By: Sandra Hutton @artimmersionstudio

The ArtEffect Competition is not just any contest; it’s an international stage tailored for middle and high school students, intricately woven with the Unsung Hero Project, an initiative crafted by the esteemed Lowell Milken Centre for Unsung Heroes. This year, as an Art Effect Ambassador, I embarked on a journey to elevate this competition further within my school. My mission? To expand its reach across different grade levels, refine project timelines, and enhance my overall organization of lessons. As an art teacher I am always tweaking my program. Teaching a large number of students comes with its challenges so focusing on organization is key. In addition to refining the roll-out of this project, I delved deeper, exploring innovative ways to incentivize participation by introducing student digital badges, adding an extra layer of motivation and recognition to this transformative experience.

Running a large-scale project like the Art Effect Competition for numerous requires organization and strategy. One significant challenge lies in maintaining student motivation throughout the duration of the project. With varying levels of engagement and commitment, ensuring that each participant remains dedicated to their artistic journey can be daunting. Moreover, tracking student progress becomes a logistical puzzle, especially when dealing with multiple classes, across different grades. Providing timely and constructive feedback adds another layer of complexity, requiring considerable planning and coordination to offer personalized guidance to each student. Compounding these challenges is the limited time frame available within the instructional cycle, which necessitates efficient utilization of every moment to maximize impact.

At the onset of the project, I took a proactive approach to ensure clarity and transparency by carefully outlining expectations and timeframes for my students. Engaging in the strategic practice of backwards planning, I determined the end date of the project and deconstructed it into manageable steps, providing a roadmap for students to navigate towards successful completion. Recognizing the crucial role of parental involvement in fostering student success, I proactively looped parents in via written communication, offering them insight into the project’s objectives and timelines. This additional layer of support and encouragement proved invaluable, as parents expressed appreciation for the opportunity to be involved and exhibited genuine excitement about the ArtEffect Competition. While presenting the competition as an optional endeavour, I closely aligned the project with its timelines, observing firsthand how this linkage ignited a palpable enthusiasm among the students, fuelling their determination to deliver their best work.

Incorporating Google Slides into the project framework proved instrumental in empowering students to take ownership of their learning journey. By leveraging this versatile tool, students were able to document their creative process, from initial brainstorming sessions to final artwork iterations, fostering a sense of accountability and pride in their work.  Google Slides also served as an additional conduit for feedback, allowing me to provide timely guidance and support throughout their artistic process. Given the substantial number of students involved in the project, this digital platform facilitated seamless tracking of individual progress, offering invaluable insights into each student’s development trajectory. Introducing Google Slides at the project’s inception provided students with a clear roadmap of their journey, emphasizing the importance of both process and product in their evaluation. This holistic approach not only enhanced student understanding of project expectations but also nurtured a deeper appreciation for the iterative nature of creative endeavours.

At the heart of this project lies Project Based Learning, a pedagogical approach that empowers students to delve deeply into meaningful topics through hands-on, inquiry-driven exploration. Guided by the unsung heroes curated by the Lowell Milken Centre, students embarked on a journey of discovery, immersing themselves in research to unearth the untold stories of these remarkable individuals. To begin the project, we collectively delved into the narratives of select unsung heroes, engaging in thought-provoking discussions fueled by picture books that vividly brought their stories to life. These sessions served as a springboard for dialogue about the heroic qualities exemplified by these unsung figures, while also illuminating the symbiotic relationship between illustrations and storytelling in art. As students delved deeper into the stories, I introduced the Virtues Project, inviting them to reflect upon the noble virtues exhibited by these unsung heroes. While not an explicit component of the Unsung Hero project outlined by the Lowell Milken Centre, this integration aligned seamlessly with the social and emotional learning framework used as a discussion point in my school, fostering a deeper understanding of character development and ethical principles. By intertwining discussions of heroic characteristics and virtues, we not only enriched the learning experience but also cultivated a profound sense of inspiration and empathy among students, underscoring the transformative power of art as a medium for narrative storytelling.

After students learned about different unsung heroes, I gave them a list of approved heroes to choose from. They had time to explore the heroes’ stories on the Lowell Milken website and pick the one they connected with most. I asked them to talk with a classmate about their top three choices before making a final decision. To keep track of everyone’s picks, I used Google Forms. I made sure to tell them that showing how they worked through their art project was really important for their grade.

Throughout the research phase, each student actively contributed to a collaborative class slideshow, serving as a fluid documentation of their creative journey. This comprehensive slideshow housed a wealth of valuable content, including their research findings, initial concept sketches, photographic evidence of their progress, a snapshot of their completed artwork, links to their impact paper, and a works cited section. Accessible through our learning management system, students could easily navigate this centralized hub to track their progress, gain inspiration, and glean insights from their collective experiences. To streamline accessibility, I embedded links to individual slideshows within a master document, providing students with a comprehensive overview of the project objectives and timelines. To sustain student engagement and foster a culture of accountability, I implemented a progress chart at the conclusion of each class session, prompting students to reflect on their accomplishments and set goals for the next session. This visual aid not only facilitated efficient monitoring of student progress amidst the bustling classroom environment but also empowered students to take ownership of their learning journey, driving them towards success. As a visual person, this chart proved to be a key component of the process and provided me with insight into my students’ progress. 

Partway through the project, I introduced digital badges as a new and exciting element to motivate students and recognize their achievements. Although this wasn’t part of my initial plan, my interest in leveraging technology as a classroom aid led me to explore this idea further. After conducting research on the best ways to implement digital badges, I discovered Flippity, a versatile tool that made the process straightforward and engaging. This endeavour turned into a valuable learning opportunity for me, and I had a lot of fun designing unique badges using Canva. The introduction of digital badges added an extra layer of motivation for students, encouraging them to strive for excellence and stay engaged throughout the project.

An Example of a Digital Badge Crafted in Canva.


For those who are interested in the process of creating digital badges here are some steps:

Instructions for Creating Digital Badges for Your Classroom Using Flippity and Canva:

Step 1: Design Badges in Canva
Sign Up/Log In:
1. Create an account or log in to Canva.
2. Create a New Design:
Click on “Create a design” and select “Custom dimensions.”
For badges, a good size to start with is 500×500 pixels.
3. Design Your Badge:
Use Canva’s elements, text, and templates to design your badge.
Include elements that represent the achievement (e.g., stars for excellence, a book for completing a paper).
4. Save Your Design:  Once your badge is complete, click on the “Download” button in the top right corner.
Choose “PNG” or “JPG” for a high-quality image and download the file to your computer.

Step 2: Set Up Flippity for Badge Distribution
1. Visit Flippity: Go to the Flippity website.
Select the Badge Tracker Template: Scroll down to find the “Badge Tracker” template and click on it.
2. Click on the “Instructions” tab to understand how the template works, then click on “Template” to open a Google Sheets template.
3. Make a Copy of the Template: You will be prompted to make a copy of the Google Sheets template. Click “Make a copy.”
4. Customize Your Badge Tracker: Rename the Google Sheet to fit your project.
5. Fill in student names and the titles of the badges in the appropriate columns.
6. Add Badge Images: In the Google Sheet, under the “Badge Image” columns, insert the URLs of the badge images you created in Canva. To do this, upload your images to a cloud service (e.g., Google Drive, Dropbox) and generate shareable links.
7. Publish the Sheet: Go to “File” > “Publish to the web” in the Google Sheet.
8. Click “Publish” and then copy the URL provided.
9. Generate Flippity Badge Tracker: Go back to the Flippity instructions page and paste the published Google Sheets URL into the Flippity Badge Tracker section. Click on “Generate” to create your badge tracker.

Step 3: Distribute and Monitor Badges
1. Share the Flippity Badge Tracker: Share the link to your Flippity Badge Tracker with your students. This link will allow them to see which badges they have earned.
2. Award Badges: As students complete various components of the project or demonstrate virtues, update the Google Sheet to reflect the badges earned. Students will see the updates in real-time via the Flippity link.
3. Monitor Progress: Use the badge tracker to monitor student progress and ensure that badges are distributed fairly and consistently.

Here is an example of a Flippity Badge Tracker for my fictitious class! 

By following these steps, you’ll be able to create and distribute digital badges efficiently, adding a fun and motivating element to your classroom projects!

In tandem with guiding my students through their unsung hero projects and Art Effect submissions, I embraced an opportunity to enhance my own learning by “stretching” myself as an artist. I chose to research and create a piece of art about Terry Fox, a personal hero known across Canada for his 1980 Marathon of Hope. Diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 18, Terry had to have his leg amputated, yet he embarked on an incredible cross-country run to raise funds for cancer research, covering the equivalent of a marathon each day. Although Terry’s journey was cut short when his cancer returned, leading to his passing at age 23, his legacy endures as an inspiration to many Canadians, including myself. As I worked on my artwork honouring Terry Fox, I engaged in meaningful discussions with my students about what it means to be a hero or an unsung hero. These conversations were incredibly enriching, deepening the learning experience for both my students and myself. I look forward to sharing more about my special Terry Fox art piece in a future blog post.

My role as an Art Effect Ambassador has truly been a transformative experience, continually inspiring me through the learning journeys of my students and the brilliance of their ideas. The classroom has become a space of collective growth, where the exchange of knowledge and creativity thrives. Witnessing my students’ pride as they overcome challenges and develop their identities as artists is incredibly rewarding. They have become deeply reflective, drawing powerful lessons from the virtues embodied by the unsung heroes they study. As we wrap up this year’s project, we eagerly anticipate our school-wide exhibit and virtual showcase, where the culmination of their hard work and insightful reflections will be celebrated by our community. And I am proud of my students who took part in this year’s ArtEffect competition and wish them the best of luck!