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February 28, 2012
by: Dollie Cromwell, Journalist

Exhibitions of Learning

Do you have some old items in your garage or attic that you’d like to transform? Do you know how a Japanese education compares to one in the United States? Have you ever wondered what prompts someone to become a serial killer? Are you intrigued by domes?

Then you won’t want to miss the Exhibitions of Learning at John Michael Kohler Arts Center this week.     

Students at IDEAS Academy will share their trimester projects from 1 to 7:40 p.m. today at the art center’s Matrix and Theater and from 1 to 7:40 p.m. Thursday at the Theater.

There are four stages students must address as they develop their projects. In the imagining stage, students come up with ideas, research viability and prepare a proposal. The next stage is development, which involves researching the topic, preparing an annotated bibliography and sharing information with peers. Students give their presentations during the Exhibitions of Learning and take questions from the audience. Finally, the students are given the opportunity to reflect on their projects with input from their advisors.

This trimester, projects range from an animated look at serial killers to the upcycling of materials for furniture and home décor.

Friends Bryton Richardson, Jake Miller, Nathaniel Ozment and Philip Doyle have researched serial killers for their animation project entitled “Killers Anonymous.” You may view the animation here.

The teens have prepared a 15-minute animated film featuring serial killers Ed Gein, Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer.

“The animation starts in a jail cell, where the killers are being interviewed,” explained Bryton, a junior.

“As they’re talking, we’re going to switch to a series of flashbacks,” added Nathaniel, also a junior. The flashbacks are particularly important because they provide insight into elements in the killers’ childhoods that precipitated their deviant behaviors later in life. 

“I was doing some research and came upon some information from neuroscientist Jim Fallon,” said Philip, a sophomore. “He found that serial killers share a trait of overproducing serotonin, which is a calming influence. The area of the brain that stops you from acting on impulses shuts down when you have this gene. Ironically, Fallon had a brain scan and learned he has this gene.”

That’s where nurture enters the picture in this age-old nature versus nurture question. The neuroscientist said he isn’t concerned about a downward spiral into psychopathy because – unlike the serial killers he studied - he had a positive childhood experience. 

For the animation project, Bryton created the faces of the serial killers in plasticine, Nathaniel was in charge of costumes and props, and Jake and Philip constructed the set. Jake, a sophomore, said their film will include music from Charles Manson’s CD “Lie: The Love and Terror Cult” that was cut while he was in prison.

“Killers Anonymous” will be shown at 5:40 p.m. today at the JMKAC Theater.

An interest in being eco-friendly was the impetus for the project by seniors Sarah Baughman and Linsey Walters.

They teasingly began calling their project CRUD – Creative Recycling for Utilitarian Design – and the name stuck.

Their objective was to upcycle – give a purpose to things that would otherwise be tossed  – using items they found around their houses or at shops like Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity’s Restore.

For example, a string of broken Christmas lights became lovely paper lanterns when the teens turned newspaper into origami paper water bombs and attached each creation to a light.

Sarah and Linsey constructed a couch/bench using a wooden shipping pallet for the base and four milk crates donated by Paradigm Coffee & Music for the legs. The back of the couch is an interior solid door frame that the girls painted with chalkboard paint to create even more function for the piece.

They also made three tables with discovered materials. While two of them may ultimately make their way into other hands, Linsey’s mom said the third has to stay in the Walters’ home.

“The top of that one has an old checkerboard that my brother made in seventh grade, and he’s 20 now,” Linsey said. “My mom said we have to keep it because it has sentimental value.”

Linsey and Sarah will showcase their items at 5:40 p.m. today at the JMKAC Matrix and will also share information they compiled in a how-to booklet about each creation.

Two other projects have an educational component. Sophomore Mackenzie Dale designed a school using domes, while freshman Davina Boykin created a fictitious journal to compare American and Japanese high schools.

“I like math, but I’m not very good at it,” admitted Mackenzie, who noted that she tends to gravitate toward dance and drama. “I really wanted to challenge myself for this project.”

She got the idea while learning about domes and triangles in math class. Students had to design a dome, and Mackenzie decided to build on the idea and create a school for her trimester project.

Mackenzie sketched the school on paper and then constructed five clear domes connected by hallways. The middle dome serves as an office and lunchroom, while the four surrounding domes are classroom spaces.

“The benefit of clear domes is allowing natural sunlight,” she said.

Her research uncovered many pros of domes but few cons, so she turned to architect Wayne Jensen in Madison for some advice. Jensen is a friend of the Dale family.

“One of the obvious challenges is that a dome is hard to loft,” Mackenzie explained. “It takes away some of the aspects of having a dome.”

To see Mackenzie’s dome school and hear more about its construction, the public is welcome to attend her presentation at 6 p.m. today at the JMKAC Matrix.

Meanwhile, Davina has created a journal from the perspective of a 16-year-old American boy who ends up spending his senior year in Japan due to his father’s work there. The journal entries reflect his experience adjusting to life in Japan.  

Students in Japan are only required to go to school through ninth grade. That’s why the country mandates an entrance exam for high school.

“They want to know you’re dedicated to learning,” explained Davina, who learned that class sizes in Japan are larger, generally with 35-40 students.

One of the biggest surprises for Davina was discovering the freedom that both teachers and students have in Japan.

“I kind of saw Japan as very strict,” she said, “but I learned that most teachers assign work and then let students decide how best to complete it.”

And, unlike the United States where most youth go home after school and do homework or go elsewhere with friends, many Japanese youth stay after school voluntarily to participate in clubs ranging from gardening to astronomy.

Davina will share some of the entries from her journal at 2:20 p.m. Thursday at the JMKAC Theater.

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