Billy Penn is well known around Killearn Lakes Elementary School as the teacher with the coolest classroom.
Aside from its unique architectural features, it’s bursting with artworks and life-sized caricatures of famous artists. He’s also splashed his creativity onto several of the walls around campus and painted colorful murals for students and staff to enjoy. Penn is deeply connected to the physical space, but since the pandemic shuttered schools, he’s expanded his footprint to the digital realm.
During the two-week transition from in-person to online instruction, Penn developed his own YouTube channel and his “(co)VIDeo” series provides his art students with a sense of continuity. He recorded himself working through a variety of lessons for different grade levels.
Each video showcases Penn’s progress on a new school mural and introduces a different art activity. The videos also include a pro-tip, a bonus points segment, and clever reminders on how to stay safe and help out during the pandemic.
Penn challenged students to apply concepts and techniques they learned about in class. The Florida Highwaymen landscape project is a continuation of a lesson that began before school closed. It’s one of Penn’s favorites “because it always turns out so well.”
He’s especially pleased with its cross-curricular connections. “It deals with a little social studies and history as well as environments unique to Florida which ties into science.” For this watercolor activity, Penn talks about compositional elements like foreground and background and describes the difference between the words transparent, translucent, and opaque.
The (co)VIDeos asked second and third graders to explore Egyptian art while fourth and fifth graders designed a personal seal inspired by the state of Florida’s. Fifth grader Lilhian Wallington’s seal highlights her love of dance and serves as the focal point of her personal flag. Her mom, Heather Marks appreciates Penn’s videos. “It’s been nice for kids to still have art to break up the other curriculum. Lilhian has truly enjoyed the lessons both in and out of the classroom,” she said.
Penn recognized that some students may not have access to the same kind of art supplies they’re used to at school, so he asked them to think about Pablo Picasso. “His style changed more than any other artist’s style changed in his lifetime. He could make artwork out of anything,” explained Penn, encouraging kids to use whatever they had on hand.
Kindergarteners and first graders learned how to create collages in the style of Henri Matisse. Penn reminded them to use “any scrap paper you have, old magazines or grocery labels from your recycle bin. You can cut that up and glue it together.”
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