Saturday, March 6, 2010

Einsteins Are Alive And Well

Two weeks ago, the students who ride The Peacebus asked me if I was going to have another art competition. Of course, I said, “Yes!”

Over the last year I have learned to create ‘Peacebus Art Assignment’ sheets for the students. I find that these sheets help to focus their ideas on a particular topic. Since the state of the world’s forestlands is of great concern for me, I thought that this would make a good topic for us to discuss and learn about.

I included a photograph of a forest that had been clear-cut and we discussed how there are no homes for birds and animals once all the trees have been chopped down. I want the students to be aware of these problems and I want their artwork to focus on the positive side of things. Their assignment was to create a forest that is healthy, filled with many different types of trees, birds, animals, insects, rivers, hills and lots and lots of colour!

Two days later, Bianca handed in her drawing. My eyes popped open in amazement and wonder as I looked at her glorious art creation! I was very impressed!! Bianca had created a forest that is filled to overflowing with life – with many different tree species, insects, birds, rabbits, groundhogs and bears. I love the bird that has a worm in its mouth that is flying to feed the two baby birds that are in a nest at the top of one of the trees!!

Bianca’s artwork really blew me away when I noticed that she had created ‘depth’ in her drawing. There are two hills that recede into the background and because these hills are farther away, the trees that are growing there are drawn at a smaller size. Concepts of this nature are very advanced for any artist and Bianca is only in grade four!

I knew that in the near future I would have to create some kind of prize for all the students who participated. When I saw Bianca’s creation I knew that her artwork would make the perfect mini-poster. I knew that all the winners – everyone who participated would be a winner – would enjoy this prize and Bianca would have the honour of having her artwork be the prize!!!

Two days later, Clara handed in this amazing art creation!!! Her healthy forest is filled with many different kinds of trees and lots and lots of bunny rabbits! Clara is still two years away from grade one…if you can believe it… and this artwork is more advanced than some students in higher grades. I can’t not smile whenever I look at this drawing!!!

Emily is Clara’s older sister and this art creation shows me that Emily has a great understanding of the nature of a healthy forest. There is a lake surrounded by different species of trees, in the background and the foreground shows a fox travelling home after a successful hunt. Emily knows that a healthy forest is filled with many animals and that some animals need to eat other animals to survive. I sure hope that this fox is eating a squirrel or a groundhog and not one of her sister’s bunny rabbits – LOL!!!

Matt is one of my oldest students and many of you – my blog readers – have seen many of Matt’s drawings in previous posts. He has a love for graffiti art. Matt and I were talking about this assignment and I told him that this would be a challenge for him because it would be hard to draw a forest in a graffiti style. He smiled and said that he knew he would have to change his art style and that he had a few ideas in his head.

Matt rose to this challenge and he surpassed any expectation that I might have had. His healthy forest is filled with lots of trees, flowers, a river and a Mr. Jim playing peace songs on his guitar. Matt somehow guessed that Mr. Jim loves to visit forests and do a lot of camping, so he included a peace-tent and my dog, to keep me company!

Megan is a new student to The Peacebus and she joined us near the last few days of this art competition. When she first walked onto the bus her eyes grew wide, looking at all the artwork that decorates the ceiling. She wanted to know if she could draw a picture for the bus and I told her, "You're in luck... we're just finishing an art competition about understanding what healthy forests are all about. If you want you can draw a picture for this competition and you might just win a prize!"

Camilo is always handing in peace-art to me. I receive about two art creations from this student, every week. He is a very talented artist and I’m grateful to share in his coloured vision of our world!

I just love Camilo’s healthy forest, filled with trees, rivers, lakes, animals, rocks, bees, hills and sunshine. If you look closely you can see a paw-print of a bear on the ground.

Now, this may be the end of the ‘My Healthy Forest’ artwork that I have to share… but this story continues…

Even if students don’t participate in these competitions (some forget, or are too busy with other things – and that’s okay by me!), they still involve themselves in the discussions that happen as I drive through the neighbourhoods. To include the entire bus in this topic and to keep everyone happy, I created this sticker that I gave to each student. I took this photograph myself, last year at an Earthday tree-planting event. I figured that this would be a good way to ‘wrap things up’, by giving the students something that just might inspire them and their parents to get involved in tree-planting events this year… and every year in the future!!!!

The end… or so I thought…

A couple of days later, one to the students asked me why ‘they’ were chopping down all the trees, anyway, and what could they do to help the trees. A twinkle lit my eye and a smile arched upwards across my face!

I focussed my answer around the topic of The Amazon Rainforest, as I figured that nearly everyone had already heard a little bit about how this forest is in trouble. As I shared a somewhat ‘simpled’ version of my understanding with the students, they bombarded me with more and more questions. This went on for the entire journey home!

Finally, one student asked how they could stop the cutting down of this rainforest. I could see a look of anguish and confusion in Sarah’s eyes and I could hear a little tremble in her voice. These students reminded me of me, when I was much younger. When I was learning about these issues and problems, I became very concerned and worried. I didn’t want the students to worry – feel concern “yes” – feel worry (nothing positive happens with this negative emotion) “no”. So, the discussion changed course away from ‘the problems’ to the topic of what people are doing, learning and understanding to help all of these forests in need. This enlightened the students to realize that people from around the world are beginning to act, to save the forests!

I asked the students if they would like to know how they could help to save The Amazon Rainforest, not by doing something, but by NOT doing something. Their faces turned into question marks and they all shouted, “Yes!!!” I then shared the story about McDonalds -

At the end of that story all my students told me that they would never eat at McDonalds again! I smiled. A small victory for the Earth!!!

A minute later, the questions began again. The students wanted to know how they could tell other people, how they could share this information. I suggested that they could talk to a teacher and ask if the class could do a project that would help them to understand this issue more. I told them that they could do just what I had done, simply sharing this story with friends. I told them that because I had shared this story with them that over thirty people now knew about this issue. I said, “Imagine if each one of you told just three other friends…then one hundred people would be aware. And what if all of your friends tell another three friends… then over three hundred people would know.”

A few days later, Camilo showed me that he had made a flyer about McDonalds and that he had posted it on a bulletin board in the lobby of the apartment building where he lives. The poster said, “Save Our Forest” at the top and below this was an image of a beautiful forest. Then he wrote a line that said something like, “McDonalds meat comes from cows that live in the cutdown forest of the Amazon.” Then there was an image (his mom had helped him google some images off of the internet) of a forest after it had been chopped down and the stumps burned. At the bottom of the page he had inserted the McDonalds logo and then Camilo used a red marker to draw the ‘NO’ symbol around it – a circle with a diagonal line through it.

He pointed to an area of his flyer where someone had written, “Can you prove this?” Camilo looked at me for an answer.

First, I congratulated him for his creative and positive action. I couldn’t believe that he had done this. I was blown away!!!! Second, I told him not to get angry or give up hope. “People will always question those who are brave enough to make a bold statement. They will doubt you and tell you that you are wrong. If you have educated yourself well, and are certain of your facts and motivations, then you will have to be strong to be able to take these kinds of remarks.”

The discussion for the rest of this bus ride focussed on education… how the students could educate themselves so that they could have a greater understanding of these kinds of problems. I told them that just because I had told them what I believe to be true, doesn’t make it true. I told them that I could be wrong. I suggested that they talk to their parents, teachers and librarians to find more information, so that they could come to their own conclusions.

A few days later, Camilo showed me his second educational flyer that his mom had helped him to create. It had a few more pictures and a few more facts. I’m a little speechless right now… Camilo is showing me a maturity in consciousness that I’m not even sure I’ll ever be able to attain!!! He is a future world leader in the making!!!!

So, on the topic of education I had an idea. I went to the library and talked with a librarian who helped me to find three wonderful picture books that showed the beauty as well as the desecration of The Amazon Rainforest. For the last week these three books have been circulating up and down the aisles of The Peacebus. When I look in my rear-view mirror I see the students flipping through these books, showing each other pictures about things that interest them. I’ll have to remember to do this again for future projects, as it is the easiest and most effective way I’ve stumbled across that really makes learning fun and interesting for the students.

The next day, Camilo gave me this wonderful drawing. He told me that his sister (who went to a different school – because she was in grade 8) had wanted to draw a picture for The Peacebus. I told him that there must be a lot of talent in his family because this drawing is magnificent. I asked him why the tree was in a boat and he shrugged that he didn’t know. I asked, “Do you think that your sister was thinking about helping The Amazon Rainforest by sending this tree in a boat, down there to be planted in the forest?” A few of the students laughed because they thought that this could be the answer!

Just look at the detail that Nina used in her drawing. She used three different colours of marker and words to create the texture for the ocean. Incredibly brilliant and artistic!!!

Even the texture and imagery that Nina used to create the bark of the tree, blew me away!!! It makes me feel like I’m in a dream!

Actually, this whole experience of art with learning has made me feel like I must be dreaming. I am just awestruck with all of the mind energies that have been generated day after day by the students on my bus… and the parents and siblings who don’t ride my bus!!!!

Nathan, who is my most wonderful artist friend, was exploring one of the books that I had brought onto the bus and he showed me this picture and asked me what it is. I guess that although we had been talking about clear-cut forests and the students understood that lots of trees are being chopped down, that Nathan had a vision in his mind and this picture of reality was not something that he really expected. I explained what he was looking at and a shocked looked entered his being. It’s hard to describe what I witnessed happening before my eyes, at that moment. Nathan’s eyes quivered and his skin tightened. A few hairs on his head seemed to bristle as he tilted his head up to look into my eyes. I quickly turned a few pages in the book to show him a photo of the Rainforest in all its glory. This cheered him up but I could see that I had unlocked something within him and that from this day forward he would be forever changed!

He sat back in his seat and for the rest of that bus ride I could hear him talking aloud about how he was going to invent something that would save all trees.

These ideas continued to flow out of him for the next several days. “We can save the world, can’t we Mr. Jim?” “Yes, Nathan, we can and are saving the world each and every day.” “I’m going to invent a machine to plant trees all over the world, Mr. Jim.” “I know you will, Nathan, and that will make this world a better place.” “But we have to start right away, Mr. Jim. Like today!” “You’re right, Nathan, except you don’t see that you have already started.”

Two days later, Nathan presented me with a large collection of drawings. “Mr. Jim, this is my first machine that I have created that will plant trees all over the world! I have ideas for four other machines, but this is the first one.”

This flying car, runs of air… not gasoline, I was informed. It will fly over the land and plant trees in The Amazon Rainforest. There is a clamp that holds the tree until it is ready to be planted. Then the conveyor belt – along the side of the car – moves to bring the tree to underneath the car where the mechanical arms will grab the tree so that it can be planted. I asked if the balloon helped to make the car fly, but apparently I was wrong…the balloon is actually filled with water and when the tree is planted then a nozzle reaches down to water the tree. “I see,” I said as my eyebrows raised in wonder at this brilliant creativity.

On the backside of his drawing he had created a systematic list of all the things that would be needed for his flying car: 100 springs, 200 balls, 1 water balloon and 2 mechanical arms. I asked him what the springs and balls were for.

“They’re slinkees and squishy balls, Mr. Jim, and they are needed inside the special engine that I’ve designed for my flying, tree-planting car!” “Ahhh!” I thought, “that makes sense. Every engine has to have a squishy ball or two!!!!”

This drawing is probably the most fascinating abstract peace of art that I’ve ever seen… and to think that it is not abstract at all, but a detailed and precise blueprint for an automotive engine for the future! What can I say… I’m speechless again.

Then Nathan gave me another drawing. He explained to me that these were the robots that would be needed to fly his special car. He said that the robots had to be small because of all the room that would be needed on the car to hold all the trees and water for the trees. This made sense to me!

Again, Nathan’s detail and precision of thinking shows itself as the raw unbridled creativity that it is – pure genius!!!! You can see all the things that are needed for each robot: a helmet, leggings, shirt, gloves x 2, binoculars and a sign that shows “No cutting trees with chainsaws.” Nathan is creating the blueprints for a future world where every person helps to protect Nature… and he’s only in grade 1!!!

Two summers ago, I was preparing for some art classes and I created special T-shirts that many of my students would soon be wearing. On the back of the T-shirt I came up with an inspirational quote, “Finding the path to our future in the imagination of our children.” Those words are ringing in my ear with more and more clarity as each day goes by!

Mr. Jim

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