South Portland Art Teacher Engages Remote Learners with Collaborative Mural Project

Margaret Burman is the Art Teacher for both the Dyer and Kaler Elementary Schools in South Portland School Department. An experienced educator, Mrs. Burman has been teaching art since 2004, with the past 8 years at Dyer and Kaler.

Pre-Pandemic, Mrs. Burman was teaching art to students in the two different elementary schools in-person using the framework of Teaching for Artistic Behavior, which develops their artistic practice by encouraging them to make choices about the media they want to use, the subject matter they want to express, and by developing their craft in many different kinds of art making. A few years back she created a video explaining her transition to the new teaching style and it is something she is really proud of because it drives her practice and the students have responded really well to it.

Through the current school year, South Portland School District has been in hybrid mode because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Mrs. Burman has been teaching her students remotely via asynchronous lessons and live virtual classes. To help manage this, she created a Google Slides Virtual Art room where students can access virtual versions of their studios, visit a book nook, and see lessons that have been assigned to them.

“It was devastating for me that I couldn’t be in our art rooms and creating this virtual space became a way of feeling like I had had some control over things,” recalls Burman.

During the switch to hybrid learning, Burman transitioned from using the art rooms located at both schools, which have been repurposed for other classes, to a small office at Dyer Elementary that she has dubbed the Tiny Art Room. This is where she hosts virtual meetings with students and records lessons.

“During our Google meets we go over the lesson/theme for the week, have art making time using their sketchbooks and materials from the art bags that all K-5 students in South Portland were given, and play drawing games like Random Dry Draw, adapted from a dry erase board drawing game that we used to play in the art room.”

With no windows in the Tiny Art Room which was originally surround in blue walls, Burman decided to get permission from the custodial staff and principal to paint them.

“Then I decided that instead of me just painting what I wanted on the walls, I would incorporate the ideas of my students from our Google meets,” explained Burman. Since October she has engaged students to help create the collaborative mural, a project that all of the students in all of her classes, grades K-5 at both Dyer and Kaler, get to participate in.

“I choose one student randomly at the end of every Google meet to direct me in what to paint for the mural,” She explains. “They are the directors; I am just the brush!”

At this point over 250 students have contributed their ideas to the mural, which will not be finished until every single one of her remote students has added their idea. Mrs. Burman has collected feedback from the students as they discuss what they would like to do with the image of this mural when it is finished.

“I think the mural lets everybody have a chance to make a mark on this artwork,” said one student.

“The mural is beautiful! I enjoyed making the squiggly thing. Looking forward to doing another one,” added another.

Some ideas on what to do with the mural when it is finished have been posters, magnets, postage stamps and selling products to raise money for a charity.

Despite not having art classes in-person this year, students have really benefited from doing their art classes remotely because it has given them the opportunity to practice being artists in their own homes and day care programs.

Having been practicing the artistic habits such as stretch & explore, develop craft, envision, express, reflect, observe, engage & persist, and understanding art worlds in the art room with Mrs. Burman for the last 4 years, her students were used to experimenting and exploring the materials and getting ideas and inspiration from the world around them. Doing the work remotely has provided the opportunity for their artistic behavior to spill over into their everyday lives outside of school and has helped foster artistic practice outside of school assignments.

Progress of Mrs. Burman’s Tiny Art Room mural can he found on her Instagram @DyerKalerArt using the hashtag #tinyartroomcollaborativemural.

Information for this article was provided by South Portland School District as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. To submit a story or an idea for the campaign, email it to Rachel at