A Display Case at the Purdy-Kresge Museum at Wayne State University

I was walking up the stairs one Saturday morning looking for a book to browse at the Purdy Kresge Library at Wayne State University in Detroit and I noticed this in a display case.

 

beatles white album

And I couldn’t help but smile.

Not from any nostalgia or special fondness for the Beatles White Album, for which I have very little. All I remember from listening to the album in my youth in the late 70’s and early 80’s was a queasy feeling from the jarringly  disjointed batch of songs which seem to be an “album” only in the sense that they were all collected in one spot.  What happened to the poppy Beatles that I adored?

I appreciated the album more now and understand the sonic coherence that binds the album together.

But this display case struck me as the perfect appreciation for the album. A few books, a photo of the band members, each in their own little window on the page, barely a band anymore, yet still existing as something called “The Beatles” counterbalanced with a photo of the the four members still seemingly in their prime Beatlish glory.  The title cards, an assemblage of words word processed and presented not quite evenly in the window, likely hastily assembled, which mimic the impressions the songs might initially leave upon a listener (is this song finished yet?) yet which belie the true artistry the band and producers imbued in their craft even at this period in their history.

And then the CD jewel case. Small, unassuming, yet in the foreground of the display, a reminder that yes the band at its best really was about the music. But what is a CD jewel case-but itself an artifact from another time- a time of compressed sound, tiny words on a booklet that lacked any of the grandeur and heft of vinyl and its impressive graphics.  A time of repacking and re-marketing.

Yet, how fitting it all was, to be located in an upper floor of a graduate research library in Detroit, hidden behind glass, celebrating an anniversary of a band, long since broken up, whose cultural impact still continues, but maybe only for those of us old enough to choose to remember, and smile, how “the life goes on.”

Rust Belt America-Flint in Perspective

Those of us who live in Michigan, are well versed with the challenges facing the Flint community over the last several decades (and longer.)

Beginning with the hit by Michael Moore- Roger and Me which explored the devastating impact that the decline on the auto industry had on the community, through the Water Crisis, the emergency manager, and so on, a multi-disciplinary course called “Rust Belt America-Flint in Perspective,” could be an important addition to a university curriculum or upper level high school thematic unit.

An important element to the Flint story would be the work the many glimmers of hope-including the Flint Institute of Arts, currently undergoing a major expansion. They are putting on an important exhibit through the end of March, curated by the Smithsonian Anacostia, called Ubuhle Women: Beadwork and the Art of Independence, which I also wrote about here.

I would encourage anyone who is able to visit the Flint Institute of Arts to catch this moving, challenging, and ultimately hopeful exhibit.

To add to the inspiring work to improve the lives of the citizens of Flint, I would like to point out the work of Michigan State University researcher Joshua Introne, assistant professor in the Department of Media and Information. Introne’s work is an app that would help turn Flint from a food desert into a food oasis.

A food desert is an area with limited access to healthy, fresh food options. Through this app, “Flint Eats” Introne hopes to provide a flow of information to consumers and retailers to improve access to healthy food.

As reported in the MSU Today article by Kristen Parker,”The key is that we have to build some trust back into the community,” We have to give residents a sense of ownership over the food system. The project is not an app. The project is trying to address some fundamental social and economic problems. The app is really the visible part of this much larger effort.”

Here’s hoping Introne’s work succeeds and is one of many bright spots to emerge from Flint.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the a food desert?
  2. What factors contribute to a food desert?
  3. How does the Flint Eats app address a root cause of the food desert in Flint-identify the root cause.
  4. What other solutions to address this issue might you consider?
  5. Below is a sample list of topics/questions  for a course called, “Rust Belt America: Flint in Perspective”-what would you add or change?

graypath

RUST BELT AMERICA: FLINT IN PERSPECTIVE TOPICS

  1. Naming the Rust Belt- What is the Rust Belt?  How is it named? Who is able to name a region?
  2. Why is Flint, a city with a current population of about 97,000 important to study? What are the historical trends and demographics of Flint? In what ways do demographics define a city/region? How can you examine Flint from the lens of human geography?
  3. Boom and Bust Cycles in Flint- Examining the Economic History of Flint.
  4. Flint and the World: Macroeconomic backdrop to the Crisis
  5. Timeline of Crisis: What actually happened and when did it happen? An urban studies/journalism perspective.
  6. The Crisis and Citizens-how did the crisis impact citizens and how did they respond? How were self-governance and representative democracy impacted? A political science perspective.
  7. The Crisis and Children-how did this affect the most vulnerable and what are the long term impacts of lead on brain development-a neuropsychological and mental health perspective.
  8. Flint and Culture: How did artists respond to the crisis? An MFA perspective.
  9. Flint in the Media: How has Flint been portrayed in the media? A media studies perspective.
  10. Flint and Opportunity: What are some promising developments in Flint- a business/entrepreneur perspective.
  11. What does Flint mean to the region, the country, the world? Is the “Rust Belt” still a meaningful name? A summation and next steps.

I would love to hear what you think about the questions posed above and to hear about other good news coming from Flint.  Please plan a visit to check out the Flint Institute of Arts and best of luck to the Flint Eats team!

 

75 Years of the Nuclear Age- University of Chicago

On December, 2 1942, in a lab at the University of Chicago, scientists created the first self-sustained controlled nuclear chain reaction.

Seventy five years later, the university is engaging in a thought-provoking reflection and examination of this event with events throughout the community and via excellent resources posted on their website.

One of the most compelling is the public art installation of Nuclear Thresholds which is integrated into Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy.

The seventy five foot long black cords lay in a messy heap next to Moore’s well contained forms, leaving the viewer uneasy, unsure of what to make of the thin black materials.

For sure, this piece will generate conversation and hopefully a deeper reflection on the role this technological advancement has played in our society.

If you missed the actual anniversary last month, I believe a well thought out thematic unit can still explore the numerous questions evoked by this anniversary. A great video resource produced by UChicago Creative is a must see for all secondary educators interested in using this topic for critical reasoning and discussion-Nuclear Reactions-a Complex Legacy. 

How are you teaching about this significant historical event?

It seems like following the inspiration of University of Chicago and approaching it with a multidisciplinary perspective might be a wonderful way to engage your students and discuss a topic whose relevance is as timely as ever. The video concludes with a call for interdisciplinary collaboration to tackle the world’s biggest problems and asks, “What is your contribution going to be?”

A great question to reflect upon as we begin this new year.

Questions for Discussion following the video:

  1. What is your reaction to the quote by University of Chicago president, George Wells Beadle in 1967?
  2. What was the initial reaction to the development of the atomic bomb?
  3. How did the University of Chicago faculty respond to the development of the atomic bomb?
  4. How was nuclear technology used to benefit people?
  5. The video asks,” How do we get to a world without nuclear weapons?”

 

Anti-Icons: The Conflict Between Science and Religion

Each day seems to bring news stories where a religious group disavows science or a scientist attacks religion.

What is one to think? Which is right?

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon as revealed in Kendall College of Art and Design professor Jay Constantine work “Anti-Icons.”

These visually striking paintings are laden with symbolism and images of unorthodox and heretical thinkers of their historical era.

I would encourage you to check out these images if you are looking for a brief pause in your day to contemplate this perennial conflict and to simply appreciate the beauty of this work and to celebrate a great artist inviting us to look, to remember, and to imagine.

Educators could use these works in their art, world history or English classes, showing one of the works and asking students to reflect or write on them, or to use as a source for a class discussion.

To view Jay Constantine’s “Anti-Icons” please click on this link to the Kendall College of Art and Design website.

Re-Discovering Ancient Greece Using Modern Tools

Rediscovering Ancient Greece

For an enthusiastic look at ancient Greece read the brief account of Michigan State University professors Jim Peck and Jon Frey’s work on archaeological sites in Greece.

This is an engaging, brief reflection by video and communications professor Jim Peck who worked with archaeologist Jon Frey to use drones and software imagining techniques to create 3-d images of ancient sites such as the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia.

Peck’s writing helps bring alive the sense of history at being at these ancient sites and illuminates how Jon Frey became interested in archaeology and Frey’s enthusiasm for digital archaeology.

This brief read with the questions below could be a great “quick-read” for any secondary English/History course.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why was Ishtmia important to ancient Greek culture?
  2. Besides athletics, what other qualities did ancient Greeks value?
  3. Why did the ancient Greeks build a wall?
  4. What career was Frey considering before becoming an archaeologist? What changed his mind?
  5. What are the tools of digital archaeology?
  6. What is Frey’s attitude towards digital archaeology?
  7. What does Peck mean regarding Jon Frey’s attitude when he writes, “He says with that kind of openness, the potential for discovery is greater than ever.”

 

 

Visual Communication of Science Concepts-Felice Frankel

One of the many challenges educators face daily is how to communicate ideas to learners with a wide range of background knowledge, learning style, interest/motivation and aptitude.

How many of us have told fascinating stories, presented compelling information, or sketched out ideas on the board-only to have a certain segment of the class stare at us blankly?

I think this is especially true in an area like science, where the real world connections are a bit harder for students, especially younger secondary students to make.

So, for an appreciation of the true challenge and artistry necessary to make compelling visual representations of scientific concepts, you may want to read the MIT News article about Felice Frankel’s work. 

Felice is an award winning, MIT research scientist and photographer has spent decades perfecting this craft and has created free tutorials in MIT’s Open Courseware.

I think any secondary science teacher would enjoy reading about her process and may enjoy using principles from the course to enhance their own pedagogy. It’s also a reminder for all of us non-science teachers to think about how we are communicating our lessons and to examine whether we might benefit from a creative re-examination-possibly utilizing some of Felice Frankel’s work as inspiration. I also think students may benefit from reading about her career as it is a blend of the artistic and the analytical and utilizes the best of each to help individuals develop a deeper understanding of their world.

Questions for Discussion

  1. How often do you use visual representations to enhance your lessons?
  2. Why does Felice Frankel encourage researchers to develop “metaphors” to help explain their work?
  3. Is there a concept that you think your students would benefit from seeing a visual image?
  4. What are some creative methods you have used to help “illustrate” a concept?
  5. What is Felice Frankel’s background-how might this have impacted her work?

 

Creating a Song-VoiceGrooveSong at University of Chicago

voicegroovesong

One of the most exciting examples of the intersection between creativity and analysis is the “VoiceGrooveSong” project at the University of Chicago.

Steven Rings, associate professor in the Richard and Mary Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry developed the course to understand song structure in composition.

While this may seem like a reasonably straightforward endeavor, it is the process by which Rings and the “VoiceGrooveSong” students embark on this journey which is inspiring.

For them, it is a journey.

Ring has invited a variety of musicians, from  Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, to Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche. With Kotche, also an acclaimed avant garde percussionist and composer, the class took on an interesting endeavor.

Kotche played his drum kit, while students improvised with a variety of digital clips serving as the vocals. So, students were able to delve into the details of the composition process to allow the  rhythmic and melodic structure of the words to serve as a catalyst for percussion experimentations and understanding the intricacies of composition.

Professor Steven Rings describes the intersection of analysis and creativity in the class, “In the class we don’t know where we’re going to end up,” Rings said. “Everyone is excited to just go along for the ride.”

I can’t imagine a better inspiration to challenge us to continually learn, grow, and develop our curiosity as educators and people. It also helps helps students understand that while creativity of course requires a mysterious element of inspiration, there are certain structures and processes that can facilitate this process-there are concrete steps a creator can take to manifest creativity.

For the excellent source article, written by Andrew Baud, which includes a brief  video sample, please click here.

Questions for Discussion

  1. According to the article, what is the focus of the University of Chicago, Gray Center?
  2. Why was Glenn Kotche chosen to participate in this project?
  3. What does Steven Rings hope to accomplish in this class?
  4. What were the details of how Kotche and the students “collaborated”? What was their process of creation?
  5. Starting with the same set of lyrics, the students developed widely varying musical compositions- what does this say about the creative composition process?
  6. How could you use this process in your own classroom to help create sparks at the intersection of creativity and inquiry?