This year, Education at Roundabout celebrates its 20th Anniversary. Since 1996, Education at Roundabout has served as a national leader in arts education, using theatrical disciplines to create responsive programming that serves students, educators, early career professionals, and audiences. To celebrate this milestone, we asked members of the Education at Roundabout community to reflect on how Roundabout’s programs have impacted their lives.
In the Spring of 2017 at Bronx Theatre High School, Courtney Ferrell, Math teacher and Math for America Master Teaching Fellow, and Roundabout Teaching Artist Alana Jacoby partnered up for a classroom residency that focused on the question “How do lighting designers use math to create lighting designs?” Roundabout classroom residencies are entirely customizable and unique to each class. The classroom educator and teaching artist work together to create lessons that blend the class’ subject and teaching artist’s discipline, highlighting each of the facilitators’ expertise and bringing subjects to life through real world application. Together, Courtney and Alana collaborated on a series of lessons where students exercised their knowledge of trigonometry to collectively create a lighting plot, each student responsible for their own lighting instrument. As part of the residency, the class also attended two Roundabout productions, On the Exhale and Arthur Miller's The Price. Before seeing On the Exhale, the class toured the Black Box Theatre with the Stage Manager and got a closer look at the lights for the production. The residency culminated with students bringing their light plot to life as they hung and focused the lighting fixtures for the school’s production of Rent. Education Coordinator Sarah Kutnowsky talked with the pair about their experience.
Sarah Kutnowsky: Alana, how did you design a residency that met Courtney’s goals? What were your goals for the residency?
Alana Jacoby: Courtney was very clear and straightforward with her goals, which made the residency easy to design. She gave me a lot of freedom to make it whatever I thought would be most interesting to her students. On the basic level, my goal was to use theater to help teach math. But my underlying goal was to open up the students’ eyes to the world of lighting design. I love giving students a glimpse of the world of theatrical lighting design so they can get a head start if they take an interest in it. I was also invested in making math fun for them. I loved high school math but know that wasn't a super popular opinion, so I wanted to see if I could help share what I liked about it. It's always easier to learn something when you're having fun.
SK: How did the exploration of lighting design help enhance your subject, Courtney?
Courtney Ferrell: This residency was the perfect way to introduce and review trigonometry, it was a real world application super close to their lives. The entire project was about justifying light placement through clearly explained mathematics and artistic vision. Students were all assigned individual lights and they all came together to create the plot. It was ensemble learning and Common Core at its best.
A student’s worksheet from the residency
SK: What was it like working together on this residency?
CF: Alana was super open to ideas and to conversations about student engagement, and she always was ready with a clear plan and various ideas for carrying it out. She is also incredibly fun- for example, she brought dinosaur salt and pepper shakers and flashlights into class to demonstrate lighting concepts.
AJ: Courtney is an ideal teacher with whom to collaborate. She's actively engaged, passionate about her subject matter, and obviously cares a great deal about her students. She was always open to ideas, and eager to help adapt them to meet the needs of her classroom when necessary. The part of working with her that was most exciting to me was how willing she was to keep working on the residency with the students in between my visits. She kept momentum going, reviewed and practiced the material, and allowed us to cover much more ground. I enjoyed our lesson planning sessions a great deal.
SK: How did the students respond to the concept of learning math through lighting?
AJ: I said on the first day of the residency that I was totally aware that one of the most common complaints about high school math is feeling like it's never going to be relevant again; that you're learning something obsolete just for the sake of learning it. That's a frustrating feeling, to be learning something that seem like a waste of time. I told them that this was an example of math that I use in my job all the time. But sure, that's something teachers probably say all the time. On the second or third visit, a student asked "Miss, do you really use this stuff for your job?" and I looked him in the eye and said “yes” and explained how and why. At first they were skeptical, but I think I won them over. Even if they know they don't want to pursue lighting or electrics work, at least they now know that this kind of math doesn't just exist in some kind of high school math void. Even if they're not going to use it, they know that there are people out there who do, outside of school, for real, and I think knowing that helps.
CF: Most of these students are performers, so they also benefited from understanding the work that happens behind the scenes. Plus, they don't get opportunities in math to talk about why they think things should look or be a certain way, so that was exciting! Additionally, I feel that Alana taught me lots about lighting design to the point where I felt very confident continuing to do the lighting work after the residency had ended.
Students hanging lights in the school’s theatre
SK: What was your favorite moment of the residency?
CF: One of my favorite moments of this entire year was during the Rent talkback when one of my math students said “Can we talk about the lights, though?” and then dozens of students from the class started saying “I did that one! I focused that one! Look at that angle of depression! #lit!” They were so proud to light their own performance and the accountability to make themselves look good as performers ensured the project got done.
AJ: This residency had a lot of highlights, but my favorite lesson was probably the day we reflected on our trip to the student matinee of The Price. We were lucky enough to see two Roundabout shows during this residency, one towards the beginning and one towards the end. Before the first show, I set them up with some of the tools they'd need to watch the show from a lighting design perspective, and it was great to hear them discussing it in those terms in the lesson we had after the performance. But by the time the second show came around, once we were deeper into the residency, they impressed me so much with their observations and opinions. They'd learned to look at the design critically, to think about why the designer made the choices they did, and had even started to think about what they would have done differently. Because we got to go through this process twice, it was an amazing opportunity to see their growth. In the first post-show discussion I had to draw answers out of them, but in the second post-show discussion I couldn't get them to stop sharing.
Related Categories: Education @ Roundabout