A few weeks ago, a group of students at Western International High School in Detroit, MI recorded a two minute scene with an iPad retrofitted with audiovisual technology and emailed it to classmates at Ballou Senior High School in Washington, DC.
The video above was a part of a curriculum designed by DC-based nonprofits Young Playwrights’ Theater (YPT) and Meridian Hill Pictures (MHP) and Detroit-based InsideOut Literary Arts Project (iO). These three organizations are banding together to create an experimental arts education program dubbed The 524 Project, made possible through the extraordinarily generous support of MetLife and TCG through the A-HA! Think It Do It Program (whom we cannot thank enough).
In the video, Detroit students playfully share the conspiracy theory that the federal government issues currency with secret symbols that foreshadow future events. YPT, iO and MHP have been thrilled and inspired by our students’ work, which ranges from tongue in cheek parodies to serious reflections on issues that affect the communities these young people call home. One of our DC students, Tiana, recently created and shared an original poem called “Cloudy Ward 8” that talks about the racial composition of DC and the presence of drugs in her neighborhood.
This poem, along with the Detroit video, is part of the “Local Histories” piece of The 524 Project curriculum. Over the course of the first three workshops, the students shared their perceptions of Detroit and DC, exploring the past, present and future of the cities through the known, or historical (i.e. Motown, Go-go and Duke Ellington) and unknown, or personal (i.e. their own family, friends and neighbors). Each class’s list of knowns and unknowns were swapped between cities, and students responded to the other class’s thoughts directly via their iPads.
A week later, the students of Ms. Polk’s class at Ballou High School in DC watched the video from Detroit and recorded a response that they shared with the Western High School students in Detroit (click here to see the response). Every week, from 11:50am to 12:15pm, the two classes will talk to each other in real time via Google Hangouts, through a live exchange facilitated by YPT and iO teaching artists, supported by the amazing tech experts at MHP. We will broadcast the exchange publicly on The 524 Project YouTube page, so that all of you (our awesome national audience!) can watch learning come to life in each classroom.
As we have moved through the curriculum, it has been a trial by fire to get the technology fully functional and in line with our original vision. These technologies are brand new, and we are testing the broadcast capabilities of the internet–especially in low-income areas, where the work of communication and connection is both most needed and most lacking.
Google Hangouts came out on May 15, 2013. The platform will be only a year old around the same time that The 524 Project comes to a close. Google Hangouts has gone through some growing pains, and we are documenting the bumps and bruises as we seek to test the boundaries of this new broadcast medium, including the long journey setting up the technology and finding work-arounds, modifications and adjustments in order to facilitate our live exchanges. If you are an educator, an education-based theater, an advocate for innovative education or anyone who might be interested in connecting two classrooms, we hope that our experience will serve as a helpful resource to guide you – or even a source of amusement.
All of the technological obstacles aside, only a few years ago, if we had pitched The 524 Project, it would have sounded like fiction. It is remarkable to think of how far we’ve come in such a short time, and the exciting implications that this technology has for education and for art. Three organizations comprised of artists and educators are researching the limitations of modern technology, creating a portal between classrooms separated by 524 miles. And although the technology may not always work like we imagined, it has refocused us on what we do best: Teaching students how to express themselves creatively.
This Wednesday, the students are learning about playwriting, and representatives from each class will share monologues they have written and explore the concept of dialogue with their classmates across the country.
How cool is that?
The 524 Project will culminate in May with a live performance that will be available for viewing simultaneously in Detroit, DC and online. You’ll be able to watch the next generation of artists sharing their voices without leaving your couch.
We are sailing through uncharted waters, and we want you to join us on this journey.
So what’s next? We need your help. Our audience on tumblr is growing, and we want you to be a part of the movement, so that our students’ voices are heard across the country. You’re part of this story, too. Join us and watch the live exchanges, give the students feedback on their creative work and help us share their words with the world.
Signing off (for now),
Your friends at:
Young Playwrights’ Theater
InsideOut Literary Arts Project
Meridian Hill Pictures
(In this photo: Gedalya Chinn (Resident Teaching Artist, YPT), Nicole Jost (Artistic Director, YPT), Alise Alousi (Associate Director, iO), Shawtai Brown (Writer-in-residence, iO), Brigitte Pribnow Moore (Executive Director, YPT), Laurie Ascoli (Program Manager, YPT), Lance Kramer (Executive Director, MHP), Mahogany Jones (Writer-in-residence, iO)
Go behind the scenes with DC-based Young Playwrights’ Theater, Meridian Hill Pictures and Detroit-based InsideOut Literary Arts Project as they unite a classroom of DC students with a classroom of Detroit students using 21st century technology. These young writers will connect and create together through playwriting and poetry workshops that bridge the 524 miles between DC and Detroit through the creation of poetry, playwriting and visual art. Forget the story you thought you know about these cities as these young artists break down stereotypes and start new conversations about their cities.
The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-HA! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.