The Issues and Ethics class travelled to UW-Madison to attend the Great World Texts conference on Monday, April 3. This year, students around Wisconsin read William Shakespeare’s The Tempest and created projects to focus on a specific thematic lens within the book. Students attended plenary sessions in which one group from each school presented their project in front of the entire conference group, a Q&A with keynote speaker Margaret Atwood, and two gallery walks compiled of the creations of all of the participating schools.
“I had heard of the conference before through previous teaching experiences but I had never taught it. I had seen, read online, that they had chosen The Tempest, which prompted me to learn more about the program. Coming from a project-based learning environment, I have a high appreciation for project-based learning,” said Addie Degenhardt, Humanities teacher at IDEAS.
Attending such a conference allowed the students to gain a new perspective on how their peers from different areas analyze and interpret literature and morals differently.
“What most excited me was the fact that our students would get to experience the projects of students around the state. I felt it was important because with Exhibitions of Learning, we must create a balance of finding ways to be better while also humbling us, and we were able to do that through the observation of others’ works,” Degenhardt added.
During the plenary sessions, each presenter was given five minutes to communicate their theme, interpretation of the book, and what creation stemmed from those. The group representing IDEAS included juniors Caleb Klinzing, Veronica Williams, and senior Keira Collin. Junior Simon Ulrich was a member of the group but was unable to attend the conference. They were interested in the aspect of manipulation and its impact on those being controlled throughout the book.
“I was a little nervous because there were so many people from so many high schools throughout Wisconsin. I was especially nervous when we were going up onto the stage. It was fun watching everyone else and what they had to show. Being on stage in front of all these people and talking about what we did wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It was pretty cool that we could go and show a wide range of people Caleb and Simon’s song and our art pieces,” Veronica said.
Following the plenary sessions, student ambassadors were given the opportunity to ask questions of keynote speaker Margaret Atwood, who studied The Tempest in depth in order to write a modern retelling, Hag-Seed. Questions asked ranged from Atwood’s views on feminism to her intent behind different characters in her novel.
Serena Williams, a senior at IDEAS Academy, asked Atwood “What makes a good story?”
Atwood answered, “A strong opinion, a middle that holds your attention, and a convincing ending.”
“I think I got a lot of new insight about The Tempest, and to see different schools with different ideas that we hadn’t considered in our classes before was beneficial. My project was about ‘otherness’ through the lens of the character Ariel and I feel like I started out my project thinking one thing but came out realizing my original thoughts had changed, and I feel like once I started pinpointing what part of The Tempest I was looking at, the whole story sort of changed,” Williams said of the conference and her project.
After sitting down to eat lunch and talk about the presentations in the plenary sessions they attended, students set up gallery walks to showcase their projects with each other and formulate conversations about their ideas. Each presenter shared their themes and creations for half an hour, and then were able to gain inspiration as audience members of the gallery walks for the remainder of the hour. The conference closed with an awards ceremony for a series of projects that were voted based on student favorites, where IDEAS Junior Briana Kraus received a copy of Margaret Atwood’s book Hag-Seed as a prize for her project.
“A big difference between this project and others was the emphasis on literary analysis and I think that most students don’t choose literary analysis for projects. It was thrilling to see students get emotionally involved in a text, to get angry about it, to it make fun of it, challenge it, to get sad, to disagree, to make judgements, to forgive characters. The collaborative process of learning how to read a new kind of text and working together to do something that seemed intimidating, like reading iambic pentameter, ended up being fun for them. It gave them room to unpack their thoughts,” IDEAS Humanities teacher Heather Sheets said of the unique project process.
Creating projects in order to compare theses and theories allowed students to use the creation skills that they already possessed in order to get their ideas across to an audience of fellow creators in challenging ways of unique thought and analysis.
“The last thing we did in the unit was a socratic seminar about the issues in the book. That was informal whereas the students spoke generally about extensions they had. The coolest part about that was watching how much their advocacy had grown and how confident they were talking about a complicated text, especially to ask whether it was purposefully ambiguous. Students asked if it was consistent or ambiguous on who was right and wrong throughout the play. A lot of students hadn’t read it before and open ended thinking was available to the readers, and that’s really important in their futures of being readers, citizens, and people in the workplace,” Sheets said.
Photography by Tayler Spoden and Paris Wolf, Étude Studios Photography Interns