At the James and Grace Lee Boggs school, DFS teaching artist Alicia López Castañeda worked with classroom teacher Liz Kirk and the “Painted Turtles,” a mixed 2nd-3rd grade class. They spent the first semester shaping the classroom culture around the DFS Rida framework, exploring the DFS “11 essential skills” and digital media such as photography and audio recording. During the second semester they began work on their “data mural” project.
For the project, they decided to create a data mural around the question, “How to be a Boggs School Student?” inspired by the classroom’s “how-to” writing unit. The mural would also serve as a kind of “how-to” text to pass on to future Boggs school community members.
The DFS teaching artist led students through creative writing activities around the questions: Who are we? where do we come from? and what do we know how to do? They used digital audio recorders to interview each other with the same questions. From the answers to these questions they developed their own data set around the theme of how to be a Boggs School student. They displayed this data in the form of a map, then clustered the information into three major themes of identity, literacy, and friendship.
Alex B. Hill, a local graphic designer and infographic maker led the students through a drawing exercise in which they translated the information they wanted to convey into a visual language based around faces, letters, and flowers. Muralist Phil Simpson compiled the students’ original drawings into a final design that conveyed the story they wanted to tell.
The project’s learning community expanded beyond the classroom to include the school and its surrounding community. Students participated in a skill-share at the end of the year block party, where they created how-to texts, or manuals to share with each other, and several students set up booths to teach hands-on skills such as how to knit, how to do backflips, and more. The data mural ended up becoming a community project as family and friends helped finish the painting. These school-community interactions strengthened and reinforced the Boggs School’s commitment to place-based education.
By placing the students at the center of the curriculum it shook up the normal dynamics of a classroom. In the skill-share the teacher-student dynamic shifted as students became teachers, and teachers moved out of their traditional roles as the sole distributors of information. Instead everyone became an authority of their own knowledge.
Alex B. Hill
Motor City Rockers
Bay and Paul Foundations
Knight Arts Challenge
Michigan Council for the Arts and Culture