“Creating one’s own curriculum is like making a delicious homemade meal,” says Meryl Meisler, Digital Arts teacher at the Institute for Collaborative Education in New York City. “You take a little of this, a little of that, basing the stock on success from previous projects/recipes or other great cooks, and adding spice to make it the best yet.”
“In life as in art we are influenced by what we have seen or done before. The same goes for my curriculum,” says Meryl.
For years Meryl has been developing her own curriculum to use with digital arts classes. She endeavors to come up with project themes that capture the imagination of her students, and to put together activities that effectively guide them through the creative process. As she tells it, “You gather your ingredients, prepare your working space, invite the participants or guests and never take your eye off the stove so nothing and no one gets burnt in the process.”
During the many stages in the media making process, Meryl closely tracks her students’ progress and cultivates learning. She invents or adapts activities that support their learning experience. For instance, a piece of her curriculum adapted from the AYV summer training sessions is a mini “Self Movie.” It’s “a way to introduce, through digital storytelling, the basics of working in our school network environment: brainstorming and storyboarding, naming and saving conventions, using photo capture devices, image manipulation, original music and voiceovers, editing and output, and intellectual copyrights.” She has each student create a “Self Movie” at the beginning of the year, and by the time they finish, “they are familiar with using Photoshop, Illustrator, Garageband, and Premiere – and know more about their classmates.”
After the students have this foundation working with various software, they begin a larger media project. Meryl says she collaborated with fellow teachers to come up with the project theme this year. It wasn’t through a formal planning committee – and needn’t be. Just a series of conversations with her colleagues, where they listened to each other and made connections across the curriculum. You never know where a conversation might lead.
Having decided to pursue projects “based more on inside feelings and questions” than in the past, it just so happened that the music teacher brought up the challenges of scoring original music with 6th graders. Meryl explained to him “how we use storyboards to plan animation and film, and suggested the use of storyboards for student compositions.” Together they “brainstormed the idea of students scoring original instrumental music for their AYV projects.” Then another teacher proposed that 6th grade student advisory groups could be a forum for “sounding out” what’s important to them. Notes Meryl, this is “how the Sound Out project was born.”
This open-ended project theme set the table for students to really dig in. Whether it’s one “chef” or a team, the art of creating curriculum, like any art form, takes patience, a willingness to improvise, and an appetite for what’s possible.