Teaching teenagers is like growing a garden – hopeful, frustrating, body-shattering work, pure joy. My work as a high school Chemistry teacher has often brought to mind the ‘irresistible force meeting immovable object’ paradox, especially when trying to convince teenagers that a Learning in Depth project would be beneficial to their intellect. I feel a palpable intractability build up en masse, as they try to weasel their way out of doing anything too strenuous.
Gold. They always choose to study gold when they want minimum effort to earn maximum reward. I know their game, but I go along, always optimistic that some miraculous growth will happen in the process – just like in my garden. So, when Swati Maisuria asked me if she could do a painting for her Learning in Depth project on Gold, I was intrigued. I agreed readily because I do not police my students’ methods, just their content. That is a whole other article on assessment, but I digress.
On the day of the project presentations there was a definite buzz among the students. I think they understood intuitively the alchemy of Swati’s work. She had turned gold into a metaphorical female superhero, Aufemina. Gold Woman. Genius. She described the work as “embodying the properties of gold as the properties of a superhero”.
She continues: “Gold is typically found in the ground, in the upper crust of the Earth, which means it is very present in soil. Aufemina has the ability to control the upper soils of the Earth, which means she can sprout flowers and vegetation.” Swati goes on to describe other Heroic Qualities of gold, in a scientifically accurate account of an element in a way that I had never thought of before.
How do I know that this is a substantial piece of art? After all, I am no art expert. I often describe myself as ‘stick-figure challenged’. I know because when I first looked at the piece, I felt a tightening in my gut and a quickening of my heartbeat. I felt joy. Her art moved this ‘immovable object’ to a tremble. That is how I knew it was powerful. To be safe, I ran it by an art expert (my daughter), who confirmed that it met all the technical requirements of art construction and conceptually was the authentic work of a teenaged mind.
Then I did something I swore I would never do. I gave it more than a 100%. Every mathematical concept I had ever learned felt the betrayal. But I did it because her work lay outside my carefully designed rubric. I did it because she made me feel the same joy I feel when my roses bloom and my strawberries drape down from their hanging basket. This is the power of Learning in Depth. Swati learned about gold and expressed that learning in an authentic way and I was rewarded with irrefutable evidence that it is possible to enliven the mind of teenagers. Thank you, Swati.
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