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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.”

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!


Can Anyone Write Poetry?

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Tracing the word back to its original Greek, “poetry” came from a word meaning to make or create. Poetry usually refers to words in verse, but rhyming is not required to write a poem and, yes, anyone can write poetry!

 Did you know that we have a Poetry Month? Do you know why? Poetry is an art that goes back centuries and both men and women wrote poetry. Having a month for poetry brings attention to an art that is versatile and engaging, although perhaps not as studied and practiced as other arts.

Guess what? This month of April is Poetry Month, so let us write a poem! Some of our most memorable writers in history were poets. Edgar Allen Poe’  “The Raven” is quite memorable indeed. What about reading a short poem by Ogden Nash

Kids usually like these. Once they get the hang of hearing poems, perhaps read a Shakespeare sonnet and see how it is received.

You can also have kids choose a topic on one of their favorite subjects, such as a pet dog or cat, hiking, fishing, or perhaps at the beach, and have them write a poem about it.

Perhaps a favorite game they play or a favorite food they eat? For example, my cat’s name is Nicholas and I call him “Nicky” for short.

This one is for the kids:

I have a cat named Nicky

whose paws are sometimes sticky.

He plays in the days,

and naps where he lays.

So goes my cat named Nicky!

 Remind the kids that poets may write and rewrite many times before they find the words they want. Start simple. Perhaps the funnier the poems, the easier they will be to write.

 After their experimental play with poetry, why not create a team poem or a class poem? Perhaps a poem a day throughout a month, where each kid has a chance to share a poem he or she likes or wrote? Perhaps the subject is “A Summer’s Day.” All kids can relate to that. Have the kids provide words that remind them of a summer’s day. As the kids suggest them, write them on the black or white-board.

After you have brainstormed ideas with them, begin to place them in phrases. They may want some lines to rhyme and not others.

Once kids feel comfortable playing with poetry, they can learn about poetic rhythm. When I was studying poetry, the teacher had us listen to poetry being read. It gave me an entirely different relationship with poetry, as it reminded me of singing. Later in life, I heard an Ovid poem read aloud in Greek, and could hardly believe the beauty of the sounds. Listening to poetry, then, enlivens another sense and brings us closer to the essence of the art of poetry.

Ultimately, poetry is not a “thing;” it is a feeling or a tone; perhaps a tiny story, a lesson, a loss, a joy. Through poetry, we can experience another aspect of our humanness. So don your best poet garb and begin to compose!

Arts enrich us!

Art: An Artifact with Many Purposes

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Early universities established what faculty considered the four major areas of study: arts, law, medicine, and theology.

Over time, the “arts” evolved to mean more of some things (storytelling, finger-painting) and less of others (stained glass work, cathedral wood carvings), the Latin root for the word “art,” ars, is a base meaning “put together, join, fit.” In any case, the arts are here to stay.

Art can turn the routine of daily life into refreshing adventures in many ways, but three of them are by expressing art as immersion through the imagination or fantasy, art as therapy for healing, and art as community-building engagement in social change. Art can teach us lessons, provoke questions, and help us experience cultures through the lenses of artful eyes.

From the Hogwart Express of Rowling’s Harry Potter to the science fiction of StarTrek to the hobbits’ adventures of J. R. R. Tolkein, it is clear to children (and to the adult’s inner child) that art and fantasy easily partner. In these cases, a continuous thread of stories provided an imersive “reality” that captured millions’ imaginations. However, a child can express one great little story into a singular work of art as well.

Sometimes art is most helpful as a way to heal. Remember the thousands of drawings posted on fences and on Web sites after 9/11? Or children’s drawings from around the world after Princess Diana passed away? Art—storytelling, poetry, music, dance, visual arts, painting, sculpture or other forms of creativity—can serve to help us transform from a difficult experience to a more peaceful one. How? Scientists tell us that art can reduce the experience of stress to one of relaxation. Especially when guided, it can help transform pain into acceptance, sometimes into a work of art.

Art can also be used to build community and, in so doing, help socialize us. As with events around 9/11 or those around Princess Diana, communities came together to share stories, remembrances, and to share their common experience of loss. The art created around these events served as powerful reminders not only of the lost ones but also of possible futures for the surviving ones.

Art can represent evolutionary social issues also.  An example would be the emergence

of art communities around a new social issue—that of  “going green”.

In this case, green art can serve to inspire us about a cleaner future, remind us to

conserve resources, and allow us to understand that we are not alone, that we are one

of many concerned and committed to bring children a cleaner future.

Whether art serves purposes of delightful fantasy, healing, or community engagement,

or just fun, it is one of the elements of a core curriculum that exhibits

individuals’ humanity and talents.  In what way will you use art to move you through

the day today?

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