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Creative Education : Something to Inspire You!

Friday, April 10th, 2009

One of my most favorite things to read is the Edutopia magazine. They have excellent articles and insights from teachers all over the nation and across the curriculum. As a teacher at university, I am always inspired by my fellow teachers doing some excellent work for students before they hit my classrooms and thought I would share with you, two particularly amazing ideas and projects.


The first involves using art and music together for students — teachers using the 9 Muses of ancient Greek lore to introduce and examine various examples of their specialty through youtube! If you don’t remember the 9 sisters,
there was Calliope who ruled epic poetry, Clio who worked with history, Erato loved lyric poetry while her sister Euterpe was fascinated with music. Melpomene was the muse of tragedy while her light hearted sister Thalia, loved comedy. Then there was Polyhymnia who specialized in choral poetry and Terpsichore, the dancer. Finally, Urania governed astronomy.

In her article, Shari Wargo demonstrates how each of the muses discusses examples from youtube to help students understand the history of all such performances, reconnecting them to the ancestry of rap, hiphop, movies etc. A completely new and at the same time, ancient way of learning about the performative arts! Interestingly, the word muse, has the same root, as music. The sisters, with their dedication to the performative arts, founded learning in a preliterate world. They remind us that before we were homo sapiens ( knowing humans) we were homo narrans (story telling humans).

Likewise, while November is a long way off, it is National Novel Writing Month, and as a teacher who battles with students to write 5 pages, I am amazed at what kids who participate in this program accomplish in one month. A novel in a month! How many authors could do that kind of work? Yet, the kids do and they do it with amazing tenacity in a collective act. As one student reports, “it is not even about having your work read, it is about having written it.” In November 2008, more than 1.6 million words were written in a month! In the same year, nearly 120,000 adults from at least 45 countries became authors. You can too! The program is free for schools and has an excellent website which walks teachers through the program and how to prepare. Perhaps the greatest thing emerging from this program is the fundamental change in the relationship young kids have with books and writing. I have seniors who are afraid to write. I wish they had had this opportunity to unleash their power as a scribe!

From the Muses to the power of the scribe, if you are homeschooling your kids, you might be interested in the annual contests run by the Home School Legal Defense Association, for art, essays, poetry and photography. The poetry competition runs from May 1 through June 1, while the photography competition is coming up this summer and has a submission period beginning July 1 and ending August 1. Check out the website for a host of tips and resources for preparing your work for the competition. It’s a great event and every year, hundreds of home school students from around the country and even around the world raise thousands of dollars for the Home School Foundation’s Special Needs Children Fund.

“[The Muses] are all of one mind, their hearts are set upon song and their spirit is free from care. He is happy whom the Muses love. For though a man has sorrow and grief in his soul, yet when the servant of the Muses sings, at once he forgets his dark thoughts and remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses to men.”
~Hesiod~

So, welcome the Muses into your life this Springtime and revel in their gifts as you celebrate the performative arts — arts for all and all for arts!

 

Time for an Altered State of Play/Work!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Recently, I watched a short video from Stuart Brown on the importance of play, not just for children, but also for adults. It made me start thinking about how we get so hung up on the tensions of work and play, and how they might benefit from becoming more integrated in our lives. As Stuart Brown attests, playing is good for us — good for our minds, our bodies, our spirits and our relationships and communities. So how can we become more play-full in our work in these difficult times?

It’s easy to get depressed as the economy continues its slide, times get tough around our families and communities, as well as our schools. Everyone is asked to more with less, and while we could all say that we have some ‘clutter’ in our lives that we need to rid ourselves of, there are also those who live close to the line where necessity is indeed, the mother of invention, as we all devise new ways of coming to grips with new realities.

As Edutopia reports, our schools, notoriously underfunded for the most part, face especially tough times as funds for materials continue to dwindle and more and more teachers are forced to buy supplies for our children out of their own meagre pockets. Teachers have always been more than willing to spend their own cash to help out families who can’t afford supplies but recently K-12 teachers have reported spending more than $1000 a year just for classroom supplies! In the face of this crisis, teachers are getting creative, playing with the nature of their work as in selling advertising space at the bottom of quizzes and exams, using organizations such as Freecycle where people give away lots of things they no longer need (but you might – you need to be quick though!), still others set up a listserv in their community posting requests for donations of supplies they need. Then there are those who organize school supply fundraisers and still others (like the Construction Management program at my own university) have organizations adopt classrooms! Not only is creativity alive in these endeavors but the playful perspective taken by these teachers is leading to some serious sustainability practice!

Teachers aren’t the only ones getting creative around education resources. In a recent report from the UK, more than 500 11-19 year olds completed and presented their Manifesto for a Creative Britain to the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham. These young people reflected on what they feel they need in order to learn, think and act creatively. They imagined how schools might be different, what people in the creative industries could do to help and how they could develop the best environment possible for creative decisions and forming ideas. Students worked and talked together using online discussions, face to face conversations, group debates and video interviews to canvas their peers. Can you imagine what would happen if you engaged in such a project in your community?

These are indeed serious times for serious work and yet, simultaneously, what we may need is some serious play, by both adults and children to become more creative in our daily lives. I never cease to be amazed by the wonderful imagination of my children and the ways in which they question the world in which they live through their play. Perhaps Stuart Brown is onto something in releasing adults to play!

With thanks to laurel fan, dalydose and kelseyohhgee for their images!

Developing the creative spirit in all of us!

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