It’s a dreary, rainy, Seattle Monday morning, but the spinning disco ball in our room is casting snowball light spots around the room and the lasers are putting on their show. It’s barely 8:45 am and our room is abuzz with activity. School doesn’t start for another 20 minutes, but my students are already diving deep into their work.
Like a whirlwind, Nafiso comes bouncing into our classroom and makes a beeline straight for me. Before I can even open my mouth, her elated screams fill the void.
“Mr. Ewing, Mr. Ewing! They were talking about Andy Warhol on the radio this morning. All about some painting that these people are fighting over!” Nafiso has a big grin on her face. She is so excited to talk art with me.
I explain that this painting is of a very famous actress, from when I was a kid, and she just died leaving the painting to a museum.
Drawing by Jamie Ewing
“I don’t care about that, Mr. Ewing… they were talking about Andy Warhol. That is so cool!” Nafiso hardly finishes this sentence and she is off to her group getting the white boards ready.
I’m a little stunned. Nafiso, age 10, is a recent refugee from Somalia and here I am discussing Warhol with her! I barely recover before I catch Vanessa huddling in the corner with some friends. As with 5th graders, I never know what will be going on, and this looks like it could be trouble.
I work my way closer to see if I can catch what they’re secretly discussing. I hear things I never thought I would in my class.
“Yes, I did!” demanded Vanessa, usually a very quiet student, who has special needs and is also a non-native English speaker with very little confidence.
“NO way, we don’t believe you,” respond the girls she’s debating.
“I did too.” Vanessa’s head pops up as she sees me. “Mr. Ewing, they don’t believe me, that I saw Van Gogh this weekend.”
“Where did you see him? Did you meet him?” I tease.
“MR. EWING! I saw his work. You know the one where the line of trees look like they’re on fire.” Vanessa has a look on her face that says, “See what I learned? I feel smart!”
I think to myself, with all this talk, their heads are going to explode when I introduce them to Banksy’s Dismaland theme park later in the day, to discuss socio-environmental issues through art.
The disco music comes over the loud speakers and students scramble to get to their seats, white boards and markers in hand. The room goes quiet and every student is instantly invested in the rapid-fire thinking and calculations to come.
Art class, you ask? Nope! An innovative music class? Try again! A progressive charter school? None of these. This is my math/science/STEM class. This is Common Core creative thinking in a high-needs, inner-city classroom.
“I see an array, 4 x 4,” yells out one student.
“Or it can be 16… a square number,” another adds.
“Hey, that’s area!”
“If you take the ones with the yellow on their labels it’s the fraction 5/16ths!”
I’m not sure who is having a better start to their day, or more fun — my students or me!