Bulb Archived: Waters SCALE 2017-2018: Johnson & Moser

School Name: Waters

Teacher Name: Olga Nuñez-Johnson

Teaching Artist Name: Sonja Moser

Big Idea: Our Communities, Our Voices


  • How sharing personal stories of their names, last names, and their heritage can build connections between one another.  In the process of interviewing their parents, grandparents , and relatives students will learn about their ancestors/past. 
“My name is…”
 “My name is from…”
“I learned that my last name means…”
Getting to know one another Fall 2018

1. Planning: What interests and curiosities were brought to the planning by each of you? 

Teacher response: I love storytelling and great literature, so we combined these elements with drama in order to create teach our drama program.

Sharing quality stories as we explore in Drama and Literature. 

Teaching Artist response: I brought an enduring interest in building community through storytelling and addressing issues of social justice and inclusion through the theater making process. 

Learning about our names and movement Fall 2017

2. The Project: Tell the story of your project. What happened in the classroom? 

  • We started by playing drama games that connected to their names.
  • We read several stories of characters and their personal stories of their names. We also looked at the struggles and hardships that each character had to overcome as they navigated their existence in a new community/country.
  • The students were given specific questions to answer with their parents about the origin of their first and last names. 
  • We connected their name research to movement and games in order to expand on our Big Idea.
  • We have monthly parent/family workshops.
  • We continue to check in with one another and we plan and adjust as needed in order to make sure we are moving in the right direction.
  • After completing our performance project for the Hairpin Gallery show that focused on the origin and meaning of the students’ names, we chose to deepen our focus on cultural heritage by continuing to focus on something we all had in common: the fact that all of us had ancestors who initially moved to the United States from somewhere else.
  • We asked students to continue conversations with parents about their family history. This time the focus was on finding out as much as possible about their first ancestor to immigrate to the United States. Where did they come from? When did they leave for America? How old were they when the left, and why did they choose to leave? What was their journey like? When and where did they arrive, and where did they settle?
  • In class we read books, played games and performed improvisations based on themes of travel and immigration.
  • After the students had collected information on their ancestors, we guided them through the process of transferring that information into written text for the play. 
  • The Teaching Artist integrated the games, exercises and improvisations from the classroom into the children’s written text to create a final script. We spent the last three weeks of our class rehearsing and performing our play: How We Came to America!

3. How did you check in throughout the project to plan and adjust plans as the project unfolded? 

  • We looked at the scope and sequence we had created at the beginning of the year in order to keep us on track. We also continually looked forward to our end of the year performance deadline to make sure we were accomplishing what we needed to in the time we had remaining.
  • We talked and planned weekly.
  • We wrote our ideas down, making notes when things occurred to us in class or during the week when we weren’t together. Sometimes we called or texted each other to touch base.
  • We had conversations about how things were going with the students – what we could expect from them, what was appropriate for their level, how we needed to approach the work with them (or with specific individuals) to make it successful.

4. What are the conflicts, contradictions or challenges of your teacher/artist collaboration? Teacher response: 

Teaching Artist response: Maintaining communication so there is clarity about how we are proceeding/not taking mutual understanding for granted. Taking time and having patience to explore and resolve aesthetic differences. Finding a productive rhythm for discussions that is not piece meal. Supporting each other with consistency in the classroom.

Teacher response: How easily I forget what we planned and talked about, and have to refer to  our notes and discussions. Ugh!!

5. What are you learning as a result of collaborating with one another in terms of teaching and art making? 

Teacher response: I have learned how my artist thinks and feels about relevant issues. I have also learned about the importance of connecting with our community and how clever she is in weaving it into our drama learning. As far as teaching, I have learned how to stretch my creative imagination when it comes to storytelling and drama!

Teaching Artist response: I am learning important tactics for maintaining interest and engagement with this age group: keep things simple and direct, have a positive and enthusiastic attitude, state expectations clearly and firmly. I am also learning more about the patience and understanding required for effective communication – when to talk and when to listen, what to listen for, when something might need to be repeated or stated in another way.

6. How has the community-focused component of the project contributed to or challenged your teacher/artist collaboration? 

Games and Drama with the parents
Parent/Family Workshop Winter 2017

Teacher response: I love the positive response we have had from our families during our parent/family workshops. They have shared so much about their names, their heritage, and their ancestors. This has been a very special time with my drama students and their families. 

Teaching Artist response: We were both extremely enthusiastic about reaching out beyond our immediate class community to include parents and family. This is a passion we share, so it is a bonding aspect of the project for us. I think the highlight of the project so far – for both of us – has been our parent workshops! They have been well-attended and had great participation. In the end, with our final project, we accomplished exactly what we set out to do, which was to make a play from the stories of the children and their families. We heard from many of the families of our students that in doing research for our play, they were learning more themselves about their heritage, which was extremely rewarding. By both discovering what we had in common and hearing the details that made each person’s experience unique, we did indeed become closer as a community.

Performing for the parents
Parent/Family Workshop Winter 2018