Robert Ponzio, Chair Fine Arts at Oak Hall School in Gainesville, Florida posted this series of photos to Reddit recently. It shows a group of students constructing a wooden footbridge inspired by an illustration in a Song Dynasty scroll. Robert was kind enough to share a little bit of the backstory with MAKE:
As an artist and educator I am always looking for new ways to inspire my students. As students enter my classroom there is a sign on the door that reads, “Visual Research Laboratory”. This fancier way of saying ‘Art Room’ is more in line with the philosophy of our entire fine arts department, be it music, theater or the visual arts.
“Experiential Learning” is at the heart of what we try to provide our students. While we are well aware that most of our students won’t become fine artists, we believe that teaching them to understand and embrace the artistic process will benefit their lives by helping to become more creative, critical thinkers.
An important aspect of my curriculum is “Global Education”. In my classes, I attempt to frame each lesson in context of world culture. To help facilitate this we maintain personal relationships via physical and online art exchanges with schools in China, Kyrgyzstan, Haiti, Andros Island the Bahamas, and Israel and Palestine. As our students get to interact with, meet and befriend their peers from overseas, they come to understand that deep down, we really are all the same. It is in this spirit that I designed our latest project, which was inspired by a famous Song Dynasty scroll from China.
With this project I hoped to enlighten my students to the genius of this ancient culture, while also challenging them to analyze, design, plan and create a monumental group sculpture project that they would always remember. At first, my students may have felt intimidated by the tools, materials and equipment, but soon after they gained some experience, they became more confident in their abilities.
Curiosity and excitement could be felt across campus as the bridge began to take form… and soon I had students who were not enrolled in my classes, volunteering to help us construct our “Rainbow Bridge” in their free time.
As we had no plans to follow other than the scroll image and our own sketches, the inevitable problems arose during the process. Solving these problems proved one of the most rewarding aspects of the entire experience as our group had to brainstorm and come up with a variety of creative solutions to numerous problems. I am very pleased how this sculptural bridge came out, but more pleased that these students learned some real world lessons in the process. As the students who participated forever burned their names under the trusses after it’s completion, I could not help but hope that they will remember these lessons in creativity as they go about constructing their own lives in the future. I am proud of them.