“Are you a President-to-be?” Teaching artist Paul Rodriguez put this question to fifth graders in South Huntington last fall on the heels of the national election. He had been invited by the students’ classroom teachers to develop an arts-integrated project that would help the children explore the character skills of past Presidents.
During the first session of his artist residency, Mr. Rodriguez (below) described the project to the students. He explained that they would be learning about character skills and qualities that define a leader and how a person might apply those qualities to his or her everyday life. Working in small groups, the students would research the character skills of the four Presidents—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt—depicted at Mount Rushmore. Their research would be turned into scripts and performed during the residency’s culminating session.
To begin the project, Mr. Rodriguez shared images of George Washington, such as the President at the signing of the Constitution (below). He used the images to engage the students in a brainstorming activity. As the students described what they saw in the images, the teaching artist explained the significance and offered additional information.
Next, Mr. Rodriguez asked: “What do you think it takes to be President?” The students responded that a person must have leadership qualities—that is, someone who is responsible, respectful and experienced. In addition, the person must believe in himself or herself, and know about the government and its laws. Mr. Rodriguez asked the students why they thought those were important skills for a President to have. The students shared many ideas. The teaching artist repeated their comments and related them to their class, school and community as well as the country. Throughout this session, Mr. Rodriguez used target vocabulary, such as self-control and respect. He emphasized the need for self-control and respect in order for people to get along.
The students were placed in small groups by Mr. Rodriguez and assigned one of the four President to research. The students were given worksheets (below) to record and organize what they learned. The worksheets would eventually be used to create the student scripts. While in their small groups, the children worked collaboratively, sharing information and building on each other’s knowledge to complete the worksheets and create the scripts. They shared famous quotes by their assigned President and other information. Mr. Rodriguez walked around the room and provided assistance.
When it was time for the students to write the scripts, Mr. Rodriguez explained that their plays’ setting would be Mt. Rushmore. During the play, each small group, playing a different President, would take turns giving a tour of Mt. Rushmore. When they weren’t playing a President, the small groups played the roles of the tourists. “During the tour, there will be a mishap that each President must respond to,” the teaching artist explained. “The students playing the part of the President will have to respond to the mishap in character, reinforcing good character and manners.” Mr. Rodriguez assigned a mishap for each President to resolve.
The children’s script reflected how each President resolved the mishap. Their scripts were supported by the worksheets and the classroom teachers (below).
As part of their learning experience, the students saw a performance of “Rock the Presidents" by Childsplay. The student were inspired by the similarities between their project and the cultural performance, noted the teaching artist. In addition, the classes took a field trip to Sagamore Hill, the home of Theodore Roosevelt (below). The inscription above the doorway translates as “He who has planted will preserve.”
Once the scripts were written, the students were given time to rehearse. Mr. Rodriquez encouraged the students and offered tips on verbal delivery and movement (below).
In the fifth session, the small groups performed their scripts. The small groups, dressed in costumes befitting of their President, explained who they were and shared a famous quote that exemplified their President’s good character (below).
They also responded to the assigned mishap. For example, the students playing the part of George Washington had to respond to littering by a tourist (below). President Washington politely reprimanded the litterer and explained why it was bad behavior.
In a sixth and final session, all the classes on the Grade 5 level assembled and performed their scripts for each other.
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