Mrs. Miles would hold discussions on the ethical decisions that Beowulf would make when hunting down Grendel, Chaucer’s commentary on his view of his “modern day” Britain, and would have us try to apply Swift’s solutions with a “Modest Proposal” to current issues. She would hold two great exhibitions each year, a Medieval Banquet in the late fall and a Victorian Tea in the late spring. We would dress up and many of us would fall into roles, read stories written in the style of Chaucer at the Banquet, or poetry heavy laden with Keats’ imagery and emotion at the Tea. She assigned me and two friends to role of the Lord’s fools which, I admit, was probably to let us be silly without us getting in everyone else’s way. What she did was release the Jabberwocky.
My fellow jesters scripted several skits, taught ourselves improv, memorized a few historical poems (Including the Jabberwocky, which I still remember today, slithy toves and all), and I even taught myself to juggle. Simply because that what what a medieval jester did. For not one minute did we step out of character the entire night, including when we were forced to serve the guests the “rat-tail soup” (which was leek soup and quite good… and we got everyone to have some). The preparations that went into that exhibition stick with me and those friends to this day (The other two are married to each other now). What I never realized was that they were “presentations of learning”. Many years later, I would sit in Innovation Lab and see the students excel beyond our subtle prompts and minimal direct instruction and it reminded me of this wonderful women who inspired me to step beyond the curriculum to make something academic into something wonderful.
I now am learning to juggle again. Not for the purpose of keeping three object cycling through predicable projectile motion, but rather I’m trying to toss in curriculum content, projects and demonstration of mastery. The ever inquisitive juniors are exploring ethical impact on civic responsibility and the ability to make decisions that will last beyond the immediate problem, and the dynamic energy of the sophomores is directed toward learning on how to work together and dig through media to try to discern facts about current day issues. The excitement of their learning is mixed with the frustration of problem solving as they sort their way through these wonderful projects that will lead to a public exhibition. But getting to that end goal is the where the magic happens.
I’m still throwing the proverbial balls into the air and hoping I catch them only to toss them back into the cycle. It’s Sunday night and I just returned from Home Depot with a jeep full of PVC and vinyl fencing that is to be joined with a large Amazon order of water distribution systems that will turn a part of STEM room into an indoor aeroponic garden. A project designed to balance the ethical responsibility that we have to feed the world with the viability of it with respect to energy, cost and space. I know the sophomores are starting their air, soil and water project and its representation of major environmental issues. And that is only in STEM. The Humanities projects are equally fascinating and I look forward to seeing those progress in the upcoming weeks. Its amazing to see how these projects all come together in the Innovation Lab experience and provide our students with new way to look at their education and providing them with fantastic opportunities. The students, as well as their teachers, will learn to juggle all of their hard work and enthusiasm, so as to make their time here, not only worthwhile, but also a show piece.