Puppets in Middle School

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Joined: 27 Nov 2005
Posts: 23
Location: India

PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 1:01 pm
PostPost subject: My experience
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I have worked with this age once and if it is of any help I can share my experience. I had a fairly simple workshop where I introduced my puppet (I used a string puppet) and interacted with the kids. I tried to make the puppet 'talk' like one of them using similar slang, comments they make, the secrets they have and so on.
They loved it despite the fact that they could see me talk for the puppet. I then helped them make a similar puppet. Finally I wound up with a puppet show.
Do let me know about your ideas too.

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Joined: 14 Dec 2004
Posts: 206
Location: Virginia, USA

PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 11:04 am
PostPost subject: Puppets in the Middle
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Thank you Marcia and Aparna.

Conventional wisdom has it that at this age puppets are too juvenile. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the fact is you have to try to see it, and seeing is believing. Thank goodness for risk-takers like you guys!

For starters, read 'Puppets in College' to find out that puppets are not subject to age limit. If young adults in college can get into playful communication and benefit, the focus is not on the puppets as ends in themselves; instead, they are tools that jumpstart playfulness. When playfulness is directed into the flow of communication, all kinds of 'play nutrients' are passed into the conversation that engage and motivate everyone involved--including you the teacher.

Using this principle at work. two NY science teachers, after having familiarized their 7th graders with other puppetools puppets, asked their kids to make puppets of the sub-atomic particles they were studying. They made their puppets of electrons, protons, neutrons, and humanized them with names and a personality that fit the way they behave 'inside the atom'. They called the unit 'The Atoms Family" and found an Atoms Family song based on the Adams Family TV show, which they incorporated into the activity. This was not a formal puppet show, but a series of interviews and demonstrations (kids getting up with their puppets and moving them together in a kind of cirdular dance to denote the movement of the particles).

At a time when experts are wringing their hands over what to do in science to make it more interesting, this kind of hands-on exploration tells us that the beauty of puppets lies in their ability to allow teachers and children to visualize what is going on in the often distilled abstraction (yawn) of physics.

Einstein's ride on a beam of light at age 16 was no different from this classrooms creation of The Atoms Family. To really teach science, get a grasp of the idea and climb inside it.

Open High School's (Richmond, Va.) visit to the rain forest is another great example. Here the students were introduced to the puppet making by yours truly. This was, in fact, an experiment to determine whether high school students would actually get into the process. The students made raifn forest fauna and flora, researched the animal or plant, and put the research into a 'first-person' (puppet) narrative. The purpose: introduce the puppets to a class of kindergarten children.

The puppets, all papertalkers, came out great--many representing endangered animals. On the morning of the visit, the class turned the classroom into a rain forest with leaves on the floor and drawings, and a live parrot talking in the back of the room in its cage. On the board, a colored-chalk WELCOME TO THE RAIN FOREST. In front of the board, a chair in which students sat with puppet in hand in a kind of show and tell, with most of the students getting, some more than others, into character.

This was not easy for most of these high school kids. Their 'making the puppets talk to the kids' without theater or formal script required moving outside their comfort zones. It was a 'growing experience" for all of them. They were not overly theatrical with their voices. Many, though, were surprised by their 'performance' (small 'p') and by the response of the kindergarteners, which elcited laughs and more creativity . The program last two hours with an intermission, and the kindergarten teachers were amazed by how long the kids remained focused.

The lesson in both of these examples: There is no one recipe. Avoid technical puppet productions. Keep things workable and simple. Make the tools do the work for you; don't work for the tools. Don't lock yourself in. Ask yourself what is the best outcome--what are the best results--you can have? And do everything that leads to those outcomes.

Use the Workshop resources in MAKE, LEARN, and USE. I will be adding some images and eventually some video clips to support this reply. But in the meantime, let me know what you think, and how I can further help you.

Last edited by papertalker on Fri May 26, 2006 9:57 am; edited 3 times in total
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