. I loved getting the glimpses into the minds of the teachers I had been working with and learning from all week. I think it was a perfect way to end the week. And, it was a nice way for new to TAB teachers to experience what they will be asking of their students this year.

Learning happened all week long–not just in our classrooms, but in affinity groups at lunch and after dinner. It happened in the studios and through conversations held in the lobby, over breakfast, and in the dorms. It happened as Andy and I headed up the “Drink and Draw” excursions. Drinking isn’t a requirement, but bringing your sketchbook is. We sketched everywhere we went. We even did a 5-minute drawing of the street outside a pizza restaurant near the Paul Revere monument.

Being a veteran TAB teacher along side those who had either just gotten their toes wet in the past year or two and those who were completely new, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know what I was going to learn about the philosophy that I wasn’t already aware of, or where I would find places to grow in my practice. I didn’t take many notes this time around. I did talk often though–hopefully Ian wasn’t too sad every time I had something to interject. I do wish there was something more for those of us that consider ourselves further along the journey. But, I’ve felt that way for a while, and I think that is why I focus on other aspects of my art teaching–taking care of me and continuing my arting journey.

What I did discover at the TAB Institute was that I figured out my place on this journey. I am at a place where I need to teach others. I need to keep moving forward and spreading the TAB word and helping to keep true to the philosophy. I need to keep looking at my practice and my population by challenging myself to always do what is best for their learning as they become artists and/or supporters of the arts. I know that seems like something I could have figured out at home without flying all the way across the country. But, I don’t think I would have found the answers I was looking for without being around my tribe. I got to be with old friends and strengthen my relationships with them. I got to make new friends. I got to have invaluable conversations–face to face–that don’t happen the same way on the interwebs. It was through the experience of the “hot as soup” air in Boston that gave me what I was searching for.

Do I recommend the TAB Institute to anyone who is on the TAB spectrum–from TAB curious to TAB Veteran? Absolutely. Would I attend again in 5 years? Oh Ya! You betcha! (said in my best Minnesotan accent.)

The Re-Do: A Final Exam

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It appears as if I am not the only one to have students revisit an artwork made earlier in the year to re-work as a final exam for high school art.  (Melissa Purtee wrote about it here, and I did take the idea from Ian SandsJanine Campbell did it years ago.)

Anyway, for my art 1 and my art 2: p/d classes, the exam was to take a piece of artwork they had made sometime in their class that they created or started to create and re-do it in one of 3 ways–make it better, make it different, or rearrange it.  We looked at a slide show, I answered questions, and then kids had at it.  When they were finished, I had the students fill out a written reflection about the new artwork, why they chose that piece to redo, how they re-did it, and which was stronger/why.  There were a couple of other questions about the work they did this year as well.   The students had to turn in the original (or a photo of the original) with the new work so I could compare.

I thought it was a great way to finish the year.  Students were able to go back over everything they had created.  Some pieces they hadn’t seen since I put them back in their portfolios earlier in the year, some forgetting even having made the piece.  The reasons students gave for choosing specific pieces varied–from it was my favorite piece to I wanted to take it out of my sketchbook to I knew I could do better.   I am so proud of the work they put into the new pieces.  It really was a good way to show what they had learned over the year–art making skills, decision making skills, and reflection skills.  It’s a final exam I will continue to use in my classes.

I wish I had taken more photos, but I was so caught up in what they were doing and the end of the year, that I forgot.

Year 12: A Review

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I have completed my 12th year in eduction, and coincidentally, my 12th year as a

HS Art Teacher at the same school. It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Many changes began and will continue in our district over the foreseeable future. Some good, some meh, and some make me say blerg.

Anyway, for the most part, things went really well in my TAB studio this year. This was my 6th year as a TAB teacher–I think. Maybe 5th. Who knows, and it isn’t really important how long I’ve taught under the philosophy…just that I believe whole-heartedly in it.

So, without further ado, here is my countdown (as usual) of my favorite moments of the 2018-19 school year.
7. CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS WITH ART: Not one, but two students (that I know of) changed their relationship with art. Both were freshmen this year and both took their required fine art credit this year to get it over with. About a month or so into the year, I over heard one girl telling her friends that she hated art, but because of they way I ran the classroom, she no longer felt that way. She liked the freedom and the faith I put in her. She liked making what she wanted to make. A while later, perhaps after the midterm ( the Tantamounter–old link, but you get the jist), another boy who was only there for the credit and I had over heard several times say he hated art, saw that he wasn’t limited to 2D work, and he came alive. Anytime he could figure out what to build to satisfy the packet umbrella, he would. He couldn’t wait to get started, and would go into the supply room and just dig and create. I am glad to say both signed up to stay with me in ceramics next year.


6. RAKU: Last year I was awarded a grant to purchase a raku kiln for my program. We finally were able to use it this year. It was so much fun. It was a great experience in building the community of my intermediate/advanced ceramics students, and it was such a learning experience for me…I learned a lot about propane. POST

5. ANOTHER GRANT AWARD: This year I applied for another grant, and after much delay, I was finally awarded at $5100 grant to purchase a pugmill for my ceramics program. We have so much dried up clay, and I just can’t wedge it fast enough. (And, due to our schedule and time limits and space, it is not that easy to have the students do it.) My order has been placed; now I am just waiting for it to arrive.


4. T.O.Y. NOMINATION: I was nominated for our Teacher of the Year award. While I didn’t win, I was happy that at least 2 people (you have to be nominated several times to make the final list) thought enough about my teaching and my presence at school to nominate me.
3. PACKETS: This year was the first year I based both my art 1 and beginning ceramics around “The 9“. The packets were developed by Ian Sands, and he let me use them in my classes. I used “The 9” in my art 1 classes and I developed “The 10” for my ceramic classes. I am really happy with how they worked in the classes.

With my art 1 students, we learned some basics about the topic, then the students went through the ATP (Artistic Thinking Process) when interpreting and creating their work. I found they gave the students a place to start with a broad overarching type of artwork, but helped to guide them in how and what they would make. I have some things to tweak for next year in the consideration questions and my input/talking with the students at that stage. But, overall, using them was a major success. I also thing that it will be a smooth transition to art 2 when we dive more into content of their art.

My beginning ceramic students have their own packets. We started with “The 10” before the end of the first semester, and got through 4 or 5. It was a good place to stop and a good place to pick up in intermediate next year. I think it has been helpful in developing style and interests in ceramic art. I think it is harder for many high school students to communicate in 3D than in 2D, so having the different genres of ceramic arts to guide them is important in the journey. I also think it helps to teach the ins and outs of working with clay. We shared and compiled information in different ways as I tried to figure it all out. But, I made lots of notes on how to proceed with The 10 next year in my large group of incoming beginner ceramicists. I am excited for the next group to come in to the studio.
2. SKETCHBOOKS: Every year I change how we are going to do sketchbooks. For the past two years I bought sketchbooks and then had the students buy them from me. This year, I wanted something more. I wanted their sketchbooks to mean something, since I was going to have the kids use them for everything (except drawing tests and artist Mondays). So, instead of purchasing books–either me or them–I decided to have them make coptic stitch sketchbooks. It was a great decision. We did them the first week of school–you know that time when schedules are finalized and kids are coming and going. It was a lot of prep work, but worth it in the end. Most kids took ownership of their books. It was a mostly relaxing way to start off the year, talk about what was needed to be talked about, and to chat with the kids. Most kids took their sketchbooks home at the end of the year.


1. AP STUDIO ART: This year, for whatever reason, my principal had me teach a section of AP Studio Art. We have only had 2D portfolios in the past, and my partner has taught the class(es) since I had started. I was both excited and scared. I found out before the 2017-18 year ended, so I convinced a ceramic student to do the 3D portfolio. She agreed and they created the class for her. My 2D students ended up not doing the portfolio. I knew they wouldn’t. AP was the only 2D class they could sign up for senior year. But, my ceramics girl…she kept going. She worked so hard, and created some of the most developed ceramic pieces that have gone through my program. She completed and submitted her portfolio with a week to spare. I don’t care what scores she gets because the process of doing the portfolio itself changed her and taught her so much. That’s what is really important. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

That about wraps it up. Not everything was good or easy, I did have a student pass away from congestive heart failure. That was hard. And, I had some rocky friendships with colleagues develop this year. But, I can’t dwell on that. I was lucky to have an amazing group of students this year–kids that made me want to be there for them and be a better teacher for them. Overall, it was a good year in the #DuckArt Studio. I wonder what lucky #13 will bring in August.

The Power of One Challenge

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I had hit a slump.  There were 2 packets of “The 9” left to complete for the year, but I wasn’t feeling either one of them.  I considered doing a watercolor exploration, but then decided my art 1 students really didn’t need anymore media explorations at this point in the year.  So, I did what any TAB teacher would do, I asked my TAB colleagues for suggestions.  It was there that I decided I would create a challenge based on Phil Hansen’s Ted Talk, “Embrace the Shake“.  Thus, the Power of One Challenge was born.

We started the challenge by watching the Ted Talk.  We had already watched it earlier in the year, but I told them we were going to watch it again as it was very important to what they were about to be asked to do.  Next, I gave them the run-down of the challenge.

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I didn’t give much other information.  I told them to think back to the video and the work that Phil Hansen made and HOW he made it.  I gave time for questions, and time for research.  They had a day and a half to look up info needed and to print it out before losing computers.  I limited computers because I have a love/hate relationship with out 1:1 school.  I really wanted them to concentrate on art making without the distraction of games and movies and whatever else it is they do on their laptops.

Some kids got the concept of the challenge right away.  Others took the whole day and half to grasp what was being asked of them.  Once they started, I just sat back and watched them learn, answering questions when asked.  They problem solved.  They were creative.  They all weren’t so original, but that often happens in an art class–one student sees another doing something they feel as cool, so they want to do it too.

I really enjoyed this 2 week challenge.  It gave me time to recoup as a teacher, but was super beneficial to my students.  When I go to do this challenge again, I will change how we present when all is finished.  And, I might change when we do it, and have it be their final exam.

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Watch through the slideshow to see what each artists “1 thing” was.  I am so proud of these kids.

Damp Boxes: Classroom Clay Game Changers

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I wanted to share a clay storage system that will change the way you can store in progress clay pieces. It’s called the damp box. I had heard about these quite some time ago, but for a myriad of reasons, I never got around to making some. My recent clay exploration camp kind of forced my hand on the issue, and I’m so glad I finally made them.

Basically they are plastic containers with plaster in the bottom. The plaster is damp and when the box is closed, it creates humidity in the box, which helps keep the pieces workable for extended amounts of time.

For years when I had around 100 kids working with clay, I had to wrap up pieces. I tried different methods each time, but always had kids pieces drying out too much each time due to several factors. This time, kids pieces remained malleable, even if they were absent for a day or two. And, I didn’t have to worry about making sure the boxes were closed. The kids did all the work. It helped to make the week go much more smoothly.

How do you make a damp box? Here is a video created by Tim See, a professional potters who I “met” on a clay Facebook group.

I ended up making 3 large, flat boxes and 2 smaller ones. I plan on making a few out of taller bins for bigger pieces. But the shallow ones worked out well for the clay exploration camp as most pieces were just a few inches tall.

These boxes are a game changer for me, and I hope they can be for you as well.

A Week of Clay Exploration

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I’ve been a TAB teacher now for more than half my teaching career, and even I still struggle sometimes with creating exploration camps for my students that are open enough to give kids a taste of “new” mediums. One of these that I struggle with is clay. I know, I know, I teach ceramics, how could I struggle with this one? Giving students a week and a half to explore a medium that takes practice to understand is hard. I wanted to give them as much freedom as I could, but still limit some things due to practical aspects such as the amount of clay I have and the many students I have.

I had planned just on letting 2 of my 4 classes explore, but then decided I was too lazy to have 2 different explorations going on at the same time. And, I’m glad that I had all of them explore. Out of my almost 100 students, I had 95% engagement all week. I had about 3 kids decide they never want to touch clay again and I had several kids say they are signing up for ceramics next year–kids that I thought would stick with our 2D path. So, bonus for me and my program.

How did I run the exploration camp? I showed 2 quick demos on Monday, pinchpot and coil, with lots of finished examples of pieces created using those methods. Then on Tuesday I showed slab building. We talked about the term vessel, a hollow container, and how I was very open to how they could interpret that term. Then I let them go. They were to build a vessel of their choosing with any hand-building technique or combination of them they wanted.

If you have a lot of kids working at once, I would advise creating some damp boxes to help store as the kids work all week. See this post on how to create a damp box. It was a game changer on storage and keeping 90+ pieces workable all week. And, over a weekend for the handful that needed/wanted more studio time. I had been wanting to make some for my ceramic students, but never had time. This week forced me to make them. So glad I did.

I don’t have many pictures to share this time as we were having so much fun, I got caught up and forgot to pill out my phone.

What If We Didn’t Grade Artwork?

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How to grade artwork is a topic that comes up often in groups populated by art teachers.  I am sure that not one art teacher really wants to grade art, but unfortunately for most of us, it’s part of the expectations those in higher pay grades at central office place upon us.  But, if we really thought about it, is grading the artwork itself really a good measure of a student’s artistic growth, learning, application and understanding?  And, isn’t that the point of school–growth, learning, application and understanding?  I mean, school is the best place to “screw up”–to fail at something, reflect on it, and learn from the process/what went “wrong”.  No big merger or client’s money is really at stake here, so why not take risks.20180914_073706.jpg

Risks are huge in creating artwork.  All the masters that so many teachers use in their classrooms are great because they took risks and experimented.  For every artwork that was successful, they had at least 3 that either sucked and were failures or just were meh.  (Just for the record, I am making that number up.  I am basing it on my own journey as an artist.)  If that is the case, why are we holding our students to different standards that working artists don’t hold to themselves?

If we grade artwork on how many lines students used, or if they incorporated X# of organic shapes and X# of geometric shapes, then how do we as teachers know what are they really learning.  I don’t know many artists that work like that?  Why are we telling them they need to have this or that?  Shouldn’t the artwork dictate that?  Whose work is it anyway?  Letting the students figure out where and what to use or not use in their work will help them learn how to grow as an artist.  Having conversations with them will help them reflect and grow.20180828_135406

BUT, what if we just decided NOT to grade the artwork and grade their engagement in the process instead?  What could that lead to?  I’ll tell you what it could lead to.  It could take the pressure off students to be “perfect” in their work.  It could tell them that they are in charge of their  work, not me, the teacher.  It could lead to students taking risks in their artworks.  It could lead to students trying new media and techniques.  It could lead to experimentation that otherwise may not have happened if they are just trying to have X# of shapes in their work.  It could lead to failure, which in turn with reflection leads to learning.  And all of this leads to the students learning to behave, think, and become artists.  And, isn’t that what one of our end goals of art education should be?

 

What A Raku Firing Taught Me

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In 2017, I applied for a grant with our local educational enrichment foundation, TEEF, to get a Bracker Raku Kiln and all the needed pieces that go with it. I was one of the lucky few whose grants were funded or partially funded. It was an amazing feeling. I have been waiting since May 2018 to introduce the fun of Raku to my upper ceramics students.

I have a small group this year, which was great for our inaugural firing. The students all made at least one piece out of the special Raku clay. We had a local Potter come and talk to us about Raku firing. Several of the students had witnessed Raku firings at the Texas Clay Festival. We picked a date, set up a rain date, and informed all the people who needed to be there. The students watched video several times and made diagrams. We were ready. It was the perfect time before we were taking g a week off for Thanksgiving.

One thing we did not expect in Texas at this time of year was that it was going to be 32° this morning. Thanks Obama. We decided to press on. We worked in the cold, checking, listening, comparing. It was cold, and windy. But we pushed on. We were able to pull one firing off. It didn’t go perfectly, and we have much to discuss tomorrow in class when we do our group reflection on the process. The second firing didn’t get up to temp. Did I mention the wind? I finally called it during 5th period and we shut it down. The kids understood.

Looking back on today, we learned so much as a group…about the bracket kiln, about how to fire (I haven’t run a Raku firing in over 12 years), about combustibles, and about all the technical things that go with Raku.

But, the most important thing that I learned today came from my students. I was disappointed. I wanted their first Raku to be amazing. And it wasn’t, at least in my eyes. But for them it was a great day. They taught me it was all a learning experience. They weren’t bummed by the wind and the fact that we messed up timing. Or that we called the second firing. They knew we could do another firing; we could finish firing our pieces tomorrow. We have more clay. There’s a whole other semester. They had so much fun today. They came together as a group. I forgot what all this was about. I forgot what I have been preaching in my tab studio for years–that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to make mistakes and that’s how we learn. And they reminded me of that. And I am thankful for that, and for them.

Working with “The 10”: Ceramics Packet Reflection

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My friend, Ian Sands, developed a system called “the 9“.  They are packets based around the basics of subjects of art that artists create.  It’s not about content, but more about category that art would fall into.  The packets include: the object, architecture, nature, landscape, figure, portrait, imagination, non-representational, and conceptual.  He introduced them to me some time last school year, and I thought they were wonderful.  I’ve been successfully using them with my art 1 students this year.  They are a great introduction to art categories, while allowing my TAB students to make lots of meaningful choices.

I tested them out last year with one of my classes, and thought that they would be a great tool for working with my ceramics students as they move along their artistic journey.  Sometime last spring, I began planning how to use Ian’s model for my ceramics program.  I began researching and decided that for the most part, ceramics artists’ works fall into most of the same categories.  But, I discovered that there are 10 categories, instead of 9.  They include: nature, animal, architecture, “figure”-ative, functionality, imagination, non-representation, portraiture, the object, and conceptual/installation.

Following Ian’s template, I created consideration questions for each packet, changed up the suggestions and geared the planning around requirements I have for my students.  I am very happy with the development of my packets.

Now, here’s where I am dissatisfied with “The 10”.  I rolled them out in a way that I find isn’t working the way I hoped.  I thought it would make my students more independent, so I introduced it with my intermediate and advanced students.  (They meet at the same time.)  I think this was my mistake.  I should have used it with my beginners after we completed the “have-to” portion of our class.  Seeing how my art 1 students are growing using “The 9”, helped me to see this.  Currently with my beginners, we do ceramic artistic behavior units right after finishing our “have to” section.  We just began our first unit, Ceramic Artists are Inspired by Nature, but I think that after this unit, we will pass out sketchbooks and move onto the next packet.  Nature is one of the packets after all.  We will continue through the rest of the year going through packets, picking up next fall with where we left off.  Then we will dive into deeper meaning with Ceramic Artistic Behavior units.

I will continue with my upper ceramic students in the way we are working. With the exception of one student, they are all seniors, and I’m not too worried about it.  They are working and learning and growing.

They say it takes 3 years to really build up a program.  Like I previously stated, this is the 5th year of the program.  I’ve been playing around with it, trying new things each year to replace things that weren’t working.  I feel I finally have a great grasp on the program and the progression it should take to truly have my students behaving and thinking like artists.  The timing of “The 10” was the final piece of the puzzle that finally fell into place.

 

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Example of “The 10: Nature Packet”