Thursday, October 17, 2013

Launching a Collaborative Project through "Yes, And"

The elevator door opens and I fumble my overfilled rolling cart of magazines, tape, wires, batteries, paints and cameras onto the second floor.  About ten of my friends and colleagues and a few new faces are moving in some kind of purposeful chaos around the lobby.  Sally, a high school English teacher, walks up to me her hands out stretched holding an imaginary box.

"Lacy!  Thank you for this old banana peel!"

Having played this game before I get the cue and reply with only the smallest stutter, "Oh, yes!  And I just knew how you needed this for your compost bin."

Sally and the other folk playing around in the lobby are Discovery Place educators and National Writing Project teachers and their colleagues coming together for the launch of our collaborative project: Making STEAM: Discovery Place and UNC Charlotte Writing Project Intersections Project.  Through a grant from the National Science Foundation we have come together to create a partnership for exploring and enacting intersections between science and literacy.

We began our day with the improvisational work in the lobby to both build community and to embody some of the big ideas in our project.  Our Writing Project site and Discovery Place have been playing with improv in our classrooms, learning spaces and professional development experiences to understand connections between the body and language.  As we play with, perform and show how language works through our bodies we begin to grapple with an idea Michael Polanyi, a chemist and philosopher says this way: “it is not words that mean, but I who mean by them.”

The "yes, and" game in the opening story connects to our work in several ways.  The maker movement embraces "yes, and"ing of materials and concepts through recreating, remixing and meshing technologies and tangible materials.  (Yes, this toy car that buzzes, honks and plays five tunes, doesn't leave much to the imagination.  And there are motors inside this toy that we can take apart and use to make a scribblebot using our own designs!)

We also are using "yes, and" to learn from one another as educators, who inhabit differing contexts.  We can "yes, and" to figure out how sharing from multiple work positions can make the familiar in our worlds strange and lead us to different images of possibility (i.e. What if a school classroom space worked sometimes more like an interactive science museum- where the materials and environment encouraged informal learning?  And what if field trip and science museum experience planning working sometimes more like the National Writing Project network- where people are the biggest resource, and fluid collaborations are reflective and fluid?)

Our big undertaking in this project is to "yes, and" the public school context of teachers in the project, whose context is rich with a history of public discourse, social justice and critical pedagogy and rife with the constraints of the corporate, high-stakes test-taking agenda.  We are imagining ways of leveraging this context as we mesh intentionally with the pedagogy of informal learning and community centeredness of science museums and the humanizing and empowering connection of the National Writing Project.

Read more on the About page and stay tuned for our future posts to find out more about the story of our collaboration as we harness our experiences with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) based learning and the maker movement to think together in the intersecting spaces between science and literacy with the intention of "yes, and"ing learning spaces in and out of school.

Lacy Manship,
Teacher Consultant & Associate Director
UNC Charlotte Writing Project