I am writing this during a day off from school (the fifth in less than two weeks) due to ‘continued, dangerously low wind chill temperatures’ or ‘extreme weather conditions’ as some news channels proclaim and am thankful this was a fall residency and not scheduled for now. The second grade students at Michael R. White STEM school scripted, performed and recorded their own weather reports from both their news room and outside. With this age group repetition (each class produced three reports throughout the fall and into the winter) was not monotonous, it was an opportunity to learn new vocabulary, improve upon past experiences and polish the performances. There were less than twenty students in each class and everyone was engaged at all times, rotating through different production roles as the sessions went on.
On our first production day there was a student who seemed less than thrilled to be selected as a news anchor. His demeanor made it apparent that he was frustrated and angry, but it quickly became evident that he was just afraid of forgetting lines and messing up. Through positive reinforcement and witnessing his co-anchor forget her lines a few times (without any negative repercussions from the others in the class) he began sitting a little straighter, his hands no longer covered his mouth when he spoke, his legs lost their jitters and his voice began to project. All of this over the course of ten minutes. He had transformed into someone new. He began to smile when he made a mistake instead of covering his face and putting his head on the desk. From that point forward, regardless of his assignment, he was also the default script assistant, memorizing the words for each production and mouthing them to the new anchors from his role of camera operator or lighting technician. As an educator, it was really amazing to see how much this program impacted how he held himself and I see so many more situations where this confidence can serve him as he grows.
During my fall semester 2014 residency at Hannah Gibbons STEM School with the Preschool and Kindergarten classes, we explored and enjoyed a variety of weather circumstances without ever getting wet–or at least not too wet! Students created weather field books that will house their weather work from science, dotted with several prints to illustrate various weather situations.
Stencil printing–one of the most direct printing processes–was a clear favorite among this age group. Students gravitated to the various weather stencils, including: clouds, rain, lightening, wind, and sun. Students concocted a variety of storms, and chose their stencils and inks carefully and accordingly to created their printed compostitions.
Armed with small foam daubers and trays of ink, students made light work of stamping in their weather stencils onto paper, and yet still seamed amazed when they lifted the stencil to see that the weather item they were printing appeared on the page. The magic of printmaking allures!
Watching the concentrated faces of the youngest groups of printmakers never gets old!
Performance Day in 2nd grade at Mound STEM School came and went the first week of December. Students spent three weeks drawing together everything they learned about the weather patterns of snow, combined it with our storytelling games, and created original “Weather Plays” with character, setting, beginning, middle, and end. Each play was different and unique and we found ourselves in settings like downtown Cleveland, Lake Erie, a farm in the country, and non-surprisingly their own classrooms. While most plays shared the theme of a blizzard forming and blowing all around them, little details made each of the 56 stories delightfully charming. In one story, Ms. Brahler had a cat at school that was scared of the snow; one student braved the sidewalks after the storm and ended up skating on one foot down the street; in another story students marveled at the blizzard while drinking hot chocolate (some characters took marshmallows, some took whipped cream). What I love most about narrative writing with lower elementary students is that while they are learning about structure and the “rules” of writing, there is still so much room for their imaginations to run free. Within the “rules” of capital letters, cause-and-effect, and periods at the end of sentence, students have a safe place to take creative risks and communicate all the wonderful ideas they have bouncing around their heads.
Brining their words to life was a truly magical session. Because there were a total of 56 stories across both classrooms, we needed to streamline and edit so that everyone could be represented in one mass story. I culled highlights from every Weather Play and combined them together, so that when we read out loud the play as a class, students heard their words and their ideas. I could have brought in a story already written by someone else and it surely would have been less chaotic to start the residency knowing what the final performance story would be, but as we advocate for “voice and choice” in our residencies, it is vital to remember that creative and arts-based learning is a process-based experience. It is at its most effective when teaching artists and students decide and discover together what their creative content is going to be. That might mean not knowing what you are performing because the students haven’t told you yet. It might mean allowing for a flexible vision to carry you from week 1 to week 10. Content will change and evolve as the students tell you and show you what they are good at and what is important to them. The students must represent themselves through the activities and art we teachers bring with us.
The light in the students eyes when they heard their bits of the story is such a moment of ownership and agency for them. That moment will forever be theirs, and no one else’s. In that moment they were recognized by their peers and their teachers as valuable members of the artistic process. In our tech-heavy, autonomous world recognition is a valuable commodity for students, especially recognition for positive contributions. With the second grade residency there was place and space for students to contribute and be recognized for their creativity, ingenuity, and most importantly, their voice.
As the weather changes here in Cleveland, I’ll be up and running with a Weather Book residency at Hannah Gibbons STEM School. Together with the kindergarten and pre-kindergarten classes, we’ll be making weather observations and creating a small pile of prints to share our findings as the pages of our field books.
Weather monoprint spread from a previous PAA print residency at Orchard STEM School.
Throughout this 10-session residency, students will learn the processes of monoprinting, stencil printing, and sun printing, as well as basic bookbinding techniques to create an album style book. The books will be shared at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District PreK-8 STEM Network Winter STEM Showcase on December 16 at the Great Lakes Science Center.