Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Creating Dots & Building Community (Dot Day 2014)

I dreamed big for our Dot Day celebrations, hoping that faculty would provide Celebridots, students would participate in our Dot Day celebrations, and our community would begin to connect. At the college the library is the only communal space where students can hang out, eat lunch, and study. Since its foundations are pretty old school, it was my goal to show that the library offers more than just books (don’t get me wrong, I like books), research assistance, and studying space. I wanted to transform the library into a place where people can create and play and make things. I wanted to bring a little magic into the stacks.

I rearranged the library from rows into combined tables, covered them with butcher board paper, and provided a cornucopia of art supplies. While our Dot Day programs were scheduled for 12:30pm each day, students and faculty trickled into the library all day to use the art supplies and create dots. Each time I regaled them with my “Make your Mark” shpiel and urged them to share their ideas for ways to make our mark as a community. I read The Dot several times to the college students, which amused me to no end. I’d read The Dot all day if they let me. While I created my own dot alongside them, I also had a chance to observe them and see how they engaged with each other. Any divisions between freshmen and seniors melted away in the face of watercolors and glitter. (Honestly, who can be apathetic in the face of glitter?) While we were creating dots, we were building a community. Students shared stories from their summer break, discussed their expectations for this semester, and found common ground. Throughout the week, I challenged my students’ and faculty’s schemas about being creative. So many students claimed that they were not creative, but when prompted, they expressed outside the box and critical thinking. Something happens to us as we grow up that makes us stop identifying as artists and creators, something that is a defense mechanism to avoid being vulnerable. When my students created dots this week, they rejected self-doubt and embraced the freedom in getting messy and trying new things. We can all be creative in our own way. The arts are one way – but they’re not the only way. Making dots was a symbol for all the ways we can be innovative and express ourselves. 

Like Vashti, I wanted my students to recognize that their creations are notable and worthy of being shared. With this in mind, I rearranged the library into a new kind of space, from an art room into a gallery. I displayed the dots with the honor they deserved on golden tables that showcased the variety of styles and interpretations. The first dot urged people to “Start small. End big” and the final dot said “the journey begins,” which I hope expressed the message that this is just the beginning. I also created a display of “Celebridots,” dots created by our faculty and staff. We ask our students to share their opinions and writing in class, to push themselves beyond their expectations, so I truly believe that teachers need to model this kind of bravery and push themselves outside of their comfort zones. By showcasing the faculty’s dots, my students could see that we are all learning together. Faculty across the disciplines shared their thoughts about making their mark and put their own distinct spin on the theme. One faculty member even created a 3-dimensional “Dot Product,” based on that famous opening passage from A Tale of Two Cities and the properties therein. Yes, math is creative and how wonderful for her to help our students think about math in new ways!

I also placed a blank canvas in the middle of the room and asked people to each add a dot to create a unique, collaborative piece of art. As each person added his or her mark, the image revealed itself as a solar system of creativity. I will be displaying this painting in the library throughout the year as a testament of our collaboration.

Looking back at these experiences, I know we have a foundation for an incredible year of making our mark. One of my students remarked that “our library looks amazing and it's because of the compilation of all of our unique work. Thank you for taking the time to create non-academic, stress-free, and fun activities to enhance our experience.” Comments like these inspire me to provide more opportunities for self-expression in the library. We will have programs that help students learn to listen and share, see the wonder in ordinary things, find ways to manage stress, and know that they can make their mark in extraordinary ways.

Dot Day is just the beginning.

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