07 November 2014

Brave Project: Step One

Thanks to an inspirational and serendipitous presentation from Dr. Lynne Herr, the English 10 students will take part in the "Brave Project" she started. You can read more about that here.

The first step of the Brave Project is to list out any and all "lines in the sand" we don't cross; in other words, the things we actively avoid doing, either because it scares us or makes us uncomfortable. Why push ourselves out of our comfort zones if we don't have to?

So, here are my 10 lines I never cross (plus a bonus):

Haunted Houses

This line confuses my wife and friends. I love gothic literature, film [read: dark, creepy films that have gripping storylines and poignant themes] and folklore (think Dracula, Frankenstein, Grimm's Fairytales), but I hate Haunted Houses and gory movies. I can get freaked out by an unsettling tale or movie if it serves a purpose greater than scaring for the sake of scaring, or grossing out for the sake of a reaction.

I am attending the Drama Club's Haunted House (10/24) to help move my line; I know all the students involved, so I think it'll scare me less than one of the big terror-fests in Lincoln and Omaha. My dear wife is my partner for this line, because she loves Haunted Houses and will literally force me to participate...
Photo Courtesy Utah's Bicycle Lawyers

Living healthy
It's not so much a fear as much as it is pure, unadulterated gluttony, slothfulness, and a few other seven deadly sins thrown in. I love lemon-cream cookies and staying up late to watch "The Walking Dead". Sue me. I eat like crap, get little-to-no exercise, and my body gave up hope of ever having a circadian rhythm.

I'd like to fix all these problems at once, but I know I need to take baby steps. I might start with a bedtime (you know, take a throwback to my kindergarten days), or cut down to one pop every other day (typically I only have one a day), and cutting out sweets every other day. I'm using Frau Graham and Mr. Daniell as my support people. Both are hyper-health conscious, and I know that they will both be the kind of support person that will check on my regularly.
Photo Courtesy Canadian Cancer Society

Saying "no"
I have this awful need to please and help people. Unfortunately, I never stop to ask myself pertinent questions like, "Do I even have the gifts and abilities to help in this area?" or, "Do I have the time and energy to lend a hand to this person?" and, "What slice of my personal or professional life will I have to neglect in order to help someone else?" Many times, I impose extra duties on myself that I don't need to.

For this line, I'm using my dear friends Frau Graham (again) and Carrie Petr. Both ladies are highly intelligent, and completely unafraid to tell me when I need to pull my head out of my nether-regions.
Photo Courtesy TremendousTraining.co.uk

Being absent

Saying "no" feeds directly into my next line that I fear, which is being absent, both physically and mentally. The time I spend at school and in drama and journalism keeps my away from family and friends in the physical sense, and the time I am at home, my mind is racing through all the things I have to do.

I am going to schedule time with family and leave school at school. To do this, I'm going to use my dear friends Ms. K and Patrick, and the Gregorys as my support people. Patrick and Rachel have survived the early years of a husband-and-director life, and have invaluable insights on how to balance the theatrical world I'm living in. Also, the Gregorys, despite being very busy and involved educators, coaches, and sponsors, still find time to spend with each other and their flipping adorable son, Roy.
Look how darn cute that little chunk of love is!

Perfectionist & Perception

Even as I type this blog post, I'm editing and rewriting, tweaking, revising...I simply cannot do something with half-effort because I know I can produce high-quality work. And, like most people, I falsely think people are paying more attention to me than they actually are. Gone are the days of, Egad! I wrote a blog post that had a very obvious typo! Also, the Drama website doesn't look as professional is it should! What must people think of me?!...at least I hope those days will be gone.

I'm going to pick a handful of projects I have and only give it a "first draft" effort. What those projects are, I do not know; but, I will make myself let the error live on indefinitely in no one's memory. For this goal, I'm going to use...
Photo Courtesy Frontlinegaming.blogspot


I think Barney the friendly, purple dinosaur indoctrinated me a little too well. Whenever conflict arises, I bend myself over backwards to make it go away by any means necessary. Oftentimes, the magic trick to make it go away is to requires me to do more (which goes into the whole aforementioned "saying no" and "being absent" issues). Whether it's an issue with a student, colleague, or boss, I don't bring up or address problems. However, I've done this long enough to know that avoiding a smaller problem now makes issues that much worse later.

At some point, I'm going to start listing conflicts that need addressed, and take them one at a time. To help me prepare for the confrontation, I'm going to use my better half Ashley (who isn't afraid of initiating confrontation?). She'll also be my follow-up person.


Asking for help

For as much as I like to help others--whether they ask for it or not--I refuse to ask for it. I abhor the thought that others might see me as weak. It's a pride thing (hmm...I'm starting to notice a pattern).

Simply put, I'm going to ask others for help for as many projects as I can. Drama alone will be a great outlet for this, so I'm asking for more parent volunteers and help from my friend and colleague Patrick (a theatre expert).

Time management and organization

I may have multiple-personality disorder (another issue for another blog, perhaps)...I started the year in hyper-organized mode. I managed my time like a champ. But, as time went on and I got more and more bogged down with the weight of the year, it all hit the fan and went out the window. "Organized" is not my default mode like some. I'm the flighty, big-picture dreamer that flies by the seat of my pants kind of guy. "Chaos" is my default.

Ergo, I'm going to work on regaining that sense of organization that seems to be so elusive for me. I'll schedule my time, use a planner, and utilize my students, journalists, and drama members to keep me accountable; I will tell them when things will be done (grades, assignments, et cetera), and will get them done by that time. If not, they have full permission to call me out.

Handyman repairs

You might not know it from looking at me, but I'm not what one would call "overly-masculine" (note the sarcastic tone). I'm not a die-hard sports fan (I almost enjoy Husker football), I'm rarely outdoors hunting and fishing and scrapping about like a mountain man, and I couldn't fix anything to save my life. I'm much more comfortable in the performing arts arena singing and acting and expressing my feelings.

As a result, I'm going to complete a handyman project. It may be changing the oil in one of our vehicles, it might be doing a household repair...I'm not sure! I do know that something will come up and it will need addressed. Depending on the time and repair, I'll either use my old man or father-in-law Larry (for general repairs), or my other father-in-law Mike if it's auto-related. Mike is a mechanic by choice, though a businessman by trade.

Letting circumstances affect my joy

One of my greatest struggles that I refuse to fix is letting outside circumstances affect my joy. I tried to get a new Advanced Theatre class a few years back (and I'm still trying), but it just hasn't been a possibility. Talk about getting your knickers in a twist...I might have a

Looking scrubby in public

23 September 2014

Blog#6 | Learning A Foreign Language

This blog was written using the prompt: "Give something to someone to meet his or her need (e.g., your time, your talent, money, et cetera...)." I chose this prompt because it just happened out of the blue; I wasn't even thinking of the blog posts. I chose a DROP-IN ESSAY format for this blog prompt, because so far, all my posts have been narrative in form; I'm trying something different. Since this is a Drop-In Essay, I don't share my revelation until the very end. The truth I learned is that showing love means going out of your way to give the things you need to the people you love without them asking for it.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

During our engagement, my wife Ashley and I learned all about the 5 Love Languages in premarital counseling. In a nutshell, every person on the planet feels he or she is actively being loved by receiving one or more of the following Love Languages: words of affirmation (compliments and praise); acts of service (doing things for your partner); receiving gifts (uh...you give the other person a gift...); quality time (simply being with and focused on your partner); physical touch (hugs, cuddles, and smooches).

As it just so happens, Ashley's  most fluent Love Language is acts of service.

Incidentally, this is not my native Love Language.

Ashley loves a clean house and an empty sink. I, on the other hand, feel there is more to life than clean dishes and vacuumed floors. I could have a mountain of pots and pans festering in the sink, dirty, smelly clothes wrinkling on the floor, small rodents zipping in and out of the mess, picking turf wars with cockroaches, and gaggles of traveling gypsies overflowing from our kitchen and the whole cacophonous mess wouldn't bother me one iota. I could carry on a conversation, watch a movie, host a party, and dance in the kitchen and not give it a second thought.
Photo Courtesy yepwecan.com
This is an exaggeration of the mess I can stand, but only a little one.
Boy, you are probably thinking, this sounds like a recipe for disaster! How often are you sleeping on the couch, Tobey?

As you can imagine, Ashley often asks me to help around the house. She's not shrewish or demanding; she's making reasonable, necessary requests. As you can also imagine, this is often the source of "discussions" when things come to a head. And, since I'm a complete tool, I often resent being asked to speak a Love Language that is completely foreign to me.

Just last weekend, our latest "discussion" finally yielded an answer: when Ashley has to ask me for an act of service, I'm not speaking her Love Language; I'm turing a conversation into a lecture, which neither party enjoys.

What a dolt am I.

I couldn't figure out why Ashley wasn't happy and overwhelmed with feelings of love after I did the dishes.

Granted, she had to ask me five times, I grumbled about it constantly, and did a pretty crappy job, but I did it, dadgummit!

Since then, I've been looking for opportunities to perform acts of services for Ashley. When I see dishes in the sink, I do them before she gets home from school. I vacuum the day before we have company, before she has a chance to ask me.

And I am here to tell you: she's noticed.

She is happy. She is overwhelmed with feelings of the love I have for her.

I am speaking her love language fluently for the first time.

The added bonus is that I now enjoy these tasks I once felt tedious and mundane. I'm not doing dishes because I want the sink empty; I'm doing them because I love my wife. I'm not vacuuming because I enjoy the vacuum patterns in the carpet; I do it because it makes Ashley happy. 

Noticing and speaking her Love Language improved our relationship and changed my attitude. I wasn't focused on me; I was focused on her.

Imagine what could happen if everyone made an effort to speak others' Love Languages? 
Photo Courtesy StuffPoint.com
Too "Miss America"?

10 September 2014

Blog #4 | 12 Hours of Murphey's Law

I never knew that Murphy guy that created the "If anything can go wrong, it will" law, but if I ever come across him, I'll have to punch him square in the nose.

It all started Tuesday night: The wife and I had a great dinner with our friends, the Gregorys; the boy was all snug in his footie pajamas, sprawled out in my arms, snoring that little congested snore he has as I watched T.V.; a major rainstorm was en route, and there's nothing I like better than falling asleep to the pitter-patter of rain drumming against the siding while thunder rumbles in the distance like a freight train.

The only thing left to do was let our beloved dog, Juniper, outside to do the doo one last time before bed.
Yes, we're those pet owners; we dress our dog in our clothes. | Photo Courtesy Ashley Tobey

However, there's a catch. June is terrified of storms. Even the sound of train cars ramming into each other sends her into a panic; her whole body convulses, she curls into the fetal position, and she knocks down baby gates and rips shower curtains off their rings to get to a bathtub.

Since I had a sleeping infant weighing me down, my beloved let June out.

Fast forward one hour

"Is June in the bathtub?" I called Ashley from the kitchen.

"She must be," Ashley replied from the basement. "It's pouring outside."

Just then, a huge crack of thunder and a brilliant flash of lightning ripped the sky apart.

"She's probably having fits. I better go check on her," Ashley said on her way to the bathroom.

I heard her walking through the upstairs, down to the basement. Doors are creaking open and slamming shut all throughout the house.

Suddenly, I hear feet scrambling up the stairs as Ashley cries out, "I can't find her!"

With a sickening revelation, she remembered: "I never let her back inside..."

Fast forward one hour

Somehow I've squeezed 30 miles worth of driving out of the tiny Waverly neighborhood we live in. I snaked and re-snaked up and down the water-logged roads as the rain came driving down in sheets.

It didn't take long to realize the search was pretty futile. With the fogged-over windshield, my rain-splattered glasses, and the fact I was looking for a jet-black dog in the dark of a stormy night, I was pretty much hosed.
Photo Courtesy Nick Gerber Tumblr

Fast forward two hours

The combination of a full bladder and worry about my fuzzy first-born child sprawled out in a muck-filled ditch, dead from a terror-induced heart attack, woke me from my troubled slumber. Using the dresser to steady myself, I grope my way through the darkness to check the garage to see if she found her way home and was waiting at the door.

Groggy steps lead me closer to the doorway I know is there. It's impossible to tell if my eyes are even open at this point.


A sudden bolt of lightning flashes as something flies out of the darkness and smacks me straight in the nose.

"What the...?! Holy heck!"

"What?! What's the matter?" Ashley replies, jolting from sleep.

"I hit the...OW!...I ran into the...DANG IT!...I walked into the DOOR!"

Fast forward to the morning

Several phone calls to the city offices later, I was on my way out the door to school with little to no hope of ever seeing my little schmoozy ever again.

As I put my bags in the passenger door, I hear a car pull into our drive directly behind me. I turn around in time to see the County Sheriff put his cruiser in park and roll down his window.

Oh my gosh, I thought to myself. Did I hold up Ollie's and totally forget?!

"You missing a black dog?" the sheriff asked from the driver's seat.

"Yeah, did you find her?" I asked, secretly finishing that sentence with, ...in a ditch somewhere?

"Yep, she's in the back."

Sure enough, there's June: sitting in the back seat, tail wagging, dry as a bone, looking very pleased with herself.

"I found her about six blocks from here, sitting on someone's front porch."

* * * * * *

I tell you: you love them; you feed them; you teach them right from wrong. But, once they become teenagers, they make their own decisions, and sometimes, they come home in the back of cop cars. The best we can do is hope eventually, they will make the right choices.

28 August 2014

Blog #3 | The Power of Story

When I think about things that are powerful, the first things that comes to mind are superheroes, weapons, military, and my wife after I've done something stupid. You know, people and things that can affect physical damage.

You do NOT want to mess with these tough hombres. Incidentally, when I do something stupid, my wife resembles the big green guy in the back..."ASHLEY SMASH!" | Image Courtesy HDWallpaper.com

But, the more I think about it, the more I realize I'm confusing "power" for "strength". My handy-dandy computer dictionary provided a pretty swell definition of power:

It's embarrassing for an English teacher to totally misunderstand the definition of such a common word. | Photo Courtesy iMac Dictionary

After reading this definition, it made me think about the movie Book of Eli, which is all about how powerful a particular book is, and how it influenced the behavior of others. The stories contained in the book Eli carries around are powerful enough to convince him to trek across a hostile country, rife with dangerous killers and a complete lack of food and water, as well as push others to wage war to get the book from him. Of course, YouTube can do a better job of showing you how intense the story is:

Stories--especially stories that revolve around faith and spirituality--can drive groups and nations to do incredible, and sometimes horrifying, things.

* * * * * 
A story's power derives from the moral it teaches and the emotion it evokes.

From the fairy tales of yore to the Dr. Seuss rhymes of today, children's stories teach a culture's little ones valuable lessons. Granted, Grimm's stories are a wee bit more gruesome and terrifying than anything written today.

Take Krampus, the Christmas Demon, for example. Cooked up from Norse Mythology, Krampus is good ol' St. Nick's counterpart. Whereas Santa rewards the good boys and girls on Christmas Eve, Krampus beats the naughty kids until they're good.

The little tykes are terrified, and as a result, they're well-behaved for parents. Tell me that isn't powerful!

However, some stories hold more power over certain people than others. Krampus may scare a two-year old into behaving, but it may take more for me to prevent my stockings from filling with coal.

Take Les Miserables for example. 

Just this summer, I went to Broadway with some students and saw the revival. Now, I've watched recordings of the stage version for years--and loved every minute--but it never brought me to the point of tears. Not when Fantine dies, not when Eponine gets shot, not even when Jean Valjean dies.

But when little Gavroche climbed the barricade to get some more ammo for the troops, the hair stood up on the back of my neck.

My heart jumped into my throat and choked me when I heard the first shot ring out.

I stopped breathing as I saw him crest the barricade, injured but triumphant.

And I completely lost my crap when the second shot fired. 
Image Courtesy IMGFave
No, it looked more like this: 
Image Courtesy the Overby Family Adoption Blog

Some of the impact came from seeing the performance live, but the tragedy was so much more real, so powerful because I'm a new daddy, and I saw my own son in that little boy onstage. I thought, "Wow! That's somebody's little boy! I have a little boy. How cool. Oops, the little boy is shot and killed...what if MY little boy was shot and killed..."

See, now you feel bad for mocking my snot bubbles.

* * * * * 
Indeed, stories are powerful things. They influence the behavior, perceptions, and emotions of people all over the world.

The trick, however, is to be aware of that power, because it can be used for both good and evil, creation and destruction, or harmony and conflict.

19 August 2014

Blog #2 | ALS Response: "Why the hate?!"

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has become a viral sensation over the last few weeks. You can barely open your favorite browser without being bombarded by videos of people dumping ice water over themselves and challenging others to do the same, or pay money to the ALS Association.

It's even hit Waverly!
Image Courtesy Waverly Hi-Spot

Of course, whenever something goes viral, the cynics of the world come out in force.

For example, I saw this gem on a friend's Facebook page just the other day:

Courtesy an Anonymous FB friend

I get it: when we see people do crazy stunts online, it's natural to first assume "Oh, what an attention-seeking Jezebelle! Who do they think they are? What a schmuck." That's the negative side of human nature that rears its ugly head when other people have fun.

And to be honest, until I did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge myself, I was skeptical about the viral movement.

What was it for? Why were so many people doing it? And, most importantly, was it accomplishing anything worthwhile?

My skepticism disappeared when a Drama Parent nominated the Waverly Drama Club Officers last Saturday to put up or shut up. We did it, and challenged three others: Mr. Ricenbaw, Mr. Daniell, and the Waverly FCCLA Officers. Then, after posting the video to Facebook, I went on to nominate a few friends of my own.

Photo & Video Courtesy Claire Westerholt

In all, our one challenge spread to nine different people. And if each of those nine found nine others to challenge, and then those people found nine others to challenge...well, it's not difficult to see why this movement has spread like wildfire.

It was that night I decided to do some research into the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It didn't take long to find out that the ALS Association has raised $13.3 million in the same amount of time they raised $1.7 million last year.

And if that alone isn't enough to hush the finger-wagging, "ne'er-do-well!"-criers bemoaning the waste of water (which, by the way, isn't really as wasteful as people are saying...it's called the water cycle, people...you're drinking and bathing in the same water the dinosaurs peed in. Get off your high horse), then you need to stop what you're doing and watch the video of how it all got started.

In the meantime, I'll let Pete Frates himself close for me.

09 April 2014

Thoughts on a Funeral

This is a blog prompt I made up that fits under the "Relationships" category. Last week, there were two deaths that hit the Waverly community pretty hard, and it had me thinking a lot about death, loss, family, and support. I chose an essay-collage for this post. My ideas seem to bounce from topic to topic, so I figured that's the best way to write it out. I learned that every person mourns loss differently, and that a death doesn't have to ruin the lives of those left behind.


An Unexpected Occurrence
I experienced a teaching first last week: the death of a student's parent. Granted, this student is graduated and in college, but the relationship we had is a perfect example of why I went into education in the first place. I was her teacher, her coach, and her adviser. She opened up and shared with me about her family. Likewise, she ended up giving my dog her middle name (Penelope, in case you were curious). Even as she left Waverly, I still got to act as her mentor. As fate would have it, she attends the same college I teach a weekly night class at. We were, in a word, close.

And then her mom died.

It was sudden.
It was completely unexpected.
And it was gut-wrenching.

Natural Order
It's only natural for children to bury their parents. Parents are, after all, quite a few years older than their offspring. My dad buried his dad just over a year ago. My fathers-in-law buried a father and a mother just a few months before that. The fathers in my life each lost a parent.

The loss was expected. These elderly individuals were old--in their late 70s and early 80s. They were sick and suffering--stroke, cancer, broken neck, dementia. In many ways, their passing was tantamount to a merciful blessing. The pain and suffering and sadness were all gone.

That didn't mean it didn't hurt for these sons to bury one of their parents.

All the same, it was still expected.

An Unexpected Reaction
Most people would expect a teenager in her first year of college to be devastated at the sudden passing of a parent. 

Heck, I'd have been an inconsolable mess. 

And what's more, not one decent human being on the planet would fault her, or anyone, for being a bit of a mess.

That's why her reaction is all the more incredible.

Along with her sisters, this brave young person planned her mother's funeral, made arrangements with the family, and acted as adults at visitations, greeting family and friends and unknowns.

Instead of fishing for sympathy by posting vague status updates to social media, she used the open forum to relate the positive stories about her mom.

Instead of embracing the dark, drab, dreary culture of funerals, these amazing girls hosted a celebration of life for their mom. They asked guests to come dressed in their brightest colors to honor a woman who brightened up a room.

What's more, they spoke to the scores of guests at the funeral service, reading from a book their mom read to them. Without a hint of tears and with the poise of a competitive speaker, she boldly read the poem about nature and beauty and God.

As her former speech coach, I felt a little bit of pride.

As a fallible human being, I felt incredulous. How could someone so young, enduring such heartache, be so brave?


A Rainbow of Reactions
A few students sat with me at the funeral service. I felt like a really awkward Mama Duck leading in a hodgepodge of college freshmen and high schoolers down the aisle of the church to our seat clear out on the side. All the same, we were there to support her as a family.

We're not blood family, obviously. As a group, we haven't been around and known each other since birth.

But in all the ways that makes family family, we were family.

Some of us wept bitter tears of sadness that stung cheeks and reddened eyes.

Some of us clammed up tight, eyes cast down, voices barely audible.

Some of us were bold and loud, a mass of flailing arms reaching for someone to hug.

Some of us were smiling rays of sunshine, boasting a near-future that would be filled with joyous memories to fill the void left behind.

Each person was a unique ball of grief and sympathy as uncommon and authentic as a thumbprint.

An Unexpected Revelation
My heart grieved for my former student. While I didn't know her mom well, my heart broke for the pain I could only imagine she must have felt.

Her bravery and dry eyes made me feel like that bleeding, trembling heart in my chest broke unnecessarily. 

Of course she was hurting. 
Of course she misses her mother.
Of course she had tears.

But this wondrous young woman was mourning an equally wondrous mother that raised her to love others, to see the bright side of every dark cloud, to work hard and do what needs to be done, and to live a wonderful, worthwhile life.

She doesn't need a broken heart of empathy.

She needs strong friends and family to help her live the life her mother intended for her to live. She needs to be able to relive the wonderful times through stories and laughter.

With a wisdom beyond her age, this young lady learned how to live life in a world with indiscriminate death.

Would that we all could react the same.

26 March 2014

"What About Bob?"

This week, I chose the prompt that reads “Go out of your way to help someone this week.” It seemed like a pretty easy prompt for my first go around. I wrote this in the Dipping format, where I tell a bit of story, then I explain, then I tell a bit of story, then I explain. When I went out of my way to help out, I learned that every time I give someone a helping hand, even when I don’t want to, I always feel good about it later.

10 February 2014

Project-Based Learning

As a teacher, it’s really easy to fall into the “Sage at the Stage” model of teaching. We stand up front, deliver a lecture that we’ve rehearsed and timed, then give students worksheets copied from a book that has scripted curriculum and pre-made answer keys that are really easy to check.

It’s predictable.
It’s convenient.
It’s time-efficient.
And oftentimes, it’s to the detriment of student learning.

I don’t remember doing the worksheets I completed during my formal education; I don’t remember what content they covered, and therefore, I couldn’t tell you if the material sank in to my long-term memory. Odds are, it was in one ear and out the other.

However, I do remember the hands-on projects we did. My favorite was “The Face of Evil” project Mrs. Meyer gave us in English after we read “The Masque of the Red Death”. The only guideline Mrs. Meyer gave was we had to find a way to show what evil looks like. After a week, her room was filled with the things of nightmares. That project impacted me so much, that I use the same assignment in English 10 after we read “Lord of the Flies”.
One of my favorite "Face of Evil" projects by 2012 alums David Catsinas, Lynsey Erickson, and Eric Herr; David even made a swell shelf for me to display it!
Photo Courtesy | Blake Tobey

What made this assignment so great was how it encouraged collaboration and deep conversations among us students. We argued about what colors best represented evil, which images provoked fear and cruelty, and most importantly, what would gross out Mrs. Meyer.

We shared stories about the evil we saw in the news, in movies, comic books, in our peers, and even in ourselves.

Eventually, we came to realize “evil” isn’t some vague, abstract word that was confined to villains in Disney movies; it is a reality alive and well across the world and in every person.

A worksheet can’t lead a student to that understanding. A five-paragraph essay alone doesn’t give students the opportunity to share thoughts and understanding. A multiple choice test doesn’t reflect a student’s understanding or thoughts about a topic.

Poe and Golding didn’t want readers to get caught up on setting, plot turns, character development, or what form of irony they employed. Authors are trying to make a point, and they use things like setting, plot, character, and irony to make that point.

Mrs. Meyer understood that, and created assignments that reflected it. Project-based learning truly measures a student’s understanding of a concept.

It also helps students make those connections to the real-world that they so desperately crave (or, at least that’s what I suspect, considering we teachers hear daily “where will I use this when I grow up?”).

In Intro to Theatre, we’re covering physical and technical theatre. We took notes and watched videos all about set design concepts, looked at and dissected examples, and even discussed the concepts together.

Understanding the concepts of set design means little if the concepts can’t be applied, however.

So, they’re designing and building model sets, just like real set designers do in the real world. They read scripts, analyzed set needs, decided on realistic or abstract sets, sketched out ideas, and started building 3D models. Some might look at this as a “fluff” assignment, but these students are doing the same thing professional set designers are doing on Broadway.

Students are also learning it’s not all fun and games. Their sketched out ideas have some great details that make their sets look great, but going from page to stage isn’t as easy. The more details they have, the more work they have to do. The better they want it to look, the more effort they have to put forth.

Freshman Kaley works on her interior design for her grand house.
Photo Courtesy | Blake Tobey 
A student's work in progress for their exterior scene. The clouds posed a particular challenge to make them look like they are suspended, but the student did a great job fixing that.
Photo Courtesy | Blake Tobey

Senior Tierra comparing her sketch to images she's found online, trying to figure out how to go from "page to stage".
Photo Courtesy | Blake Tobey

Sophomore Drew figuring out how to get a wall-door combo that won't block the audience's sight lines. Sight lines are impossible to test on paper, which is why real set designers make a 3D model.
Photo Courtesy | Blake Tobey

“Yeah, I could cut out tiny books for the bookshelf, but that would take forever!”

Yes, dear student, it would! But, think of how incredible it will look!

Project-Based Learning is nothing all that new. However, it is just now getting some more traction in classes across the country.

Next week, I’ll be trying a new PBL assignment with my English10B classes. We’re just finishing watching The Help to help students see some of the basic principles of prejudice in action. Then, they will work in groups to identify some form of prejudice that is affecting our school, community, state, or nation that they will research. Their project is to find a way to address the prejudice so the situation can be improved.

Just last year, students simply wrote research papers about the topic, but what was the point? Sure, they knew how to research and write formally, but nothing was solved. Nobody outside their class heard their presentation. And the prejudice they researched was still running rampant through our halls, town, and beyond.

Nothing had changed, and the students only had a grade to show for it.

Granted, I need to make sure our students can write well, but PBL lets the students go further. The students will still learn to research. They’ll still write formally. But they will need to find a way to make that research and understanding they developed to make an impact on their community.

After all, isn’t that the whole purpose of writing? To make a point for others to consider and grow from?

Isn’t that the whole point of formal education? To teach students how to think, and give them the chance to practice?