I do a lot of group work in my classroom so instead of desks we have a variety of large tables, four of them to be exact. There are lots of ways we arrange them depending on what we are going to do in the class.
However, when it is time to take a test, especially a factual one, it gets a little tricky because at large tables it is easy to be tempted to look at someone else’s paper. I give the students file folders that they can open up and use as a kind of temporary study carrel. It’s pretty effective.
Yesterday we took our World War I test and as the first students finished their tests, they began to gather the unneeded folders and spontaneously began to build a tower to the ceiling. While a few students were still finishing their tests, another group went to the back of the room to play “Ninja.” I urged them all to build the tower and to “ninja” as silently as was humanly possible so the others could focus on their tests.
And then I stood in the corner of the room looking over this amazing classroom landscape — silent and graceful tai chi ninja moves here, tower of no babel there, and a few scattered but concentrating test-takers. This wordless three-ring circus. This fluid and engaged adolescent choreography. An inspiring sight to behold.
Today is Leonardo Da Vinci’s birthday, 564 years ago. And pictured above, of course, is his very famous Mona Lisa. He worked on this painting for the last 15 years of his life. Though his name has become synonymous with the Italian Renaissance and the spirit of creativity and invention, he only did some 30 paintings in his lifetime, most of them unfinished (only 15 survive). Most of his time was spent working in his notebooks—inventing, sketching, diagramming, thinking, discovering—most of his notes written in script only decipherable by holding them up to a mirror.
I remember being in Paris almost thirty years ago and seeing the Mona Lisa in the flesh at the Louvre for the very first time. There was a huge crowd of people in front of it. There was a sign that said “no flash photography allowed” yet there were flashes going off in this crowd and a guard nearby who didn’t care. The painting is actually relatively small (30″ x 21″). It was hard to get very close to it. And with all the hubbub, hard to actually spend quality time looking at it. The crowd in front of the painting was the real spectacle.
To its left without a single person near it was Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks (below), to my mind a much more interesting painting (I especially enjoy how the entire painting is compositionally balanced at the edge of a cliff). This painting is much larger (6′ 6″ x 4′) and JB and I were able to stand directly in front of it without a single person or flashing camera to distract us. It felt so very surreal to be in a room with such a large number of people huddled in front of the Mona Lisa and the rest of the room practically empty. It actually felt like being in Bunuel’s film Exterminating Angel, with the crowd being psychologically but not physically trapped, in this case, in front of a painting.
Buon Compleanno, maestro Leonardo!
When I got home this afternoon, the sun was out and the weather absolutely beautiful. I walked around the awakening garden, observing the resurrecting plants. I sat in our old rusted garden chair left by previous owners. I called an ill aunt and then I read, while JB sat on the back steps sanding and putting finishing touches on a Gyoban he is crafting for my sister and her wife. I picked fresh dandelion greens for our supper salads.
Just a small peek into the coming summer. A little glimpse of my imminent retirement.
…five blocks from our house.