Sunday, August 05, 2007

New Beginnings

There's a niggling buzz that's started. Something familiar. One I've experienced every year since I first started school - too many years ago to mention. It's that feeling you get when the new school year approaches. Anticipation. Opportunities to begin again, to start over, do things better, try something new, reinvent yourself. What a rush....

Teachers start back on August 15th. I'm looking forward to a completely new job, teaching Design Technology through computers. Back when I was in middle and high school it would have been a shop class, but times have changed. For one thing, our school hasn't invested in a metal/woodworking shop. Perhaps they will in the future, but for now, we're approaching the course through computers.

The underlying concept is the same. Follow a design cycle. Brainstorm. Investigate. Sketch and plan several possibilities. Choose the most feasible or interesting one. Create the product. Reflect on the process and document as you go along. Test or get feedback on the final product and evaluate the outcome. We'll still address all of the components of the course: Information, Materials and Systems. The difference is that we won't be using food, wood, electric circuits, robotics, metal, textiles. At least not in the first year.

The other challenge is to create projects which can incorporate one or more of the Areas of Interaction: Approaches to Learning, Community and Service, Health and Social Education, Environment, and Human Ingenuity. By choosing their own theme, they'll own the project. It's also about giving something back, being aware of how we affect others and the mark we leave behind.

The process is the most important thing for them to experience, but the projects should be engaging. I'm thinking clay animation films with iStop Motion, comic book messages designed in Comic Life, podcasting with a slide show, designing complete CD covers, inserts and labels with a drawing program or their own photographs, iMovies with still photos and music created in Garage Band, postcards of bizarre images created in PhotoShop. No pre-designed images allowed. No hi-jacked pictures from Google. They'll have to create everything from scratch.

For me, the new year has never begun on January first. It begins at the end of summer when we all go back to school. I'm going to have to scramble to keep up... I can hardly wait!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Creative Outlet? Who Needs It?

One of the things that I enjoy about my work is that I’m surrounded by creative, diverse colleagues who challenge the students and, inadvertantly, me, to consider new ideas, take risks and look inside. As a support teacher, I'm forced to attempt the tasks myself in order to help my students understand and complete the work. Recently, they were assigned an essay with a choice of themes to explore: Love, Evil or Human Nature. Since then, I’ve been mulling over the idea of human nature and creativity.

Apparently, from the lack of postings on this blog, I’ve experienced a slump in creativity for nearly a year, despite attending a week-long writing course in the Highlands of Scotland last summer. The awesome talent of my peers on the course was daunting. The break in my wrist last spring turned into a metaphor for my creative outlet. The expressive channel was broken.

Having said that, I’ve been like a boiling kettle with a dancing lid - the steam’s been coming out in other directions, but not in the one I wanted. Instead, I’ve been trying out new bread recipes, taking up knitting again after many years, re-arranging furniture (that’s a favourite), learning to make sushi and choosing paint for the front hallway. Just recently, I started a new project at work, designing a web page of resources. Finally, I’d found an outlet, something to focus on! The really strange thing is that it got me writing again.

I have a theory that we all need to have some outlet for our creativity. For some, it’s a mind trip while walking the dog that ends up as a short story. It might be choosing coordinating drapes and pillows for the living room or planting vegetables in the garden, putting a mixture of flowers together in a vase, painting racing stripes on the car or organizing an informal party. There’s a basic human need to be purposeful, imaginative, to test the waters (or the thin ice) and DO something. Something unique to you. It often requires learning something. A new skill. Discovering a new talent. Re-discovering a childhood passion.

This need to learn new things reminded me of my father, a quiet, private man who enjoyed his own company. As a young man, he had trained to be a watchmaker, and in his retirement, he returned to that hobby until his failing vision made it impossible to continue. He was also a passionate photographer who preferred taking pictures to hunting. He enjoyed cooking meals or treats for the family and took satisfaction from mowing the lawn. He didn’t seek anyone’s approval, but took joy in just doing things his own way. He was curious about computers and the World Wide Web, but felt it was too late for him to master it. Things were just changing too fast. When he lost interest in learning or creating anything new, he lost interest in life itself. Or perhaps it was the other way around.

I think we all need a creative outlet. Without it, the love of life slips away. Or people become destructive, another outlet for “doing”. If this is true, it raises many more questions... How can we nurture creativity in our schools and society? How can we provide the elderly with opportunities to be expressive? How can we solve our world problems through innovation rather than destruction? I think it’s by encouraging and providing opportunities to use imagination and creative problem solving throughout our society - at home, in schools and in the workplace.