National Gallery of Art

On April 11th my Studio II class and I  headed down to the National Gallery of Art. It was an amazing day full of wonder and inspiration. As many of you know the majority of the east wing is currently closed for construction which means there was only a very small amount of modern art on display. I think my girls were a tad disappointed, but not dispirited in what they could see.

We have just finished a long unit of self portraits and looked to many of the great masters for inspiration. While we were at the museum I divided my class into two groups: Those students whom I knew to have an affinity for visible brush strokes (my impressionists) and those whom I knew to be very focused on smooth representational, precisely proportioned painting (my renaissance painters).


My impressionist were asked to find Young Girl Reading, by Fragonard, Jean-Honoré. I asked them to think about what they had learned about the French revolution, and its connected art history. I also wanted them to really connect with the brush strokes. In addition to this my amazing principal who was my co-chaperone reminded them that an image of a women holding a book would have been revolutionary back then. She even helped them make a connection with our founding mothers, who had wanted to create an education for young women. Living through the French Revolution “Sophie Barat was awake to the social, political, economic and religious currents operating in Europe and in the wider world of her time. By her awareness of their impact on the world of education Sophie Barat ensured the Society’s contribution to the education and the promotion of women in her time and into the future,” according to the Society of the Sacred Heart.




My renaissance painters were asked to find Da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci. I asked them to think about why Leonardo Da Vinci chose to portray Ginevra from the front instead of at a profile view, like was popular at that time. I also told them that art historians do not know exactly who commissioned the portrait. I asked them if they could guess who it might have been, based on the brief history I had given them. A lover? Husband? Family member?
















At the end of the day we convened in the cascade cafe and a few of us had gelato while we waited for everyone to appear. Then it was back to school to reflect on the day we had had. It was an amazing outing.



There I am in the stripped shirt! Look at these beautiful smiling faces!



Many Perspectives

This Year Interior design projects have become a somewhat permanent addition to my curriculum. While I am always tweaking and changing my lesson plans each year, this one feels fully developed and I think it’s here to stay. What I might change next year would be small things like what artists I introduced during this unit, and what examples of their work we looked at. I am also open to suggestions as to how this unit in particular might relate to physics. While other units have a direct connection, this one feels like it’s missing a potential cross-curricular element. Maybe it isn’t Physics, maybe I need to look at the math or English curriculum?

Last year I debuted our new and improved interior design project. I decided that a simple one point perspective study of a bedroom was not a dynamic enough assignment for my brilliant young women. So I created a two piece project. The first piece was a focus on one point perspective as a drawing technique. (This can be a tedious and painfully slow drawing technique for some young high schoolers.) The second piece was a focus on interior design. This involved choosing a theme, fabric samples, a color scheme (color theory!!), and creating a Pinterest board. In the end the final product was a mood board with a rendering of the proposed room. Something like what a real interior designer might bring to a pitch in order to show the client.

Like So:

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Either way the results this year were fantastic!







My thought process here was that if I could alternate between beginning or ending each class with a formulaic drawing technique, and begin or end with open ended design, it would keep students more engaged. This proved successful when I received far fewer groans and moans about one point perspective drawing than I have in years past. Everyone was so excited about creating an imaginary room, with a limitless budget, that I think they hardly noticed they were learning. I was even more impressed with how confidently my young women asserted their individual tastes and styles, without any apparent hesitation of being judged by their peers. However, it shouldn’t surprise me that much since self confidence and industriousness are definitive traits of Stone Ridge girls.

You can read more about the assignment from last years post here: 




























Happy Holidays Update!

On December 2nd my amazing young volunteers returned to Mary House to update their fall tree. It was repurposed a la Charlie Brown, and the rest of the room was decorated to match. It warmed my heart and was a beautiful way to begin the advent season. I hope you all have an amazing holiday season!20151202_124317







Getting Wavy

I became fascinated (briefly) with movie making in college after documenting a trip that my friend Katelyn and I took from Brooklyn, New York down to DC. During this trip I took my good friend to see the National Gallery, the newly completed National Museum of the American Indian, and the HirshhornWhile at the Hirshhorn, I think this was March 2010, I saw a“Play Dead; Real Time” by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon. It was a double sided panel in the middle of a large room with an elephant being projected onto both sides and eerie ambient sound playing. After this I made a series of abstract video art pieces where I focused more intentionally on sound then I ever had. This led me to research the history of the video art movement, and discover artists like Joan Jonas and John Cage. 

Below is a glimpse of my college years. I now know that blonde works much better for me…

Unfortunately, my last school did not have the resources to have any sort of video program. We barely had working laptops. So passing this interest on to my students would have to wait. Since I have been at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart I have experimented and tweaked this assignment, landing on what I now call our “Soundscape Unit”.

For this unit we focused on sound and then video. We used GarageBand and iMovie to create short “soundscapes”. Each student worked together with two of their peers, chosen by me. To begin, we took a look at sound art, and video art as an artistic medium and vehicle of expression. We found inspiration in the artist John Cage, who relies on chance for his art-making, and composing. This lead us to the term Fluxus, an art movement largely inspired by John Cage and some of his contemporaries. 


For this assignment I asked students to use both their cell phones and laptops as tools. This was one of the reasons that group work was important to me. I did not want to exclude students who did not have a cell phone that was video capable. Luckily we have a one to one laptop program at our school, so everyone had access to the same software.GarageBand and iMovie are both programs that come standard on the MacBook Pros that our girls have. The girls then used these tools to capture sound and video simultaneously and separately. They recorded and composed a two minute composition of just sounds using GarageBand. They then brought this composition into iMovie where they added visuals.

Did I mention this was due on Halloween?

At the end of this assignment presented their video to the class along with an explanation of their process, and intentions. They replayed moments for us where they used the element of texture, the principle of harmony and the three examples of physics concepts. Finaly, their videos ended up here:

This project was also designed to be a follow up to their most recent unit on sound waves in Physics, a class all freshman take. It is a built in part of our STEAM initiative to connect art with other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes. Because they had just learned about sound waves in Physics I added the additional challenge of including one example of each of the following to their project:

  1. A change in sound wave frequencies, or the “Doppler effect”.
  2. A reflected sound, or an echo.
  3. A sound wave transmitted through something other than a gas.

Finally, I asked my students not to forget what we had just learned in the previous unit. I reminded them to compose their shots, just like they had composed their paintings, and think about color and contrast. 

I hope you have time to watch more of our videos here: Enjoy!



At Stone Ridge we strive to teach our students the importance of helping those in need. Whether it is our community’s elderly, homeless, children, our animals friends, or the environment, serving is treated as an opportunity to make the world a better place. In fact, the social action program at Stone Ridge was one of the first and most significant factors that attracted me to the school. I was brought up in the Quaker tradition, and had a similar program at my high school that ended up exposing me to my future career. Through serving children in my local community I found a love of teaching that has impacted the rest of my life. The opportunity to potentially offer the same meaningful experience to my students at Stone Ridge is monumental.

Sacred Heart Schools are a connected network of Catholic schools with institutions stretching around the world. Over 41 countries. Each of these schools is united by one set of five goals. Simply put these goals are Faith, Intellect, Social Awareness, Community, and Wisdom. Goal three, Social Awareness, is the one I want to celebrate here today.

An outline of Goal Three as published by the Society of the Sacred Heart:

Schools of the Sacred Heart commit themselves to educate to a social awareness which impels to action. The Society of the Sacred Heart developed the following criteria for this Goal:

1. The School educates to a critical consciousness that leads its total community to analyze and reflect on the values of society and to act for justice.

2. The School offers all its members opportunities for direct service and advocacy and instills a life-long commitment to service.

3. The School is linked in a reciprocal manner with ministries among people who are poor, marginalized and suffering from injustice.

4. In our multicultural world, the School prepares and inspires students to be active, informed, and responsible citizens locally, nationally, and globally.

5. The School teaches respect for creation and prepares students to be stewards of the earth’s resources.

It really impresses me that I work at a place that recognizes the need for such a truly well rounded education. I feel like some Catholic schools might just stop after the first two goals, faith and intellect. According to the Sacred Heart Network, “While five goals and their criterion unite the twenty-four member schools of the Network in the United States and Canada, the schools enjoy an even wider affiliation with the people and institutions associated with the Society of the Sacred Heart in forty-one countries around the globe. This truly international character of Sacred Heart education helps to foster an important global awareness in our students as we strive to build a more just world.” I think a more just world is just fantastic!


Here I have captured only one of many acts of kindness and service I have witnessed in my time at Stone Ridge. Below are photos of the four girls I chaperone on social action days. Every other Wednesday we head down to a local organization called Mary House DC, that serves families. From their website: “The philosophy at Mary House has always been to help others as we ourselves would want to be helped, while providing a safe haven that allows families to reclaim their dignity”

My students help out in the education center. They organize crafting activities, and help maintain the space. The education center serves as the Mary House summer camp and after school program location. Because of this, for our first few months of service my students had never actually seen the children they were serving. (They arrive after school, we leave by 2pm) However, with special permission from our school, and this was no small feet, actually a scheduling nightmare, we were able to stay late one Wednesday, and my students were able to meet the adorable and amazing children they had been preparing crafts for. We threw a little cookie decorating party and it was a hit. My students were touched, and it was an amazing experience for everyone involved. However, most of the time they are working diligently to create lessons and fun that they themselves won’t participate in or see, and I think that is what is truly impressive.

Below, you can see pictures of these compassionate young women doing their best to create a decorative tree for the education center. Each leaf has a helpful and kind behavior and is meant to serve as motivation and positive reinforcement for the children in the after school program. You can also see my students holding up two Thanksgiving themed bags of food they put together to donate to one specific family, as a holiday gift.

Social Action days are truly one of the best parts of my job. I am not just an art teacher I am a witness to the incredible compassion and caring acts of my students.









Bookmaking with Studio II

“For our last unit, Ms. Cowan introduced our Studio Art II class to the craft of bookmaking. Not only were we creating books to physically use, but our creations were something I had never associated with books before: sculptural works of art. Well-crafted books serve their practical purposes well, but in this unit, we stressed the importance of craftsmanship. We were taught two different kinds of bookmaking through accordion books and binding books with thread.
The theme we focused on when creating was “duality”, which is also the theme of Callithump (our school’s literary/art magazine) this year. Some of my classmates used their newfound knowledge of bookmaking to express duality through the physical books themselves. Others, like me, confined the theme to the pages of the books we created.
In all, it was quite a unique experience! I don’t think anyone who signed up for this course thought that it would include bookmaking. At least, I didn’t, but I’m so very glad we were able to do this unit. Not only was it creative, but also educational in how books are typically traditionally made. I’ve got to say, I have a newfound appreciation for the work that went into any hand-bound book.”

Coming Soon…

Coming soon, I will be posting my Foundations of Studio Art student’s work with sound and the moving image. With John Cage and the Halloween season as our inspiration I’m sure some of the films will feature a spooky game of chance!


And So It Begins…

I know, I know, it’s October, but September is a busy month for teachers, especially this one. I have been very busy adjusting for the exciting new changes that came with this year. To begin with, we have two new teachers in our upper school visual  art department. That makes four of us. We have yours truly, our foundations of studio art teacher, and Katya our photography teacher, and new this year are Tom, our ceramics teacher, and Lee, our advanced studio art teacher. Second thing that’s new this year is that I’m teaching not only Foundations of Studio Art and Yearbook, but I am adding a section of Studio II. This means I’m dropping one of my four Foundations of Studio Art classes and handing it over to Tom, our new ceramics teacher. I am thrilled to be adding a class, but it has kept me busy with syllabus planning, and making sure to communicate my lesson plans and objectives with another teacher. This also means that the classroom is now being shared by not two, but three teachers at a time. This has kept us very busy, since I saw this as a great time for total classroom re-organization! Finally, LaShonda the Physics teacher and I have been collaborating and lining up our curriculum for the sake of cross-disciplinary learning for two years now. This summer we presented our development of this program at the NCGS conference. However, this year, for the first time, we have to share our initiative with an additional physics teacher and a new foundations teacher. (More on that later.) So big changes, but good changes, and all bode well for the fantastic year ahead.

So Lets begin with Foundations of Studio Art. A wonderful place to begin. We are once again starting slow and steady with our unit on Light and Color. We began with Color Wheels and are going to work our way up to single object still life paintings.


In Studio II we began our year with a unit on line. Line is a fine place to start. Our plan is to  move on to book-making as a short break from drawing as well as a focus on craftsmanship, and then re-visit drawing through value, and eventually paint!


And Finally, in Yearbook we are charging into the year full steam! Our three student Editors, and our staff are running the show. They have already chosen our theme for the year (TOP SECRET) and our color scheme, fonts, and many other pieces. We’ve even started designing the senior pages. These are entire pages of the book, one dedicated to each senior, with photos and quotes selected by them.

Screenshot 2015-10-06 16.05.32


Looking Back

What drives me crazy every year is the conflict between my compulsion to document and the impossible task of doing so. It is not feasible for me to record, and keep track of, every single wonderful thing that happens at my wonderful school. But I try. To fill in some of the gaps here is a quick look back at this past school year.

I skip some months, but don’t think it’s because they weren’t full of happenings.


The first big event this year was that my name at school changed from Ms. Stevenson to Mrs. Cowan in October. 10616111_10154783096810182_6714591310601694360_n



Then, me and my favorite Physics teacher, Ms. Torbert, went with our Junior on their annual retreat. The Loyola Retreat Center is beautiful, and the spirit of the place really sets a wonderful tone. It was at this retreat that I gave my first witness talk, and I have to say, I think it went pretty well. I spoke about forgiveness, and withholding judgement through a story from my own life. I was so moved with how well it was received by the girls. Here we are enjoying the view of the rushing Potomac River.20150316_090158


Then it was time for months of behind the scenes work(A.K.A. lunches and after-school) to come to fruition. Our students, with the help and encouragement of faculty and staff, put on a TEDx event! My team of students, as you might have guessed, was in charge of stage design. 20150321_112241







March was a busy month… It ended with a trip to the National Art Education Association (NAEA) in New Orleans, Louisiana. I took my husband and his nice camera along for the ride. It was a wonderful networking experience, and the inspiration I gleamed from the hundreds (probably tens) of presentations I saw, is continuing to inspire my lesson planning. I’m still going through my notes even now.







April was a busy month as well. Starting with our Annual Spring Festival of the Arts. This year, unlike last year, we had performances, food, live painting, and interactive activities all going on at once and the opening day activities went on into the evening. This is a particualary amazing event because it comes together after months of planning. Each student has at least one work of art in the show, and parent volunteers help in mounting and displaying, so that the effect is a school just covered in art. It’s fantastic!20150427_073820









And that very same day we released a years worth of work in our literary arts magazine: Callithump! An English teacher, Ms. Whitmore and I are co-advisors to this publication. However, it truly is student run. For most of the year artwork and written works are collected, curated and then put onto pages by our student staff members. The result this year was breathtaking.





Then of course there was the yearlong collaboration between my Foundations of Studio Art class and Physics. We lined up our curriculum and shared a design process that encouraged our students t make cross-curricular connections. Ms. Torbert and I even presented our year of collaboration at the  National Coalition of Girls Schools (NCGS) conference: From STEM to STEAM, this June. We plan to continue our efforts next year with even more new and improved connections. Below are some photos of students putting their art skills to work building functional objects with the Arduino in their physics class. 20150506_132257



20150506_132308And then of course there was the yearbook… Did I mention that I am the yearbook advisor? It’s a lot of work, but luckily our yearbook is assembled during a class period and not after school as a club. (THANK GOD!) This year, our theme was “Change. It’s good.” This was inspired by new staff, new roads on campus, and the gigantic turf field that was being built in front of our school all year. The yearbooks looked beautiful this year, and they were a big hit!

Also, look at whose student was featured on the front page of our schools magazine! (It’s one of our amazing recycled art sculptures.)20150601_160024


And finally there was this! … This is why I teach, and this makes the whole year worth it!



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