Day 91: 3 Tips to Stay Creative

I have found a few things help me stay in that creative zone- especially when I am running on empty or running out of ideas.

 

  1.  Give yourself a time limit.

Don’t be easy on yourself- push the timeframe for completing a project. I tend to be more creative while under pressure. If I have a long deadline I will usually wait until the last possible moment to get started. Some may call this procrastination, I prefer to call it a stylistic choice.

2. Be accountable to a human.

If I know that someone has to look at my work, I tend to have more thought and consideration put into something. I have a strong group of people who are not afraid to tell me something is crap (they are my friends, I promise). I have a need to please as well- it usually allows me to put in that extra something.

3. Shouldn’t all lists include 3 things?

I don’t know why I feel the need to sit here and think of a third point…but I don’t have one. Follow the first two. I will use this blog as an example. I have a time limit which is 24 hours to complete the blog post each day. I am accountable to a human, that is my twitter audience. I don’t think people are waiting to read it, but in order to put pressure on myself to complete it everyday (in sickness and in health) I pretend people are waiting to read it.

Happy Creating!

 

Day 90: Know Your Audience

Standing backstage during the final show this week I am reminded of how much the audience is an integral role to the process. There is a certain energy that allows the young actors to play off of, another character to their scene. Their family and friends make up the crowd, the most supportive environment you could wish for, an added bonus for those taking the stage for the first time.

The parents and guardians of students are the educational counterpart for the audience. A strong relationship is needed in order to support the kids, understanding that there is an important partnership. You need to communicate effectively in order to provide a structure for support. I have found that social media is a great way to spark this conversation. Sending pictures, short messages, and a scheduled message (daily) provides consistency.

The audience wants the actors to succeed, they will try their best but need to be met halfway. My role during camp is to facilitate the message that the kids are trying to convey into a theatrical piece that is coherent and engaging. My role during school is to facilitate the learning, based on the curriculum, and inspired by student interest/voice.

3 weeks of camp complete, 3 weeks of camp to go.

Day 89: What’s the Point?

In theatre school I was asked to only answer one question before putting something on stage…What’s the point? It is the question I ask myself not only when devising theatre, but in all aspects of my life including education.

It is a simple question that ultimately is the beginning of the reflective process, even before the actual process is complete. I have applied this to lessons, professional development, and the introduction of tech and maker ED into the classroom.

This question is the gate keeper between strong ideas grounded in fact and thought, and the spur of the moment, hop-on the bandwagon new thing. It has served me well in the classroom, but as mentioned before it’s roots for me began with theatre.

I am still running theatre camp and our weekly show is tomorrow. Today was the final edits of scenes where the tech and the props and costumes are added in. Sometimes the idea that sparked everything on Monday transforms itself far away from the initial interest (which is OK). My role is to ensure that the message being presented by the kids is articulated to an audience who is there for the product. The meaning can get lost along the way, and therefore the question needs to be re-asked. What’s the point of this?  If it doesn’t make sense or the kids do not understand why they are doing what they are doing, chances are the it will fall flat to an audience (even when the audience is filled with family and friends).

In the classroom, sometimes a great lesson idea can be sparked from an initial provocation. I may think I am going in one direction, and by the time I am ready to introduce something to the class it may have veered off the path. By asking the question I ensure that I am able to articulate what it is I am doing, or at least trying to do. The curriculum is always grounded in this, the joy is being creative with the delivery of it.

Pokémon go is my current interest, I downloaded the app and have ventured out into the real world with my virtual game. The initial spark was that the kids would be interested in it and therefore I should try and find a way to connect curriculum through the game. I am currently developing a plants and animals unit based around it. For example, students would have to create a natural habitat for their Pokémon and justify their choices (or find an existing habitat and select Pokémon that would thrive in it). This can be all well and good, but I have to remember in September to go back to that question. If the kids are no longer interested in it then what’s the point?

Strong colleagues will find a way to challenge you on ideas like the one above in a professional manner. I don’t always have the best ideas, and I believe our profession demands that we push each other and question each other to further our development. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Day 88: Remember the Roots

I am approaching the middle point of the summer camp season. It can be easy to fall into routines and begin to remove myself from the moment. I am fortunate to be collaborating with my best friend during the summer camps. Together we keep each other motived and in the moment, constantly challenging and pushing the limit.

Improv is our background, we practically had every class together at Brock University, even living together for a year. We co-ran the same club, and performed together at a monthly occurrence for over 3 years. The relationship is one I value beyond words, and that is because we are honest and always keeping it fresh.

As an improviser you have a close group that you trust your stage life with. I remember we had just become Co-Presidents and wanted to do something to create buzz for the club. We decided to put on a two-person long form show. The basic idea was that we would come out and ask the audience for a one word suggestion and then create a 45 minute play based on the one word.

I remember pushing the couch away from the wall to create a small stage setting in our apartment living room. The goal was to test this simple structure out a few times for the audience of 1 or 2 at best. The night of the show we were pretty nervous.  We sat backstage on opposite sides, I was on the floor thinking why did I agree to this?

As cheese filled as the next part is, it is accurate and remains true. The moment we walked out on stage and started it was all OK. I have a few rare friendships where I can use the following analogy. Jump out of the plane, figure out how to make the parachute on the way down.

It is important that I surround myself with these critical and engaged friendships. Our improv troupe still meets up once a year…December 27th is the date we all make available.  From our initial meeting in St. Catharines we geographically cover most of Canada now. 159 days to go!

 

Day 87: All Art is Borrowed 

I had a drama teacher once tell me that all art is a variation on the art before it, a combination of creativity and variations. I didn’t want to believe this as it would mean I would never create something new. I still struggle with this comment, perhaps this is the difference between art and innovation.

Plagiarism is in the news as the Republican Party gathers for their nominating convention. The speech that was given last night was reported as 93% authentic, 7% plagiarized. I never condone plagiarism or believe there is an excuse to justify it, but the fascinating part is the outcome.

Those who support the candidate have provided a list of other speeches and sources that have used similar lines (including My Little Pony, that’s not a joke) as a way to justify is to excuse the main point. It is widely believed that it will not change the opinions of those who have already made up their mind. 

I find this insight more concerning. At the very least this will serve as an excellent example for classrooms in a few months including the media spin that has been put on it.

Day 86: Smart Phone Intelligence

How old do you think someone should be until they are capable of handling a smart phone? What criteria would you develop to satisfy yourself with giving someone in elementary school a smart phone? I can easily find myself saying “back in my day” to the campers when it comes to technology, I am of course approaching 30…in several years.

Today I met someone who is entering Grade 1 in the fall, and has been in possession of her own smart phone since February. I joked when she mentioned that her mother texted her during lunch break, then quickly realized there was nothing funny about that. I didn’t know what to think…well, I did think too young. Perhaps the teacher brain in me immediately wanted to shut it down until I could widen my perspective on the situation.

There are many pros to having a smart phone at a young age. Children are mastering technology at a far earlier rate simply because they have access to it. The only issue is that the access to this technology allows children to have virtual exposure to everything, which is alarming to me. I think it is too young for someone that age to have a phone, simply because the responsibility of the internet is something that I believe children do not have a grasp on at that age, even some adults are still figuring that out.

Digital citizenship is a mentorship and partnership between child and responisibilty figure (family, educator, etc.) and not reinforced simply by providing the tool to become a digital citizen. I compare it to letting someone step out of a cab into the streets of Toronto or NYC (perhaps an Uber, depends on your timeline) and then hoping they make the best choices possible.

I remember back in the day (here I go) when I purchased my first cell phone (LG flip phone) against my parents wishes on a trip to the mall. I could do this thing called texting, unfortunately none of my friends could text so it was basically me figuring out how many times I had to hit the 9 key to find the letter Z (4 times). I am sure we all have those stories and that part of evolving is that our major milestones will be reached far sooner by the next generation. The question is, does that make it OK? How young is too young without sounding like the old guy? …And don’t we get to sound like the old guy because we are now the old guy (27 is the new 72 I think)?

 

Day 85: The Zeitgeist of Education

Full disclosure, I learned what the world zeitgeist meant in 11th grade photograph class. Since then I find every opportunity to use it at social events that I am not invited to. I will never be caught up with everything that is current and cutting edge. The education zeitgeist is a fast moving entity that is only gaining speed in the 21st century. If I had to define some key aspects of it I would include the following:

Decentralized learning

Communities are creating a stronger identify and voice for themselves with the help of the digital world. Classrooms and specifically classroom teachers have tools that can connect with the outside world like never before. The teacher can be a facilitator of these experiences with simple ease. In the past two years of teaching I have reached out and contacted someone in Vancouver, London, and a northern town of Sweden. School boards are now finding out what their teachers are doing through social media, the bottom-up approach is occurring. Programming has the ability to take on an individual level like never before.

Virtual Everything

Field trips, textbooks, communication, and much more is taking place in a virtual world. The classroom no longer is confined to one physical space. A Google hangout can find you in a café, at home on your couch, or possibly in the middle of catching Pokémon in the park. Check your e-mail is no longer a suggestion, it is a necessity. The benefits are wonderful, but we have to remember that doing something is better than showing something. We must not let the virtual world be an excuse not to interact with the real world that is right in front of us. It does however save on paperwork and bussing costs when you want to take your class to the Giza Pyramids using Nearpod’s virtual reality fieldtrip.

Include Equity into your Inclusion

Equity and inclusion are essential in having a fair, progressive, and strong education system. The only issue is that equity and inclusion can have different definitions depending on whose perspective it is from. I believe that this is something that you must always work towards, and that if you say your are fully equitable and inclusive then you are probably missing something. I imagine a board full of different weighted and sized marbles that you are constantly trying to balance and keep in the middle, while forces on all sides are pushing and pulling the board. What is your definition of equity and inclusion?

I could keep going, however I just downloaded the Pokémon Go App…I created a new e-mail account in hopes that I have diverted some of the many privacy infractions this app has unleashed. I don’t believe I will catch them all, but I did manage to find a reptilian-like creature hiding in my coat closet. Does anyone know what they eat?

Day 84: True Collaboration

I have experienced a number of partnerships over the years. As a dramatic arts student, the success of my entire degree depended on my ability to collaborate. I have found that working in a smaller school creates an obstacle when teaching collaborative skills to students who have had the same group for multiple years.

I remember the one time I was unsuccessful in a group. This group was formed by a professor as part of an opportunity to present at a major drama in education conference. Members were invited in, and not part of selecting the team itself. This was my final year, and by now we all knew each other and I knew that I had some disagreements with a colleague, not knowing that struggle that would come later.

Our differences in pedagogy revealed itself early on, and a few items on the list created  major conflicts. I felt that my approach was correct, and the other approach was ineffective and dangerous. It was the only time in my career when I went to my professor (or anyone) and stated that I was not able to continue with the group. I essentially gave that famous line “either I go or she/he goes”…ultimately it ended in a split of the group into two sections. It was the first time I had caused a disturbance in the force.

Being able to identify and advocate for yourself when faced with a colleague conflict is part of the collaborative process. Simply saying to someone that they should just work it out is not a tool that is useful or applicable in most situations. It took me 4 years in a university setting to realize I wasn’t able to work with someone, taking only perhaps 5 classes together over those years.

Imagine how much time it will take students who stay in the same class throughout their elementary career to develop their awareness for this. I don’t have the solution, but I think that in order to truly teach collaborative skills in this setting you must create new partnerships, which means working with another class in a different grade. Collaborative projects within and between divisions can be a way to promote true collaboration.

One of my goals for the near future is to partner up not only within a grade team but other grades above and below whatever I end up teaching. Creating opportunities to focus on reflecting on these experiences could provide a richer experience.

Do you remember a time when you realized you couldn’t just work it out with someone? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

Day 83: Digital Critical Thinkers

I have found myself the last couple of days devastated by the news unfolding in our country and around the world. Tonight I saw something I never had seen before on the news, a live feed of Turkey under an attempted military coup read. I have heard of a coup before, but never have I witnessed multiple live feeds of one occurring.

24-hour news agencies have scrambled to bring in reporters, paid experts, ex-military this and ex-super important person that. As an audience member, it is dangerous to imagine how many people are not thinking about what they are seeing critically. Emotions are high and within several minutes of watching I witnessed several mis-steps that made me aware of how access to information in the moment has forced ourselves to develop a stronger critical perspective.

When I watched there were no reporters commentating live on the scene, just cameras with audio. The world was watching when civilians were scrambling to figure out what was happening in their own country. Of all of the possibilities flying around, at no time did any of the media said that they didn’t know what was happening for sure…which was actually the entire reality of the situation.

The outcome couldn’t be found with a Google search or the shake of a magic eight-ball. Some of what was reported was true, some of what was said made sense, but the combination of everything points to the need for the viewer to be critical, not to just sit back and be told what they are seeing.

 

Day 82: Inquiry is Art

I am stuck in camp mode, I can’t help it…Everything I have been doing for the past 10 days is related to camp, theatre, and creativity. Every Friday I welcome family and friends to the theatre, explain a little bit about what the program is about, and how they can sign up for more camps and classes that the theatre offers. Today I am still making connections to the inquiry process and the 5 day camp structure.

I’m tired, so excuse me for not providing too much depth tonight.

Day 1- Question/Wonder

Day 2 & 3- Create, Share, Explore, Investigate

Day 4- Refine, Revisit, Redesign

Day 5- Polish, Produce, Perform

It is a quick cycle, but the structure has worked. Tomorrow will mark my 30th summer camp show. I have changed and modified activities, workshops, and content to meet the needs of each week but the structure has stayed the same. Each week the show has been different, sometimes ideas are repeated but the Day 2 & 3 of the process ensure it will never be the same. Here is a taste of what the kids have come up with for this week:

Jaws: The epic shark accidently beaches itself and is helped by a man who stumbles upon him while trying to catch Pokémon, he is reluctant to help but eventually does, and is later saved by the same shark when he finds himself out in the ocean drowning (while hunting for Pokémon)

Flash: Flash (superhero) created a cloning machine to clone himself to keep the city safe while he takes a much needed vacation. The clone decided to clone herself instead of doing all of the work, but accidently hits the evil switch and creates an evil Flash clone. The original clone must return early from his location to save the city from his one removed cloned self.

The Lost Butterfly: A butterfly desperate for adventure fly area from her town and into the neighbouring Amazon Rain Forest, only to be met by a snake that is up to no good. The butterfly meets a monarch butterfly and is brought back home to safety. Video projections help create the sense of flight as the butterfly maneuvers through the forest.

…there are 6 other original scenes that will be shown plus a full cast musical number! Time to put the final touches on the program.