UTokyo GFD Workshop - STEAMING IT UP AT THE U-TOKYO!

Holmes Workshop Poster_web
, 9 30, 2019
17:00-18:30 / KIBER Room 314 / All faculty, staff, and students
Monday, September 30, 2019
17:00 - 18:30

KIBER Room 314
Komaba Campus, The University of Tokyo



UTokyo GFD Workshop: STEAMING IT UP AT THE U-TOKYO!

In this workshop, Dr. Raquell Holmes will lead improvisational theater exercises that create conditions in which STEM students and faculty can work together to ask openended questions and explore STEM concepts together. These exercises strengthen our relational abilities of listening and building with others. Participants will learn through practice the basic tenets of improvisational theater associated with excellent teaching, building community, and becoming better communicators and collaborators.


※  We will take photos during the session to be posted on our website. Please email us if you do not wish to be photographed.

Holmes Workshop Poster_web

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Report by Ela Bogataj Stopar, GFD Research Assistant
 
On a rainy Monday afternoon, September the 30th, the University of Tokyo hosted Prof. Raquell Holmes' workshop on STEM didactic methods. Otherwise an expert in cell biology and computational sciences, this time she came to share insights related to her other passion: creating successful collaborative environments in STEM classrooms through performance and improvisation theatre.
 
Her audience of the day did her no favors: owing to the inhospitable weather, punctuated by the weight of a long Monday, attendance was scarce and the spirits - at least initially - were low. Of the 10 participants, it seemed an unusually high proportion had shown up for deontological reasons rather than personal curiosity. The icebreaker game, which involved inventing and performing a gesture to accompany one's name, did fulfill its purpose in introducing the basic tenets of collaborative improv (engaging with others; remembering them; and "making them look good" by being open to and actively supporting all their idiosyncrasies) - but more notably, it promptly revealed the greatest challenge of the evening: getting us to relax and enjoy ourselves. The fundamental lesson to be learned was that a judgmental atmosphere does nothing but hinder creative intellectual potential, especially when the worst perpetrator of censorious violence is each individual against themselves.
 
The activities to follow included games such as performing STEM concepts, I Am a Tree, and Yes, And. Through the former, we gathered that assigning roles to friends - and not, I might add, just faceless classmates - rather enriches the understanding of the workings of physical mechanisms. Abstract concepts, while proving somewhat more difficult to pantomime with any efficiency, highlighted the importance of provisionality: knowing that no answer was incorrect and every aspect of the performance was open to improvement, as opposed to an immutable verdict, significantly broadened the range of ideas we were willing to put to the test. I Am a Tree involved the initiator impersonating an object (for example, as the name implies, a tree) and the others joining in one by one to complete the picture by becoming a bird, the sun, a mushroom, a leaf, an artist sketching the scene from afar. A particularly brilliant rendition of a cave, in front of which is passing a squirrel, who is being chased by a bear, demonstrated the potential each individual has to turn the existing scene on its head through a single unexpected contribution. Yes, And is a storytelling exercise in which each participant provides only one sentence to the end of completing an improvised anecdote. Besides strongly echoing the sentiment of value inherent in every idea, Yes, And brought to mind the image of enthusiastically recounting a tall tale with a trusted partner - the other person might come up with an exaggeration so outrageous you would never have thought of it yourself, but in order to successfully fool your unsuspecting audience, contradicting them is out of the question. All that remains is to build upon their fantastic, uniquely brilliant contribution: The fish was THIS big! Yes, And since we hadn't gone by car, we couldn't haul it home…
 

In the aftermath of each activity, Prof. Holmes made sure to ask the participants' cognitive and emotional responses to the game. It was through her judgment-free acknowledgment of embarrassment, curiosity, and critique alike that the success of her methods became most apparent - by the end of the workshop, most of us had been infected with the cheerful spirit pervading the room. While it is not at all surprising that a group of academics was able to analyze the games and suggest their applicability in a real classroom, the same cannot be said for our newly discovered ability to celebrate mistakes without inhibition, participate in our shared discomfort, and embrace the freedom hidden in universal fallibility. Against such a shared background, the usual inhibitions separating students and teachers disappeared. It became possible to quite casually disagree on what we found more or less efficient, thus creating a channel of communication brimming with potential for mutual understanding and strategic improvements of the classroom environment.
 
Overall, the workshop's strongest suit was the learner-friendly atmosphere that the improvisation games were shown to have the potential for creating. However, the much-emphasized principles of listening and acceptance only become relevant as a response to a student's active involvement in the learning process, and I do have to wonder what chances Prof. Holmes' methods would have in a hypothetical classroom full of disinterested students - although the fact that the nine of us managed to overcome our initial apprehension certainly speaks in their favor. In summary, STEAming It Up at UTokyo showed us a glimpse of the kind of courageous learning freedom that would be more than welcome in real-life classrooms.
DateMonday, September 30, 2019  17:00 - 18:30
PlaceKIBER Room 314 - Komaba Campus, The University of Tokyo
EligibilityAll faculty, staff and students welcome!
Capacity40
LanguageEnglish
RegistrationRegistration encouraged here and walk-in welcome.
InquiriesGlobal Faculty Development (GFD) committee
Email: gfd-tokyo [at] adm.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp

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