The World’s Biggest Theatre Ensemble

I am really excited about this new project I am apart of.

It’s called World Theatre Video. You can check out the website here.

I’m excited about it for a number of reasons. Most importantly though, I’m excited about the way in which it was created.

I’ve posted before about the enormous benefit of starting a PLN (Professional Learning Network for the uninitiated). I cannot stress how isolated I felt in the classroom for so many years, desperate to connect with someone who understood how I was feeling, what I was going through and what I needed.

Now, I will have had my PLN for almost three years this coming January. This blog and now the Facebook page are both products of me starting a PLN. The motivation it has provided me, the support and encouragement it has offered me, has kept me engaged in my profession as a teacher. It is always challenging me to try something new.

It’s a place in which I feel ideas, as lofty and undeveloped as they may seem, are not scoffed at but encouraged and may actually eventuate.

Things, such as this project, World Theatre Video.

Earlier in the year, I made a rather fleeting request on Twitter to see if any drama teachers would be willing to collaborate with me on a World Theatre Day project. You can read about what happened here.

Due to that tweet and everything that happened in its wake, I have had the pleasure of meeting both @MoAsh245 and @edtech4theatre in real life.

It was a rather exciting moment. To connect from half way around the world and another state entirely is a really remarkable thing.

The organic nature in which it all came about was a wonderful thing to be a part of. It made me think how easy it is to connect with those that are willing from anywhere in the world not just from your region or immediate community of schools. Why do we have to keep it to our immediate environments?

In reflecting on that time it was a fun, simple project that engaged my students. Thankfully they were all willing and excited to be seen by students around the world. It made theatre and their own performance real to them. It made them accountable. I also think it is a fabulous way to expose drama and to celebrate the awesomeness that is drama teaching and live theatre.

I’m proud of Nick for expanding the project and incorporating his knowledge of Google Apps to make it a credible, worthwhile project that demonstrates how creative and tech savvy drama teachers can be. That we don’t need to be entering into million dollar software deals. That there are free resources at our fingertips if we just leave the bureaucracy and red tape out of it. Also, it shows how well we can collaborate, particularly virtually! That technology is not something we are afraid of embracing as we move into developing 21st Century learners and the face of theatre as we know it.

Many people still scoff at PLN’s and the use of social networking out of work hours to expand and develop their knowledge of teaching. It does move at an extremely fast pace but I guarantee that I wouldn’t be half as knowledgeable about education “stuff” if it wasn’t for my PLN. It makes me feel that sometimes schools are just so slow and really behind the eight ball. It really is up to the individual teacher to make 21st Century learning happen in their classroom despite the system and the people who are happy to ride along in cruise control in their old beat up Holden. If you catch my drift…

I encourage you to get involved in this project. It is fun. It poses so many questions as to the validity of social media and technology in our classrooms and in theatre as well as the possibilities for it in the future. This may be the opportunity some of your students need or are looking for. It may be what you have been needing or looking for.

Photo Credit: Βethan via Compfight cc

Creating Creative Connections

To be honest I don’t recall how it all began.

In the holidays I tweeted about how excited I was to be using Skype for the first time. I posted about my first Skype chat here.

I’d been thinking of using it for some time personally with the big picture intention of getting it into my classroom, my student’s would be using it and would be connecting with schools overseas.

I posted my story about Mazz and her theatre project in Ecuador on Twitter and @LMSDrama responded with some encouraging feedback about the post. It was from there that we got into a conversation about my ideas for connecting classrooms through Skype and blogging.

@LMSDrama said, “Have you ever tried Google + Hangouts?” I hadn’t. I’d signed up for Google + when I was invited by a colleague at school, had a bit of a play on the site and kind of left it alone. I felt like I was drowning in social media and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it all.

It was the holidays and I had some time up my sleeve so I decided to experiement. It was trial and error and my out of date hardware let me down so we ended up using Skype but I think we’ve landed on something pretty exciting.

So far we’ve had two “Hangouts” on Skype. First it was just the two of us. Then we had to try to invite a colleague along to join us at our next chat. We sorted out the timezone differences and amazingly we conduct the chat on two different days. Our initial session was a half hour “get to know you chat” and we decided at our second session to bring some questions or ideas to discuss.

This week we had our second session. We have decided to:

  • Create a monthly Drama “Hangout” using Google + to talk about issues and ideas in Drama.
  • Create a Drama Teacher’s Edmodo Group to help us facilitate our “Hangouts” and other resources.
  • Connect our schools using our class blogs, videoconferencing and Skype.

Pretty amazing, huh? It’s amazing what can happen when you have enthusiastic people willing to drive a new initiative in your school.

The night before I had tweeted out of desperation, for someone who would be willing to join me for the chat. @KerriDrama, who I had already been in contact with about joining class blogs, let me know she was keen. Then @Theatresaurus got involved too. Within the space of about half an hour our chat group had doubled.

Now we are awaiting our next chat and hope that we can encourage more of you wonderful Drama Teachers out there to join us.

So if you’re keen, we will be conduting our next Drama Chat on:

Tuesday 15th May, 6am Australian Eastern Standard Time

If you want to check what time that will be for you, head on over to this site.

NB: Google Hangouts can only host nine users at one time. If we get more than that we will resend amended details.

 Leave us a comment to let us know if you would like to join us and I will contact you with the details. Email is easy, Twitter is even easier.

If you are a Twitter user, be sure to use the hashtag #dramateachers or #tweatre at the end of your tweets so we can keep track of all your drama goodness.

Hopefully we will see you at our next chat.

Image Credit: εntropy ≥ mεmory . crεatıvıty ², jef safi, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Connecting with Communities in Drama

I took a technological “one giant leap for mankind” the other day. Yep. I tried Skype for the first time. I must say I was floating on air (or lack of it if we’re on the moon in this analogy) at completing my first video chat and was excited by the possibilities it could lead to for my professional learning network and also within my classroom.

This leap into planet Skype was motivated by my desire to connect with one of my PLN’s daughter’s who has been working on a volunteer program in Ecuador. @whatedsaid has been tweeting since January about the need for volunteers in Baños, Ecuador. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that they had recently acquired a new space in which to build a theatre. They were (or are) looking for volunteers to help them recreate that space and hopefully to eventually put on a performance.

I have been wanting for some time to connect my love of theatre with something philanthropic. In the past my experience with charity has been demoralising. I hand over the money but don’t really see what happens with it. I had become sceptical. Perhaps even somewhat cynical. For many of us though, this is the only way we can help and whilst there is nothing all together wrong with this, I made a decision that if I personally was to engage in charity once again it would be through a commitment of my time, with a community I can be in direct contact with and doing something that I enjoy. That I feel I can contribute to passionately. And my passion for Drama is well documented here at the DTN 🙂 Arte del Mundo seems to combine many of those desires. My love of theatre, my South American heritage and a desire to work in less fortunate communities and expose them to the brilliance of theatre.

Whilst I can’t get to Ecuador in the near future, I was motivated to think of a way to help. It also got me thinking about the challenges in bringing a greater sense of community into schools.

Arte de Mundo has been running in Baños for about three years. Originally founded by an American couple, it began with simple face painting and has grown into a series of interactive libraries, English classes, themed lessons and even a cinema. Now they will be adding a theatre and a Rural Outreach Program to the mix.

Mazz Sackson, in the search for a volunteer program that combined her desire to learn Spanish and her theatre passion, found Arte de Mundo, loved it and has been co-managing the program ever since. Mazz tells me, Arte has a Board of Director’s and is funded mostly on donations but also from a small fee charged to student’s who attend their English classes.

There has been a steady stream of volunteers (the peak period is in July) but they are always looking for more. In terms of the theatre building project Mazz and her team are open to the possibilities. There are tentative plans to create a play about the communities experiences living right under Tungurahua or “The Black Giant” volcano. For a community that has never had a theatre and believe that theatre is a puppet show, this will be an entirely new experience for them. Mazz and her team at Arte de Mundo are always looking for new ideas so people bringing their own ideas for projects, theatre based or otherwise, are encouraged.

Mazz’s enthuasiasm for connecting with the community members of Baños is evident. You can hear the ideas swirling around and her motivation and desire to build on her plans. It was this that further ensconced me in thoughts about the importance of connecting with our school communities as well as the wider community through Drama.

In the years that I have been teaching I have directed several small drama productions. Each year, I try to connect the themes of the play with a charity that I think would fit. For example, in 2008 I directed Two Weeks with the Queen. In the play, one of the characters is suffering from childhood cancer so we donated part of our profits to Camp Quality and invited a local family to attend the performance. In 2010 we performed Beach: A Theatrical Fantasia. That year we donated part of the profits to Surf Life Saving Australia. Every two years my Year 10 Drama class performs at Westmead Children’s Hospital at the Hospital School.

I feel these are simple ways to connect with the wider community and the greater purpose drama has in being able to connect student’s and audience emotionally with the stories of the characters whilst at the same time making those connections tangible so that student’s are contributing to, improving and/or educating about a situation or someone else’s wellbeing. In many schools building a sense of community can be difficult. They exist but how can they be strengthened? It has always been a delicate balance between giving money or giving time and in this world of go, go, go and me, me, me, reminding people of the importance of community and giving is something I hold in high regard.

For more information on donating or volunteering with Arte de Mundo, visit their website here. You can also follow them on Twitter @FAM_Ecuador

Whether it is through volunteer programs, donating services or resources, how does Drama at your school connect with its community?

Image Credit: Mamacita Tungurahua / Sara y Tzunki (Cecilia e Francesco) / http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

What KONY2012 Showed Me About My Teaching

Imagine it’s Thursday morning. Period 1, Year 10 English. It’s cold and rainy. I have to take Year 10 Sport, Period 3 so you’d think I’d be ready and raring, what with me in my gym gear and all, except I’d been awake till midnight marking books and woke up at 5am to finish off the last of the marking, so I’m not so ready and raring anymore. We’ve been studying narratives and had just finished a story on the Y2K bug and I was trying to launch into a cool story I had found on the moon landing conspiracy but my rocket just wasn’t launching.

During my late night marking session I checked my Twitter feed to see what was trending. I saw #stopkony and #makekonyfamous. I had a quick flick over to Facebook and saw that everyone was sharing this movie “KONY 2o12“. I made a mental note that I had to watch it but unfortunately it would have to wait until I had a bit more time up my sleeve. I’d been putting off this marking for three days.

The kids came bounding in at 8:30am. We got started on our work when one of them piped up, “Miss, did you watch that Kony movie?” I replied, “I saw it last night and I’ve been meaning to watch it – ” “Miss, we have to watch it,” the student interrupted.

Now me, when I’m tired sees me listening to the kids when I probably shouldn’t. They’re much more persuasive when I’ve not had my shot of coffee. I thought to myself, “Bugger it. This is relevant to these kids right now, let’s put it on and have a discussion about it.” I probably should’ve given myself some more time to set up a context but heck, sometimes you just run with things as a teacher, right?

So I threw my planned lesson out the window and we sat in silence, in the dark and watched KONY 2012.

Whatever your thoughts on KONY 2012 this post isn’t hear to defend any particular point of view but it is here to say that in that moment, that was what was relevant to my kids and it was affecting their lives and for the first time, I saw my teaching shift because I was so acutely aware and conscious of that and I tapped into it.

For the first time in my teaching practice I felt rebellious. I felt like I was stepping into a new realm of teaching where I was taking a risk, being devious, and stepping away from the plan. Which for me, being someone who can’t stand not sticking to the plan, is a total breakthrough.

Should I have felt that way at all? Part of me thinks not. I do, however, think I need to listen to this instinct and get better at formulating lessons around this idea of what’s immediate or relevant in my student’s lives. From this, I can see that a new philosophy is already forming for me about the kinds of risks I want to take and the challenges I want my kids to face in the classroom because in that moment, listening to the kids in that way and really connecting with what was important to them, then and there, was empowering to me. You felt something different happen to the energy in the room. It was like I was getting into their “realm” and the way they like to learn. I felt like I was succeeding.

KONY 2012 was the catalyst for me to work on how I connect with my students on a conceptual level and to develop my philosophy and approach to teaching even further. Watch this space.

Read about Joseph Kony, the Invisible Children Foundation and watch KONY 2012 here.

Will you use KONY 2012 in the classroom? Why/why not? If you have, what was your experience? What moment in your teaching changed the way you think and approach teaching? Comments appreciated.

Image Credit:Kony 2012 / Collin Harvey / CC BY 2.0