art and teaching

So, I did go to the coffee house part of our students’ arts festival on Saturday night.  The coffee house consists of acts and videos put together by students, along with the opportunity to see some of their artwork (which is judged) and poetry that they’ve completed in the past.

It was a lot of fun.  I knew they had a sense of humor before, and this just confirmed that.  They’d decorated the cafeteria, covering the floor with gigantic carpet squares, and hanging paper lanterns, as well as setting up a stage.  The audience all sat on the floor.  The night started with a video showing what the MC’s were doing that made them all late — one was working out, one was watching election results, one was sleeping and his dad couldn’t get him to wake up until he threatened to get the boy’s mother, and the other two were getting tacos and trying to reach the first three.  That doesn’t really convey the full hilarity of the video, of course, but… I’ll leave it to your imagination.  The best part was that, later, one of the MC’s was announcing an act and an audience member shouted “zipper.”  He calmly zipped up his pants and retorted “I was watching the primaries.” 

Some of the sophomores did a cover of “Play that funky music, white boy” or whatever that song is called, there was a video of every department chair at the school claiming credit for starting the arts festival (one mentioned chaising razorbacks in the ozarks with only digeridoos, another went on about how arts were in his blood since his father and grandfather were rodeo clowns, the math dept chair talked about how all art is numbers — he was a bit too serious really, but that made it even funnier).  There were a ton of acts and videos, and several very nice paintings, photographs, and sculptures.  The best title of a piece of art that I saw was definitely “reciprocal of shoe.” 

It was really interesting to see the boys that I know from my classes doing something entirely different than what I usually get to see from them.  I also got the opportunity to speak more informally with some of them.  Of course, in some cases that was not so great.  For example, I was talking to two of the boys (a senior and a freshman) about the workshops they’d done on Friday.  One of them had taken a speed-painting workshop (complete a painting in 2 hours), which led to a discussion of “fast art.”  So the senior mentioned that if you get really fast at drawing, you can use that to make money by sketching people at tourist attractions (no, he didn’t phrase it that way).  He then went on to say (paraphrasing) “you can make $300 in one day and then you’ll have lots of money, which will attract lots of girls.  But then your hand will be sore, but I guess that doesn’t matter because you’ll have girlfriend.”  Now, I see two possible interpretations of this last remark, one innocent and one… Yeah.  And I was perfectly willing to pretend he meant the innocent one, until he started explaining it to the freshman.  Just… no.

 Then, yesterday I finished this book by Alfie Kohn, The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”.  I realize I’ve been reading lots of books by this guy recently, and really, I should just stop, but they’re so thought-provoking and they really speak to thoughts I’ve had about teaching.  This one basically takes you through a step-by-step, research-supported argument for why what we think of as school is the worst way to go about achieving our goals for education.  And then he offers some ideas for alternatives.  This is really progressive education at its best.  Of course, my classroom is very traditional and it’s hard to think how to change that to something more closely approximating his model.  I really want to try, though.  I have some ideas already.  In Geometry, we’re about to look at area.  I’d very much like to try having them come up with the postulates to assume, the definitions to go with, and the theorems to prove.  And then maybe have them collaboratively write a “text” that could be used to teach this subject next year.  My sixth grade class is somehow more difficult.  But I’ve had thoughts on what I could do with the summer school classes I’ll be teaching.

The idea here is to shift the classroom to something that is more student-oriented, so that the students have a greater interest in what they are doing and so that the students are creating meaning rather than just trying to absorb facts.  By having the boys come up with their own basic assumptions to work with in Geometry, I can get a better feel for how well they understand how to build a theory of mathematics.  And, what the theorems and definitions are would seem less arbitrary to them and hopefully make more sense.

The main obstacles to my doing anything like this are 1) I’m fairly certain the administration won’t like it and may even tell me I can’t do it once they find out I am doing it and 2) The boys will probably be somewhat resistant since it won’t be like anything they’ve done before.  There’s also the issue of determining their grades at the end — I have to assign grades since the school requires it (Kohn is definitely anti-grades), but I don’t want the boys to think the grades decided on are unfair, nor do I want them to focus on the grades to the detriment of what they are learning.  I’ve thought about just having them give themselves a grade that they think is reasonable…  I’m not really sure how to handle it.  I’ll also have to give them a semester exam.  There’s also the issue that I have to give exams throughout the quarter, since my department chair expects it and expects to see copies of the exams that I give. 

Anyway, it’s complicated, which is why I shouldn’t read these books to begin with.

–ryo out


1 Response to “art and teaching”

  1. 1 limey
    19 February 2008 at 19:51:23

    You could read Torchwood books instead like me. I`m all about the Hidden Torchwood audio book today. It was great. *listens to the last chapter again* Awesome even.

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February 2008
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  • 303 momentarily amused

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