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Last Friday we had our Spotlight Sharing at the IU. It was the final day of a 4 year journey for some. I have been a part of Arts Educator for 3 years. Each year had its unique characteristics and challenges. What I loved especially about this year was the Affinity Grouping that brought each group together that first day back in the Fall. I still remember sharing my statement, not having a notion of where I would fit, and the whole group basically pointing out who else I belonged with. As we sat together and began to formulate our inquiry question for the year, I was struck by our similarities. I felt like I was coming home.

Now our final meeting, as each group presented it was so obvious to me how we ended up in the groups we did. Each group’s approach was so different from ours. Yet, it was it was clear that the individuals within the groups were connected to their inquiry question and bonded in their efforts.

For me in my group, it all came together on our final work day. When we started thinking of our spotlight. It was one of those times that I have found myself in a group when there was no disagreement. Everyone was on the same page. As I reflect on that I realize that each of our CIG meetings and other days together had that same kind of simpatico.

I have a way of looking at the world that seems to aggravate and frustrate some people at times. I am not capable of taking a negative view and sustaining it. If I looked at my students, administrators, parents, and fellow teachers the way many of my colleagues do, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. At the risk of sharing too much, I’m sure I was born with this temperament, but childhood tragedy and a lifelong approach to healing from it have also shaped my character. The world can be dangerous and downright deadly. If I allow myself to dwell in a place of negativity I know I will succumb to it and disappear. Finding hope and self-knowledge through the arts has been a sustaining factor for me and drives my teaching practice.

For many years I have felt alone among my colleagues. When I began Arts Educator 3 years ago, I immediately felt more connected. As we were placed in our groups I met some other teachers with whom I felt an affinity. Sometimes our group did  not agree (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but again I was reminded that not everyone shares my life view. Being a part of the Inquiring heARTS has shown me unequivocally that I am not alone. Our teaching style, lessons, age groups and subject matter my be different, but there are at least 4 other people on the planet that see the glass half full through rose colored glasses. There are others who treasure their own heart and those of every other human we come in contact with. There are those who look at each child who enters the classroom as something unique and beautiful, to be appreciated, treasured, and reminded of their exquisiteness.

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During our last IU day together we decided in how we were going to share our information in our spot light. It was decided that our sharing should be “interactive” to some extent. I was very excited about the idea of it being interactive. I find this Benjamin Franklin quote to be very appropriate to our research this year. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me I learn.” Although, a topic that was brought up during the meeting was a concern that it would be too much and time consuming for the time that we were allocated for the spotlight. While I didn’t feel that this was a major topic at the time, it did give me something to think about. I realized that many times in my classroom I try to cram as much into a 35 minute period as possible and it made me wonder how often we (educators) cause an “overload” due to our time constraints. I then realized that I have noticed this affecting my students in the way that they were not retaining the information that was being presented. I also concluded that so much of the information that I give them is either verbal or written on the board. While some students do remember this most don’t. I then found if I could make my lesson as interactive as possible they did demonstrate better retention. But now the question is where do you draw the line? When is it too much? I believe this to be something that I will continue to search for balance in.

I decided to reflect on the meeting in which we chose our group names…

I recall our group was rather indecisive…I think everyone felt that our name had to contain a real essence of meaning and not just the first thing that popped in our heads. Im a big believer in the power of naming something…people, books, even my blog posts for crying out loud! I think the way we chose our name kind of tells us something about who we are as a group and even as individuals. We picked kind of a ‘dumb’ name at first (no, I am not meaning to say we are dumb haha)…Apple, I believe, just so we could have something for the wiki and we figured it gave us a little extra time to think and we could change it later. I wish I could recall who came up with Inquiring heARTS but it doesn’t exactly matter now. The reason we chose this name for our group is because all of us have a very strong desire to reach not just the intellect of our students, but, at the risk of sounding cheesy, their hearts as well. We see art as a way to touch the souls of humanity and as a source of healing as well as expression. And of course, it is through inquiry that we can find better ways of doing this. And what would our group’s name be without a little bit of a nod to the arts within the name? You can thank the two group members who just happen to be art teachers and their last name is Gartley…or as they enjoy writing it: gARTley. Haha….oh yes, we are that corny.

But really, I enjoy the somewhat innocent and idealistic notions of our group as opposed to the griping, negative complaints I so often hear from people in my profession. Sorry, but I, we, actually do believe that we can make our world a better, brighter place…and one of those ways is through artistic expression and discovery, both of oneself and the world around them. Our scope is inner and outer…it must be both. We have a running joke in our group that we all poop rainbows. Slightly crude, but funny and totally true. But I think that there is something great about being that optimistic, hopeful….isn’t that part of the very fuel that landed men’s faces on our currency and glues people to their seats during shows about real life journeys to success be it in sports, music, politics, whatever?

I’m not any of those types, and I probably will never have a book written about me, or a documentary, or even as much as a magazine article. But none of that really tells us whether or not we have influence, value, or have left a mark. Sorry if this is turning into a philosophical blog. I can’t help it really, because to me, art is so deeply rooted in who we are as a race. That’s why I love the name our group chose because it speaks of something more than itself. I think everyone is and has an inquiring heart…and I think it’s important to see problems, ask questions, seek out answers. Imagine, if we use inquiry in our classrooms more….our students will learn how to see problems themselves, not just be told about them…be given a voice to ask questions, not made to be silent and always listen because they could not possibly have anything to bring to the table…and search for the answers, realizing that part of the process is making mistakes and the power we get is learning from them and trying again or making a better way. How valuable are these qualities to the generation that will one day govern our planet? Innovation, imagination, discovery, creativity…what does your heart inquire?

Last week the members of the M & D CIG met at Trinity High school to finalize the spotlight sharing presentation. We have compiled a video slideshow with various pictures from our classrooms and voice over narrations we recorded at the last IU day. It’s strange to think that this project will be over soon. These people and this process has become such an ingrained part of the school year for me. Over the course of my three years in the program I have gained valuable ideas for new and innovative ways to teach my students as well as a great network of colleagues in the area. I hope to find new ways to work with all of these people and wish them and our faculty members the best in all future endeavors.

Our last meeting at the IU was very useful.  Our Cig talked about the different lessons that we were going to focus on for our final presentation.  We also planned how we are going to set up our spotlight.  The group helped me figure out what I could highlight and say as my main points in the presentation.  We discussed what the most interesting and beneficial parts of each of our lessons were so that we had a better idea of what to focus on.  We were each given a homework assignment to do to help prepare for the 18th and will be working on those independently.  I’m really hoping Amy doesn’t get too excited and go into labor.  If she does, she better skype in the delivery room.

Our April 16th CIG meeting at the IU was much more relaxed and everyone feels very comfortable about our meetings, our inquiry question and what is going on in our classrooms regarding motivation and effort by our students. We had a skype meeting earlier in the second semester and a few members of the group met at the IU on March 2 (I was attending the NAEA  in New York that weekend- what a great conference!) , so now it is time for everything to come together! We all updated our wikispace, which became the script for our movie presenting our findings in working on getting students motivated to practice music and art outside of the classroom. We also discussed other options for our presentation time (handouts/ question and answer/ visuals, etc)

Today we are making sure we are all caught up on blog posts.  I personally will need to do one more post – Group Inquiry 3.  we are the balancing act,  we have different ways of doing things.  Within that we all encompass an umbrella, under that umbrella are our personal things that we juggle.  I used inquiry in …. way and this is what my students did.

We are working on our Material List for our set up of our Spotlight on Day 4.

We are each bringing in objects to show/represent inquiry done with our students.  My possible objects are as follows:

1. Story boards that the students used to plan their portion of the class animation.

2. Example on computer of student animation example using an inquiry approach.

3. Ipad with pictures of student working. On this ipad, I may also need to show the animation so that I can use my computer for the interactive piece.

4. For audience interaction- Clay and possibly a station set up for people to do stop motion.  I would need my lap top, a video camera, all cords and the clay.  I would need to make a sign explaining how to do it.  ” please contribute to this collaborative inquiry animated project.”  Have student create a video on ipod explaining how to do it.  Need lots of tripods!  Need a large piece of paper to put under clay so that we don’t get the table dirty.  Bring blank cd’s to burn a finished collaborative inquiry piece.

5.  Our personal Umbrella- words which encompass what we are as a teacher- words such as role model, therapist, etc..  Rain drop photos

Today during our CIG meeting, we made preparations for our final presentation. We took our own inquiry into our classrooms and went in a variety of different directions. I narrowed mine down to one class and then narrowed even more into how it affected one particular student. Our goal was to determine how we could increase student motivation to practice and I came to the conclusion that opening up a discussion, mastering new skills, and gaining confidence will motivate a student to continue meaningful practice. We used today to complete the voice-over portion of our video and will meet again in early May to wrap everything up.

During our final cig day we truly wrestled with the idea of inquiry.  We went from no structure in our final presentation to a defined time frame for specific indivual projects.  I was very  eager to finally set up a concept to work within for the final spotlight.  Angela and Chelsie kept the day rolling by taking notes and repeat what she thought was relevant.  As thing progressed, I decided that my interactive project would be the third grade weaving project.  I will bring shuttles, yarn, the loom, and some finished pieces done by the students.  We have also decided  create a slideshow of student work that reflects the idea inquiry.  Our name is the Balancing Act to which we have followed all day.  Each of us adds so much individually to the project that agreeing on a flow for the day was a bit interesting.   Since we are all professional, we can see the other point of view with respect.  Finally, we settled on the intro, recorded our voices, and took our pictures.   Our group truly collaborated all day to make the preparations for the final day.

Student: “Miss Capuzzi, can we watch the Wizard of Oz?”

Me: “No.”*

<pause>

“Wait… why?”

Student: “Because I want to watch it. We can watch it while we work.”

Me: “Hmm… I’ll think about it.”

When I came to IU1 for our CIG meeting Monday, December 19, 2011, I had this conversation in the back of my head. Because I am still a relatively new teacher, I rarely stray from my collection of lesson plans. They are like a security blanket for me. But, I realize that some of my lessons are too cut-and-dry. So, allowing for student suggestions became one of the personal goals I had set for myself this year.

We were about to start our unit on monochromatic painting in 7th grade and usually I set up a holiday-themed still life for students to study value from. I had taught the “Monochromatic Still Life” lesson in the previous semester with average results.

Since a student had showed interest in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, I was trying to make a connection between the black and white world of Dorothy’s bedroom and a monochromatic painting of the student’s bedroom.

David Berlin sat down with our collaborative inquiry group (CIG) and I brought up the idea of incorporating the movie into my class. David proposed a multi-part project where students used their creativity to develop a fantasy world of their own. We talked about only showing the clip where Dorothy leaves her bedroom and enters Munchkinland. Students would create a monochromatic replica of their bedroom (meeting the value objectives I was aiming for) and place a door (separate sheet of paper) that opened to a full color world of wonder.

I loved that idea! For this project, the concept had to be original and we discussed symbolism in class. The students titled the project “My Oz.” And, they really got into it! There was an Oz made entirely of chocolate, one where Christmas lasted all year long, and others filled with student’s favorite things.

[student art coming soon]

I feel that changing this project to suit student interest made a huge difference in the students’ desire to learn something new. They took pride in their work, made important connections with what they were learning, and wanted to share their ideas with the class. They almost didn’t complain about having to paint the “black and white part” because it was so personal for them. I will definitely keep teaching the monochromatic painting lesson this way in the future. Providing more opportunities for choice-based learning is part of the balance I am seeking with this year’s research.

*Note that my immediate response was to say “No.” (I’m trying to change that about myself!) And, in this instance, I’m really glad I didn’t stick with my first answer!!!

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