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Artists Statement

HTH 216: Deeper Learning Through Projects


Paul North

Origins and Aims of the Project

In its current form, this project weaves together several threads of interest. Inspired by
a significant learning experience from my own childhood, I began developing a class
play project for an upper elementary grade. Although I was and still am passionate
about this idea, it didnt feel connected to my current teaching role in first grade. When
a colleague mentioned how she had led a performance project involving puppets, the
idea stuck. Puppets seemed more appropriate for first grade and could offer a rich
experience in imaginative play. Although my early investigations into puppet theater
were enjoyable, for me, this subject alone did not give rise to the deeper, more essential
questions. Over time, my thinking shifted; while I know that my students will learn a
great deal through their understanding, creation, and use of puppets, I began to view
puppets as the vehicle for learning, rather than the central subject of learning. When I
reflected on the underlying purpose of puppets, I struck upon a recurring theme from
my time at HTH: community-building. Puppet theater is a collective experience that
upholds and/or challenges cultural norms; it is a means for establishing a
community. Moving forward, I began to think about examples through which students
might understand these concepts. Before long, I was watching youtube videos of
Sesame Street and singing along with characters as they taught about numbers, letters,
feelings, and expectations. I had discovered a professional project exemplar. What if we
created and filmed our very own episode of Sesame Street? To lend purpose to this
product, our episode could be presented to kindergarteners every year as an orientation
to the community values and practices of High Tech Elementary. HTe Street was
born!

Expert Consultation

Throughout the design process, I sought expert consultation from my professional
colleagues. First, I connected with Latanya Lockett, the performing arts teacher at High
Tech Elementary, about resources for creating original theater. A professional vocalist,
Latanya offered her connections in the local community and was eager to explore the
role that songs might play in our production. (Characters in The Muppets and Sesame
Street often teach through song.) At the elementary level, I also connected with
Georgia Hall, a third-grade teacher who collaborated with her team on a puppet project
last year. Georgia provided great insight into the character development, script-writing,
and production process. She also suggested reaching out to her former students for
assistance critiquing puppets and skits. These helpful resources, along with her personal
encouragement, convinced me that I was heading in the right direction. Venturing over
the hall to High Tech Middle Chula Vista, I met up with another performing arts teacher,
Wendy Maples, the performing arts teacher at High Tech Middle Chula Vista, was
extremely generous with her resources. During our meeting, she shared her books,
methods, and products from her lessons around puppets. Wendy even owns an
authentic Muppet-style puppet, which she sometimes uses to spice up her teaching; the
chance to see and play with this professional-quality puppet led me to reacquaint
myself with the iconic Jim Henson-produced television shows. In addition to these three
collegial partnerships, I have developed a strong relationship with a parent who
performs as a professional puppeteer with the theater in Balboa Park. Through these
connections, I was able to develop the project and the confidence to implement it
successfully.

The Prototype

In lieu of an actual muppet, each student will create an elaborate sock puppet, which
will become a character on HTe Street. Since I do not consider myself a natural
maker, I was a little nervous about how my creation would turn out. I checked several
websites for the simplest but most striking design, selected materials from the
classroom, and got to work! Creating the prototype revealed some tricky steps for first
graders, involving the safe use of a hot glue gun. (If we end up creating our puppets at
the same time, I will certainly enlist a team of expert students to assist us.) Creating the
prototype took around twenty-five minutes, which means it could take an entire week
in first grade. By doing the project first, as Jeff Robins advises, I was able to gain some
perspective on the time frame. As I continue to plan this project, I wonder about the
most effective, smooth ways to organize the creation of puppets as a group.

The Design Choices that Offer Personalization, Access and Challenge to All Learners

All students will have the opportunity to design their own unique puppet, choose a topic
around which to develop an original skit, and list a range of partners with whom they
would like to work. In these ways, students will be able to make choices about the work
and its level of challenge. Students will have an opportunity to share their reflections
(structured conversations and written exercises) with the aim of benefitting the classs
learning process.