Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Comics in the Classroom: Internshippin'

Today I had the pleasure of entertaining a few interested students from the UAF School of Education who were in their 5th and final year towards a Bachelor of Arts & Education degree and certification to teach in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District. So for this semester they each have been assigned to intern under and teach alongside a teacher in various local schools (4th + 6th grade) plus complete this particular "Local Artist Project Assignment" for an ED 414 course "Art, Music & Theatre Integration." That's where I came in.

I was chosen from a roster of available and willing "local professional artists" to meet with and be interviewed so as to provide them with material and inspiration for creating a "developmentally appropriate" lesson plan to use in their own classrooms. This includes images, background biographical information including artwork and process, and a related art activity.
Integrating comics into the curriculum has been somewhat of a mission for me in this community, and this was the second year I volunteered to try and convince aspiring educators to the potential of using this unique medium as a powerful teaching tool. As far as a "problem solving skills and creative thinking" comics are a deceptively simple and sneaky way to introduce a whole bunch of valuable and applicable skills. And have fun in the meantime too, what a concept.

I hauled along a portfolio for the hour and half show & tell and a bag of comics, graphic novels and a slew of student examples from exercises included in a little resource material packet I passed out as well. Also I pitched the whole concept of making minicomics and collaborative group approaches to creating successful projects, and gave a quick run through on both how I go about drawing cartoons and how I teach it to my own classes. In theory this meeting is supposed to take place at the artist's studio, but seeing as how I live in a one-room cabin way out in the woods, we all agreed that meeting in town at one of my usual haunts would be logistically better.

We had a special bonus appearance by a friend and former student (on both sides of the desk) Heidi Atkinson. She is an "Elementary Art Specialist" here in our district currently teaching an "extension project" based on yers truly (part of her "embedded professional development" which is almost as awesome a term as "pedagogical").
Along with many other local gigs and shows of her own, she appears in nineteen different schools (every single 3rd grade class) and spends one hour and fifteen minutes with the kids and an "art kit" that introduces both the class and the teachers to the whole idea and range of possibilities in comics. This plants a seed as to future sessions and assignments the hosting instructor can pursue on their own later on.
Last week Heidi previewed to me her sweet and simple Power-Point presentation she had assembled from various places that my work appears on-line: it serves as part of her approximately 10-minute introductory show & tell where the students get some backstory on me, discuss and ask questions about particular sample cartoons and get a brief overview of process and techniques. The remainder of classtime is devoted to a variation of the "exquisite corpse" timed, collaborative drawing exercise we've played with in our occasional cartoon jams. So far it's been a fabulous success and I wish Heidi luck in her continued quest, I only wish I'd been so lucky when I was a kid to have someone like her visit my classroom. This also explains why I got an email from a former editor last week wondering A) how it is that actually they let me into schools to indoctrinate the youth and B) why his little girl came home from school talking about "the Nuggets man."

Note to self: after teaching a morning class on three hours of sleep, don't have a stromboli + pilsner for breakfast, and expect to be articulate at a meeting afterwards...
(all pics by Jennifer Ruis)

"There was a teacher who recognized that I was interested in cartooning
and he was great." - Jonathan Shapiro

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