Making Curriculum Pop

There are so many talents to be envious of. For me, I guess I’m most jealous of artists, as their skills seem like magic above all others – even Harry Potter's magic! I feel like I have deep understandings of art and visual culture but any aptitude I had in this domain vanished after my last high school art class.

To celebrate this oft overlooked discipline that is always in danger of being cut from school budgets this week will be all about ways to use art, artists and visual culture in K-12 classrooms.

You might have seen today’s artist poking around the special interest groups making interesting comments with his wacky one-eyed avatar...


MC POPPER Marek Bennett teaches music in elementary schools two days a week and spends the remainder of his time as an artist-in-residence in elementary classrooms around New England and the world.

In addition to this work Marek runs the Comics International Ning. At first the title was a bit confusing to me as “Comics International” could be interpreted so many ways. After poking around the site a bit I started to get a sense of Marek’s unique, adventurous and trans-national ideas.

Marek has a vision of kids all over the world communicating with each other about their lives via comics. Ambitious, you bet. The scale of his vision didn’t quite hit me until I started reading sample pages from his recently published Nicaragua Travel Journal.

The concept is something like this:


Students in his New Hampshire comics workshops drew stories about their lives, town and things they care about. He brought those comics to Nicaragua and taught the students the international language … of Comics!


He scraped together relatively small amounts of cash (explained in the full sample pages) including an NEA grant. He was able to do this:


It is one thing to dream these type of projects - to realize them is an extremely impressive feat. They say you can tell something about an artist from their use of line – I found a slightly spazzy energy and excitement to Marek's lines that must have been essential to making this project take flight.

I recently bought the entire Nicaragua Travel Journal from Marek’s website for a mere ten clams. At this site you can download a 24-page PDF sample of his journal. I pulled all the comic excerpts that you're reading in this blog from that PDF.

What I find to be incredible about Marek's work is how useful this could be in so many disciplines. What a great way to share language, culture, geography, and ideas while bringing kids into the wonderful world of visual communication and comic art. Parts of his journal are really touching.


The emotional range of his comic is one of many reasons I would suggest using Marek’s journal in an English class.

Beyond that, his concept is more interactive and "connected" than a similar, and also impressive project that started at Teachers College Columbia University - The Comic Book Project. Comics exchanges could clearly be utilized at different levels for different purposes. It is not a stretch to think about having the prompts being about local history, environment, economy, schools, or entertainment. It seems to me that his project has infinite possibilities and I certainly look forward to more updates about Marek's energetic and inspiring work with elementary students.

To read more about the Marek’s project check and Comics Workshops check out:

The Henniker San Ramon Sister Community Website:
http://hennikersanramon.blogspot.com/search/label/projects

Marek’s blogs and photos from the trip are at his website:
http://www.marekbennett.com/comicsworkshop/comics-workshops/hennike...

Info about Marek's Comics Workshop:
http://www.marekbennett.com/comicsworkshop/

In many ways Marek's work is a nice sister project to MC POPPER Hilary Behrman’s impressive "Journey Home" video exchange between her middle school students in Darien, Connecticut and kids in Darién, Panamá. Make sure you scroll to the bottom of the blog so you can watch the very high quality student videos.

As a reminder, if you like to use visual things and “art” in your classroom you might want to join the Art and Visual Culture group here on MC POP.

If you love graphic novels and comics, be sure to join the Graphic Novels & Comics group.

If you're more interested in digital storytelling perhaps you can join Hilary's Digital Storytelling Group.

All these groups are exciting places for you to add ideas and share resources!

Merry Monday!

RRG:)

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Thanks so much for your kind words & enthusiasm, Ryan! It's cool to see how the project looks to an experienced outsider...

We're starting the Fall 2009 phase of the HSR-CE tomorrow afternoon in Henniker, NH... I'll post updates to the Comics Workshop site you linked to above!
Thank you for sharing your great work hombre!

Ry:)
That is an exciting project. I have the book and highly recommend it!
Marek sent me a cool video he made about the project - check this out... so cool...


Ryan:)
How beautiful! I would like to ask Mark if it is true that only those students who have a pencil may attend school there. A friend of mine is collecting money for the Pencil Project and I thought it was for students in Nicaragua.
The music is perfect and the colors stunning. I love to see smiling student faces engaged in learning. WOW!
Shawn --

Thanks for your comments!

I spoke about school accessibility with several of our friends in the schools we visited. One such conversation (about education and poverty) appears in the book and is excerpted on Comics International HERE (you can read through by clicking NEXT -- it's 5 or 6 pages).

My understanding is that under the liberal government there were material requirements for school attendance (usually uniforms and shoes, but I think also notebooks and pencils) which had to be provided by the family. The new Sandinista government has removed those material requirements, which (as Angela proposed in the above excerpt and in her classroom) is more just for the kids but also creates some new challenges for the teachers and school districts... One outcome of all this is that ALL the students really VALUE the opportunities of education and take their studies incredibly seriously. (I think you would like the song Angela's class sang to us at the end of our workshop...)

Likewise, we brought some extra school/art supplies with us on our delegation -- such supplies are always very much appreciated by the organizations we partner with, and the kids put them to intense use with much attention & enthusiasm.

-- M
Marek thanks as always for sharing the details!

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