Saturday, September 24, 2011

Aesthetics in the Classroom - The Art of Liking



21st c. learning is the big buzz word in our school. Incorporating student driven learning, the use of more technology and fostering collaborative learning in the classroom are the charges we've been given as teachers. As most other teachers, I was a bit more of a "sage on the stage" instead of a "guide from the side", and I have been working on letting those teaching strategies go as I adopt new ways of learning for my students.

Last spring semester I began a new feature in my classroom: Artist of the Day. Each day I show a video of a contemporary artist to my 9th & 10th grade students. The videos are short, usually under 5 minutes. Sometimes I would show them a website, but I noticed that they were not as engaged when I walked them through a website as they were when they watched a video. So this was the first thing I learned - they are used to action and high stimulation. Last year I didn't use them for instructional purposes particularly, but each day I was interested in knowing if they liked the artist with a quick show of hands. At the end of the week, I took a weekly survey and conducted a vote up on the board and each class could see what the other classes voted for.

In this day, "Liking" is a big deal. I see it as a first step in teaching aesthetics to our 21st c. students. They "Like" things on Facebook, give reviews and post comments on all manner of things on the Internet. Conducting a vote on the artists they see is something they know how to do and are pretty comfortable with. It's fun for me to hear them say on Monday, "I'm going to vote for this artist this week!" only to change their mind as the artists unfold. And, sometimes I put something up that I think they will like but it turns out to be a big flop.

I am beginning a project this semester of incorporating the study of aesthetics into my curriculum. Though they practice aesthetic thinking when deciding how they feel about the artists they see, when I ask them why they do or don't like a video they can rarely tell me, except for it was awesome or it sucked. Note to self: they don't have much of a vocabulary to explain why they do or don't like something.

This last week I created a theme for Artist of the Day - stop motion animation. In the past I've bounced all over the place with media and process when selecting the videos, but I want to focus their thinking (and mine!) more. Instead of a quick show of hands vote, I asked them to write about the lineup. We just finished studying the Elements of Art, so I asked them to write down which Elements they saw in the work. They could do this fairly well. I also asked them what divergent thinking they saw in each video, and they were able to see examples of that. (Divergent thinking is a BIG theme in my classroom this year - seeing it in action and practicing it.) But, when I asked them how the materials and processes of each video affected how the communication of the art, a good percentage of the students couldn't make the connection on that more subtle level.

Here's the selection for the week and the voting results. I am also including some of their thoughts about the connection of material to art; some great connections were made. If you would like to watch the lineup and place your own vote, the links are here and it will take about 12 minutes to view all five videos. I welcome your comments and input on my blog. And now Ladies and Gentlemen, Artist of the Day - Stop Motion Animation!

68 votes - Pencilhead Fatboy Slim - smoother flow of movement, filled with energy, more cartoonish

33 votes - Street Knowledge by King Adz - some sections look 3D, strong detail, urban feel

28 votes - The Dot - world's smallest stop motion video - surreal effect, more excitement, specific focal point, though it's about destruction bright colors are used (NOTE: if you have another 5 1/2 minutes, watch the companion video, "Dot. The making of" - it's great!)

26 votes - Game Over - PESfilm - use of toys create a nostalgic and humorous feel

1 vote - Stop Motion Photographer - more realistic look, nature has calming, peaceful effect (NOTE: This was the dud. One vote. Back to our students and what they like - fast, exciting, complicated, dynamic.)

Which one do YOU vote for?