Elementary Education: On Curriculum Slams

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A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Manager of Teacher Programs at the MCA Chicago inviting me to attend their annual Curriculum Slam. I was stoked to hear that she found my information through this blog and incredibly intrigued by the excellent student programming that the MCA Chicago offers to students and teachers alike. One of the presenters, Chris Sykora, happens to be a local business owner and teacher in my own neighborhood. Chris teaches first year high school photography, in addition to offering adult photography lessons at Transistor and owning the amazing Delicious Vegan Cafe. Knowing the high caliber of the MCA Chicago and the sheer awesome-ness that is Chris, I attended the Slam last week with high expectations for the programming. And guys? I was not disappointed.

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The Slam featured seven teachers who had each created and implemented a lesson plan that featured the style of a contemporary artist. Each presenter had just 7 minutes, 14 power point slides, and 30 seconds per slide to powerfully present their work and the generated content of their students. This quick style of presentation kept the energy focused and the information streamlined. It was a really smart way to showcase the work of different teachers, and it could potentially be a great tool in the classroom as well.

The presentation Chris gave was entitled, In Your Face Expressive Photography: Inspiring Community Engagement in Schools through the Street Artist JR. Chris stated about the lesson plan, “In this project, students investigated the work of street artist/photographer JR, who has brought awareness to a wide array of social issues from across the globe. Students conducted their own investigation of human expression in their school through photography and installation.” The students worked in small groups to select and photograph two opposing human emotions. After the photos were taken, the students enlarged the photos, printed them on letter paper, reconstructed the images, and then displayed them throughout the school. Chris noted that the images struck up a lot of conversation in the hallways and led to students writing poems about the images for other class assignments.

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There were other projects that night that sparked my interest and that I hope to find use for in my own lesson planning. What I mostly noticed when the instructors were talking about these projects is that they were extremely student guided. The instructors offered examples of the artists work and technique, but then the students were allowed to interpret and to take the ideas somewhere that was very personal for them. The most successful projects also seemed to involve the entire school once they were completed. I love the idea that a gallery can be constructed for student work that is highly regarded within the school as a valuable and reflective part of their community. I also just love the idea of getting students to connect ideas like art and community. One of the projects used the idea of graffiti to help students understand their own personal identity. An immediate extension I saw would be to have students select and photograph a piece of graffiti in their neighborhood and then use a theme from it in a piece about their neighborhood.

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Overall, it was an excellent and very inspiring evening of education. The MCA has another workshop (this one with hands-on art making!) coming up this month on Saturday, February 25th from 10am-1pm on their new exhibition, This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s. I’m already geeking out about having a Saturday session at the MCA Chicago. I have to say again, it’s been very exciting thus far to attend all of these teacher training nights around the city. It makes me feel pretty confident that I’ll have ample opportunities in Chicago to continue learning and building my practice after I’ve graduated

Have a good week!