Introducing Concept Explorer v2

By Ashley Weinard, Educator


Concept mapping on just got way more fun, flexible, and personal. The new and improved version of the NCMA’s Concept Explorer tool lets you customize your concept maps with your own images and your own concepts. We have been listening to your feedback and requests for more versatility! Thanks for helping us make our mapping tool even cooler and more useful.

Now, let’s see what you can do with the new CE 2.0:

1. You can map your own images, as well as NCMA collection works.

Can’t find the image you are looking for on ArtNC? Add your own.

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Look for this icon in your Portfolio or under the My Images tab in the Concept Explorer. Click on the icon to upload a selfie, photo of a friend, your favorite landscape, an object you treasure, a student art work, or even an NCMA gallery shot. The options are endless. Be creative!

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Personal images are stored in your Portfolio. Your photos will remain private unless you decide to make your concept maps public.

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2. You can tag your personal images with Big Picture concepts and your own concepts.

After you upload your own image, you can tag it with provided Big Picture concepts (e.g., change, communication, environment, interdependence), and you can add your own concepts to your image. (Go wild!) All the concepts you have selected and added will show up as options for concept mapping your image.

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3. You can use your iPad or Android tablet to take and upload new photos within the Concept Explorer.

Have a tablet? Head outside, visit a museum gallery, or capture your classroom. Create a concept map of what you see around you.

Log into your account. Then tap the Start a Concept Map button on the home page.

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Select My Images and tap the Add-an-Image icon.

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Choose Image File and the Take Photo option. Use the photo or retake it to get a better shot. Add an image title, select your concepts, or add your own. Now you’re ready to start your map.

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These new Concept Explorer features give you and your students the freedom and versatility to design and customize your own concept maps. Share your unique ideas and images with other teachers by making your maps public! Or, browse maps shared by other teachers in the Concept Maps section of the web site. Custom concept maps are distinguished by a camera icon on the bottom right of the map icon.

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Connect and share in your own way. We can’t wait to see and hear about the new connections you and your students create!



Why Concept Mapping?

Ashley Weinard, Educator and NCMA teacher workshops are built around the practice of concept mapping. Remember those black and white graphic organizers with spokes and arrows? We don’t use those. NCMA concept mapping is art based and designed to spur creative, critical, and collaborative thinking.

NCMA online tools and professional development programs focus on helping teachers build two key professional and life skills: visual literacy and making connections. After several years at the planning table with groups of teachers, NCMA educators learned that these particular skills enable teachers to be more successful at integrating the visual arts (and works of art) into classroom instruction. They also happen to be critical skills that you are charged with transferring to your students. Visual literacy and making connections support the Common Core’s focus on critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis.

Concept mapping is the perfect collaborative tool for exploring how ideas and concepts connect and expand. Starting with a visual image makes ideas flow more rapidly and opens up thinking. Works of art add a layer of depth and wonder that makes the brainstorming and group conversation even richer. Connections are found, ideas are created, and team trust is developed. As one teacher said, “When you synthesize it all together, it becomes this amazing thing that no one of us would have done just alone.”

Think this might be a good exercise for your planning team? Watch this video to see how to put it into action. If you would like additional support, contact the Big Picture team to set up a team workshop in your area. Or, create your own concept map at

Look closely. Discover connections. Be inspired to think and teach creatively.


Want more? Read our last post Why Concepts?

Why Concepts?



By Ashley Weinard, Educator

Have you ever tried to collaborate and discovered you have a hard time finding common ground? Does your colleague across the hall speak a different language from yours? It turns out vocabulary is one of the most common obstacles to collaboration.

Big Picture Concepts are designed to help educators find commonality across the table and within the disciplines. Take a step back from the topics you teach day to day, and consider what abstract concepts encompass your information.

Fractions = part to whole, order

Weather = environment, variation, cycle, force

American Revolution = power, change, time, place

Neighborhoods = interdependence, environment, impact

Plot = communication, order, perspective, conflict

Yes, volcanoes and character development are radically different topics. However, they both have to do with change and adaptation. If you start the conversation with the concepts you share, it will be easier to find opportunities for co-teaching and collaborative planning.

ArtNC lesson plans can be used as models for how to teach integrated content through concepts. In this lesson about North Carolina agriculture, students tackle the concepts of change, impact, perspective, and technology at once through a creative writing and art-making exercise.

Search to discover how all of the Big Picture concepts play out across the disciplines. You might find that your point of intersection lies in a work of art.

Knowing and Sharing Yourself

Ashley Weinard, Educator


Before I can be generous and put things out into the world, I have to be my most authentic self, which is painting. That is my voice. That is my expression. And, then, it makes me a better teacher in the classroom.”—Beverly McIver

Last week’s Spring Educator Expo in Rocky Mount, N.C., celebrated our identities as educators, creative problem solvers, colleagues, and lifelong learners. It was an opportunity to feel nourished, supported, and encouraged for the very hard and generous work of teaching. The food, wine, camaraderie, laughter, breakout sessions, and artist talks were fuel that reignited our collective desire and energy to teach creatively. The experience was a pat on the back and a friendly push forward.

On this night it was artist Beverly McIver’s presentation “Knowing Yourself” that provided the sweetest and most nurturing food for our weary spirits. We listened as Beverly talked about her own journey in coming to understand herself through painting, the encouragement of her own art teachers, and the constant love and support of her mother and sisters. Her authentic paintings reveal so much of Beverly, but there is still something very introspective about them that keeps you from really knowing what she is reflecting on internally. Having her speak words into her images added another luscious layer of color and humanity to the dried paint. We began to see her paintings as exercises in honest self-exploration, which Beverly says gives her the ability to graciously share her own talents and encouragement with others.

Group discussion with Beverly also raised the questions: How many different identities do each of us have? What is the common strand that runs between them? How can we help students make sense of who they are?


In one expo breakout session, a group of teachers tried out selfies as a format to help kids explore themselves. We are teaching a selfie generation, but how often do our students stop to consider what their handheld reflection communicates to the world around them? This group of teachers tested a new version of the Concept Explorer to see how it could be used as a tool to help students stop, look, and reflect before they put their best face forward. This online concept-mapping tool, due out early this summer, allows teachers and students to create concept maps with their own images, selfies included. The selfie maps give students (and teachers) a chance to identify a set of concepts that define them and then explore how those concepts play out in their lives and identities. With some coaching students can transfer personalized selfie maps (think rough draft) into more refined portraits of word and image that reveal their own complexity and beauty to themselves and let them confidently shine their faces to the world around them.



Spring Educator Expo: Beverly McIver speaks on identity

The NCMA’s Spring Educator Expo in Rocky Mount is quickly approaching, and we’re all getting excited for the expo’s focus—“identity”—and our special guest speaker, Beverly McIver. What do we mean when we say “identity”? Identity can be defined as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is” or “the qualities or beliefs that make a particular person or group different from others.” Social, cultural, national, racial, gender, and religious identities shape our lives and our perceptions of ourselves. As an artist and professor of art, Beverly McIver is strongly influenced by her racial, social, and gender identities, and this influence is apparent in many of her self-portraits. At the expo, McIver will attempt to address how the concept of identity influences and inspires her work and how she influences a student’s sense of self as a teacher.


McIver’s work Reminiscing is a series of self-portraits that reflect the artist’s’ emotions in a time of transition. When these self-portraits were painted, McIver was dealing with the sudden death of her mother and her new responsibilities as caregiver to her mentally disabled sister. The portraits depict McIver in mourning, pensively contemplating her and her sister’s future. McIver depicts herself in blackface in an attempt to reclaim stereotypes about African American women and as a way of reflecting on her experiences as a black woman. Raised by a single mother in low-income housing, McIver grew up keenly aware of her racial and social status and sought escape from her circumstances through participation in a clown club. The clown club allowed McIver to hide her identity and race through white face paint. In Reminiscing McIver turns her former attitudes on their head by asking women to confront their identity.

The upcoming Educator Expo will give teachers a chance to hear more about McIver’s work and her experiences as an artist and teacher. We hope to see you there!

Art and the Common Core

Throughout this past year we’ve been doing a lot of workshops and professional development focused on Art and the Common Core. Our essential question has always been, How does the analysis and creation of art complement the processes and skills needed to read and write complex texts? We’ve been using the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading and Writing as our template for exploring how literacy is defined and developed in both the ELA and Visual Arts classroom. The Common Core is asking students to provide evidence from text to support their observations and ideas, make comparisons between texts, read a wide variety of texts, create a range of written texts, reread and revise texts for more complex meaning, and share multiple interpretations of texts. We’ve been thinking about TEXT being more than just written language. When text becomes a work of art, an image from a magazine, a graphic novel, or any other form of visual imagery, then we can begin to see that the skills needed to read and write complex written texts are similar to the skills needed to analyze and create complex works of art.

Susan Ellen Jones, a K–4 art teacher at Emma Elementary in Buncombe County, attended our Art and the Common Core workshop in Asheville this fall and grappled with the complexity of the language presented in the Common Core Anchor Standards document. She spent some time dissecting the standards after the workshop and created an amazing sister document, Art and Common Core Standards for Literacy, that rewords the Anchor Standards so that they apply directly to the language of the Visual Arts room. We can’t thank Susan enough for personalizing her experience at our workshop and providing what we think is an incredible resource for all educators across the state who are searching for understanding between Art and the Common Core.


Using the NCMA’s Collection for Literature

By Carol Cross, Home-School Educator

For the past two years, I have taught a literature class for home-school students in middle or early high school. I like to have them connect the books they are reading with music, current events, cultural tropes, and other aspects of their lives. So every year, we make at least one field trip to the North Carolina Museum of Art to find linkages among the themes we’ve studied in books and the state’s premier art collection.

Last year, one topic we covered was the shift in literature between the romantic and realistic era. Of course, it is hard to read a lot of books in one year’s class to get to know numerous examples from both periods. However, art was going through the same transition at about the same period. So I took them to the Museum for a “Romanticism vs. Realism” scavenger hunt.

I broke them up into groups of four students and instructed them to search among the NCMA’s American, Portrait, and European galleries for examples of both American and European Romantic and Realistic paintings. I restricted them to works from the late 17th and entire 18th century and had each group start on a different category (American Romanticism, American Realism, European Romanticism, European Realism) so they wouldn’t all be clustered around the same paintings at the same time.

We reconvened an hour later and compared results. Each team got points for the number of paintings they had correctly classified. However, mostly the teams had identified the same paintings–for example, John Singleton Copley’s Sir William Pepperrell (1746-1816) and His Family or Albert Bierstadt’s Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite for American Romanticism versus Winslow Homer’s Weaning the Calf or Jean-Francois Millet’s Peasant Spreading Manure as Realism, both American and European.

The students really enjoyed the field trip, and they always like these kinds of “contests” we have periodically in class. But most of all, the difference between Romanticism and Realism became clearly evident to them in a way that is easier to achieve than reading a single example of each kind of literature.

This year, however, we didn’t have a scavenger hunt–we had a Huntzz. Huntzz is a free IOS(Apple)/Android app that can be used with smart phones or tablets. This allowed me to develop a technology-driven, rather than just a paper-based, activity.

Our class this year is focused on analyzing literature using the concept of universal characters or archetypes, as theorized by psychologist Carl Jung and popularized by scholar Joseph Campbell. I had presented a set of twelve major archetypes to the students, and we were discovering that our stories–not only books, but TV shows, movies, and even video games–were replete with these recurring character types. But where else can we discover these archetypes?  In art, of course.

So for this activity, I organized things in a little different way. Using Huntzz, I gave them “clues” that led them to a particular art piece, and they had to figure out what archetype was shown in that work. For example, one clue I gave them said, “This well-known American hero, found in the Contemporary Gallery, is an unconventional example of which archetype?”  This may sound fairly vague, but those who are familiar with the NCMA’s Contemporary collection may recall that there are very few actual people displayed in that gallery. (I told them I was only directing them to people or characters they would all be familiar with, not any obscure biblical figures or ancient European monarchs who aren’t typically covered in American history classes.)

In fact, there was only one famous person I discovered in that gallery, found in Harriet Tubman by Aaron Douglas (work on loan). She is depicted as breaking the chains of slavery, so I characterized her archetype as “Warrior,” (albeit, as I said in the clue, an unconventional one, since she was fighting a systemic injustice rather than a military force).

However, Huntzz also has a map component for each clue. So when I was setting up my Huntzz, I went to the Museum and Huntzz recorded the GPS location for each artwork or gallery to which I sent the students. Therefore, students could check the map section to see if they were in the correct area for the piece they were searching for.

Once again, I broke the class up into teams of four who worked together to figure out the clues and the answers (which meant only one of out every four students needed a smartphone or a tablet, since not everyone has this technology yet). Huntzz kept track of their score, awarding them five points if they gave the right response on the first try, four for the second attempt, etc.  If they couldn’t figure it out, they could “break” the virtual treasure chest with their virtual ax and get the correct answer, although they wouldn’t earn any points for that.

The Huntzz was a great success!  They loved getting to use the technology, although they soon learned the value of supplementing their GPS-driven directions with the good, old-fashioned paper map of the collection the Museum provides. And with this topic, we got to go through all the galleries and figure out the archetypes of a range of artwork, from a classical marble Hercules (another “warrior”), to medieval Madonnas (“caregiver”), to the figure of Horace (“ruler”). The Huntzz demonstrated one of Campbell’s major points–that these same archetypes can be found throughout the world, throughout time, and throughout different types of artistic media.

It’s an old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words. As a literature teacher, I’m addicted to words. But I’ve found that a trip to the NCMA is a great way to mix things up a bit, and to approach the same lesson we are studying in our books in a different way, using a different learning modality. We are so fortunate that this great resource is open to all the students of North Carolina without charge!

Stella Inspires Teen Fabric Design Contest

By Michelle Harrell, Coordinator of Teen and College Programs

Kick off your school year inspired by Frank Stella’s Protractor series with a fabric design contest sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art and Spoonflower, a Durham-based print-on-demand textile company. Spoonflower is offering the first teens-only fabric contest inspired by Stella’s Protractor series to celebrate the debut of NCMA’s Art of Fashion high school online course.

Between 1967 and 1971, Stella created his monumental Protractor series of paintings with curvilinear forms and broad bands of colors. The series was named after the protractor drawing tool, but individual paintings were named for ancient circular-plan towns in Asia Minor. Inspired by the art and architecture he saw during a trip to Persia, Stella created large full and half circles in concentric colors on large shaped canvases. Raqqa II, one of the most popular works at NCMA, is part of this series. Reaching a height of ten feet by twenty five feet in length, the work fills an entire gallery in the Museum’s Modern and Contemporary Collection.

The geometric shapes and bold colors in Stella’’s Protractor series are ideal for inspiring a fabric design. High school students can scan hand-painted designs or work in photo editing programs, such as PhotoShop or GIMP. Designs entered into this contest can use no more than three colors from any of the paintings in the series. Black or white may be used as a possible 4th color.

How could you incorporate Stella’s work into your curriculum? See how elementary art teacher Laura Bierer adapted a 7th grade lesson in constructing circles to 4th grade. Educators may also find ideas for application on NCMA’s Teens, Inspired tumblr blog, which will feature blogposts about Stella and Spoonflower tutorials throughout September. Entries must be submitted on Spoonflower’s web-site by October 1 and winners will be featured in an exhibition at the Museum in Spring 2014. We look forward to seeing what students create!

Big Picture Fellow, 2013–14

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By Ashley Weinard, Project Director, The Big Picture Educator Enrichment Program

The North Carolina Museum of Art is pleased to announce that this year’s Big Picture Teaching Fellowship has been awarded to John Scarfpin. John is a STEM teacher at West Craven Middle School in New Bern. As the Big Picture Fellow, John will integrate the visual arts into his middle school instruction, develop and share arts-integrated lesson plans with STEM educators statewide, and teach professional development classes at the museum and around the state that model ways of moving STEM instruction to STE-A-M learning.

Here is what John hopes to accomplish during his year-long fellowship:

“I am a father, husband and a teacher. While it can be difficult to maintain a balance at times each of these things makes me better at the others. I am a passionate driven professional educator and a lifelong learner.  I have an insatiable desire to learn new things combined with a desire to share with anyone willing to listen. The Big Picture Teacher Fellows program is providing me with an opportunity to learn from a professional institution and relay that knowledge to my students through art integration in my STEM Learning Center. It is my hope that through the integration of Art into the STEM curricula we can engage more students and provide a more holistic approach. I see this as a chance to forge a lasting partnership that can provide my students with opportunities they would not normally have.”

Thanks, John, for being so motivated to make art part of your curriculum. We look forward to learning from you!

Integrating Local Art: New Bern’s WPA Murals

By Steven Hill, History Teacher, J.H. Rose High School, Greenville, NC

Summers usually find me teaching a class or two at ECU, but I also make it a point to do some authentic research on a topic of personal interest. This summer, I chose to investigate WPA murals in North Carolina. My research led me to discover that there were some interesting Depression-era murals in nearby New Bern. Unfortunately, I could not find adequate images of them online. So I gained access to the Federal Courthouse and took photographs to use in my history lessons and share with colleagues this fall. I plan to explore the images in conjunction with my classroom lessons about the American Revolution, judicial review, and use of the printing press.


Take a look at my Lesson Plan to see more images of the New Bern murals and how I plan to incorporate them into my curriculum using discussion strategies I learned at a North Carolina Museum of Art teacher workshop.


Look around your local community for art resources to integrate into your instruction. You will be surprised what you might find just down the road. Your local arts council can help point you in the right direction.


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