Teaching & Learning in the museum district


Drama, Intrigue and Forty Minutes of Fame:First Quarter Fine Art Electives Come to an Exciting End

On October 11, 2013, there was an almost constant hum in middle school hallways.  People were abuzz with news of the culminating experiences of the first quarter fine art electives. 

Sitting on stools under the stage lights, seventh grade drama students stood, one by one, and presented monologues about school life, friendship and the importance of kindness.  Their audience, the entire fifth and sixth grades, was attentive and engaged.  After all, they already knew August, Jack Will, Summer, Via, Justin, Miranda and Mr. Tushman, who were speaking to them.  All the monologues were taken from the middle school's summer reading book, Wonder by R.D. Palacio.  The exercise of preparing the monologue was an important one.  It resulted in eighteen seventh graders knowing that they had the composure to perform in front of others and the courage to undertake the task even though it was nerve-wracking.  Even when things didn't go entirely as planned, the gift of the experience was that they saw that they were resilient.  Without damaging their implicit agreement with the audience, they learned that they could problem solve in the moment and stay "in character."

Pouring into the hallways at fifth period were twenty-nine excited eighth graders who had just witnessed or taken part in the trial of one of their classmates.  The jury was unable to reach a verdict, so a new trial date was set.  Fortunately, the trial was fictional and the very creation of the eighth grade Mock Trial participants.  This elective was a partnership with the Houston Bar Association and included the assistance of two school parents who are trial attorneys.  With the guidance of PS alumna Amelia Burt from the HBA, the students created the murder case and enacted the roles of attorneys, witnesses, bailiff, clerk and judge.  Twelve other eighth graders, randomly selected using an Ipad app, were issued a jury summons and spent the morning hearing the case.  

Once they entered the wood-paneled Harris County Court room, teenagers approached this adult scenario with unusual dignity. On the stand were an arresting officer, friend and family of the victim, employees, family of the accused, business attorney, financial advisor and the accused himself.  While the initial questioning of the witnesses by the attorneys was scripted, the cross-examination required each witness to think critically in response to the attorney's questioning.  The eighth grade attorneys were hard-nosed, but the witnesses were quick on their feet and ably handled the relentless questions.  The court room personnel were stately.  The closing statements were well-delivered.  The jury of their peers understood the gravity of their task and hotly deliberated the testimony in the jury room.  In the end, because it was a hung jury, each juror stood and explained why he or she voted the way that they did, which was important feedback for the participants.  The parents and teachers who attended praised the students collectively for their strong showing and mature comportment. 

Less dramatic but equally compelling was the Forty-Five Minute Art Exhibit that celebrated its opening and its closing all within the same hour.  The "Old School Drawing" elective spent every other day sketching in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston galleries.  Their teacher, Mrs. Cox, installed the exhibit with the help of a roll of masking tape, each drawing with small pieces of tape not entirely affixed to the walls so that the work would come down as quickly as it went up.  As the students enjoyed the refreshments at the exhibit's reception, many remarked that they couldn't believe that they actually produced that many works.  Mrs. Cox insisted that the eighth graders put down their Capri Suns and show each visitor around the exhibit, explaining their continuous line drawing and their bird study, or whatever project was their favorite.  This power-packed forty-five minutes was a wonderful way to end not only the day, filled with fine arts activities, but also the quarter, which took students to into other disciplines such as dance, film, music and even pin hole photography. 

Posted by Ms. Courtney Daniell-Knapp on Wednesday October, 16, 2013


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