Visual Art Teacher
How did the arts teachers contribute to the planning and teaching of the Island Cultures unit as it progressed?
The classroom teachers were the leaders on this one. They know what I teach and made use of similar concepts. In turn, all year I taught to their ten “universals of culture,” so the students had a strong basis in the visual discipline and were used to thinking of culture and its impact on visual art. But I didn't get directly involved until the end. In the future I will be more directly involved in the visual projects at an earlier point.
How do the arts teachers work with the grade-level teams?
We have lunch at the same time as the sixth-grade team, so we do a lot of casual conversing rather than formal meeting. The whole arts team is building units one at a time with the grade-level teams so that over time we will have a more integrated curriculum. I also try to act as a resource, finding images, suggesting projects, and teaching vocabulary and arts concepts to the teachers in the hopes that those things will seep into their curriculum.
Your use of museums goes beyond what most teachers do to include the study of curating and presentation. What value do you think this has for students?
It is very helpful if students can think critically about museums, since a museum itself can be viewed as an artwork. The more you look at the how and why of anything – such as museum curating decisions – the more interesting it is. So I try to teach art history methods as much as content. I have taken kids to the museum without preparing them and without asking them to think about the exhibits, and it was awful! When kids have some knowledge of what they are seeing, and why, and are asking the tough questions, then behavior takes care of itself because the kids care.
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Rick Wright, 6th-Grade Teacher
How do you keep the fact that the cultures are going to be conquered a secret from year to year?
We impress on students the value of the shock they felt when they themselves were conquered and ask that they not let the cat out of the bag. So far they have been very respectful of this. When one student did tell about the conquering stage of the unit, he largely met with disbelief. Students couldn't believe that after all the work they'd done on their cultures, that teachers would be callous enough to conquer them.
What makes the Island Cultures unit particularly appropriate for sixth-graders?
Students in sixth grade are for the most part entering adolescence. They are very concerned with themselves and relationships with friends. They are concerned with issues of fairness, justice, and how they themselves fit into the adult social order. They are at a stage where they are beginning to be critical of the adult world and imagine that they'd be able to create a better society if only allowed the latitude to do so. They are also at a developmental stage where they are better able to understand the impact of cause and effect relationships, so repercussions or consequences of their choices in creating their utopias make a more profound effect.
Do the students have an opportunity to share their conclusions about the cultures that they've analyzed with the creators of those cultures and the rest of the school community?
The museum exhibits were unveiled at our spring Learning Festival. Students and their parents had an opportunity to see the exhibits for the first time at this event. The students were quite eager to attend so they could find out what the “archaeologists” determined their culture to be like. Archaeologists’ findings were presented in the form of the exhibit catalogues that each archaeology team was required to prepare for their display.
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