American artist and educator Nick Sousanis is one of the experts interviewed in this month’s education article on Comics in the Classroom. Nick made his name on the Detroit art scene before beginning a Ph.D. at Teachers College in New York.
Unusually, Nick’s own doctoral thesis takes the form of a comic book – putting into practice his belief that the medium can be a powerful tool for intellectual inquiry and the communication of complex arguments.
A page from Nick Sousanis’ ‘Possibilities’, a philosophical and historical examination of games
Nick is currently speaking at the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels. In today’s guest post, Nick shares his thoughts on making the most of comics in education.
I recently took a contract putting stilted government language into plain speech. I’m rewriting hundreds of web pages covering all kinds of public service – from pest control to parking and schools to recycling.
Public sector copywriting might not sound glamorous, but it’s fun to attack a mountain of jargon and break it down into something clear, friendly and informative to a wider readership.
My education work involves a lot of high school visits, and I meet many students who want to make a living as a writer. Although there’s a few working on screenplays, many teens imagine themselves growing up to be novelists – solitary, self-reliant figures hunched over a desk creating a masterpiece which will earn them Rowling megabucks.
Yet the joys of many writing jobs are not solitary but social. Journalism and copywriting both involve getting out, talking with people, communicating and learning.
It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately as I ploughed through a swathe of writing assignments and tried (only partly successfully) to stay clear of the Internet.
I have a couple of articles out later this year for the Australian science magazines ScienceWise and Australasian Science, profiling scientists who featured in Carl Zimmer’s book Science Ink. Carl uncovered the weird and wonderful world of researchers who have their work tattooed on their bodies after he spotted a DNA helix inked on the arm of a respected neurobiologist at a pool party in the States. This led to a great book collecting photos of striking, beautiful and downright bizarre science tattoos from around the world.
Stars from Tracy Dawson's NaNoWriMo project in Parkes, Australia
Last year, I ran a number of writing workshops for teenagers in Parkes, New South Wales. I had the privilege of working in a high school with an inspirational teacher librarian, Tracy Dawson. She was willing to let me try unconventional approaches for reluctant writers, like a 6-hour course on “How To Con Your Way to a Million Dollars.”
When I wasn’t light-heartedly promoting the grifter mentality among Australian youth, I encouraged the young writers to sign up for NaNoWriMo, the awesome challenge that sees contestants committing to write a complete first-draft novel in the month of November.
The Office of Letters and Light, organisers of NaNoWriMo, have just interviewed Tracy for their blog:
You can also find Tracy’s recent guest post for my site here.
This week we have a guest post from Tracy Dawson, teacher librarian at Parkes High School in New South Wales, Australia.
I first visited Tracy’s library last year while working with the literacy scheme Paint the Town REaD. I was impressed by the vibrant, witty and hip vibe of this rural high school library – a real oasis of unconventional thought and inspiration for local teens.
Tracy did heroic work in 2011: she encouraged a group of teen writers to participate in NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program. In that program, young people commit to writing a long piece of fiction in the month of November. Parkes lacks a tradition of writing and writer’s groups, so Tracy’s success in shepherding four of her students through to completing the challenge is exceptional – especially as November is exam season for Aussie teens! See media coverage of Tracy’s young NaNoWriMo participants here.
Now over to Tracy:
I’ve taught English here at the same Australian state high school for seventeen years and was so passionate about my subject; I never imagined I would change focus.
But a period of time in which I became disillusioned with the education system and society’s attitude to education in general made me rethink my career, and retrain as a Teacher Librarian. I’ve ended up in the same school – the same school I attended as a teenager! – which some people would say is like being stuck in a drought stricken billabong. But a move up the stairs and out of the classroom has invigorated me, my relationship with colleagues and students, my love of literature and my belief that teachers make a difference.
You think you know fear?
I was only knee-deep in icy seawater, but that was enough. Beside me, a half-dozen anxious Moms formed a loose human chain. We were trying to cordon off a horde of 6-year-olds, cheerfully running amok at the water’s edge. My eyes flicked around the shoreline, trying to keep track of each and every child. I’d been teaching for less than a year and the safety of these happy, heedless kids was my responsibility.
You think you know fear? Try taking a class of 1st graders to the beach.
This week on Role/Reboot, you can see my piece The Man Without Fear: Heroism and Elementary School.
Back in October, I got in touch with the folks at New York Harbor School on the eve of their First Annual Regatta, a nautical event to celebrate the school’s work bringing a unique brand of maritime education to the city’s students.
I discovered the Harbor School while auditing a course for Special Education leaders at New York’s Bank Street College back in February. I was impressed to encounter a US institution which brought together public education with a strong community commitment and a fearsome range of practical training including marine technology, commercial diving and aquaculture!
In my teens I was keener to skive off kayaking lessons and sneak out to Birmingham for shopping and pizza than get on the water. Now, at 31, I can only dream of the kind of maritime opportunities the Harbor School offers its students.
Nate Dudley, the founding principal, got in touch with me by e-mail to discuss the educational adventure currently taking place on Governor’s Island in New York.
Teaching environmental stewardship and maritime skills in the heart of the city
Thursday 6th October sees a unique school in the heart of New York launch a special celebration after eight years delivering teaching and learning from the city’s harbour.
New York Harbor School’s First Annual Regatta will take place at Governors Island, attended by guests from the city’s business and media.
Funds raised will support New York City’s only public maritime high school, which delivers an innovative curriculum blending environmental awareness, practical sea skills and hands-on learning.
We’ll be looking deeper into the work of New York Harbor School in a forthcoming feature on Books and Adventures. In the meantime, you can find out more from the school’s own site, nyharborschool.org
After my discussion with New Zealand Educational Gazette and our recent features on NZ’s use of comics in education, it pleased me to see one Kiwi don the Caped Crusader’s cowl for a light-hearted prank during the Rugby World Cup.
TVNZ reports that a man in full Batman regalia visited a Christchurch police station demanding to see the commissioner and know why the “Bat-signal” – the White Lights of Hope commemorating the recent earthquake – had been lit. He’s not even the first Kiwi Batman, as the name has apparently already been applied to a 91-year-old community patrol volunteer in Waipawa.
The quakes’ impact on the Christchurch community is discussed from a literacy and outreach perspective in the recent Books and Adventures interview with Carolyn Robertson of the city’s library services.
Wonderfully, the Kiwi police appear to have responded to the Batman prankster with good humour. I’ve no idea if it’s deserved, but they’ve been building a reputation for tolerance and light-heartedness ever since an officer appeared on TV reminding a suspected carjacker to “always blow on the pie” when eating hot food from a late night convenience store.
You can find all the recent Books and Adventures posts on Comics in New Zealand Education here: