Order out of chaos

f56b5822-e3ff-5491-b7ba-b30cf21a8aff.preview-300June 15, 2007  *  The Citizen

MORAVIA – “Out of chaos comes order.”

That phrase, first used by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, can be interpreted to mean that seemingly random arrangements are really organized, interconnected patterns.

While the concept might be quite abstract to some, elementary students at Millard Fillmore Elementary School in Moravia not only understand the theory, but have come to embrace it.

The school’s Chaos Theory Project has been a nine-month program designed to help students as young as 8 understand how different universal characteristics are related, using theater, music and visual arts to help them learn about science, history and mathematics.

The project culminated Tuesday at Fillmore Glen State Park, where science teacher Bruce Beem-Miller’s third-grade class presented “Chaos,” a series of five “live” demonstrations of what students learned. The presentation used music, stage movement and visual art to demonstrate concepts of weather, earth science and geometry, among other things.

“Since September, these children have made discoveries that I didn’t think were possible,” said Pat Kinney, the school’s visual art instructor, from the park prior to Monday’s performance.

Kinney and elementary music teacher Denise Abbattista first conceived of the Chaos Theory idea at an educator’s conference several years ago, she continued, after seeing a high school teacher’s presentation on “chance music,” in which a composer allows performers to create their own interpretations, seemingly at random.

“We brainstormed ideas about how we could ‘draw in’ other teachers and combine different (types) of learning,” she said. “We also wanted to use the talents of Holly Adams (in the project).”

Adams is an actor and educator from Ithaca who has worked closely with Hangar Theatre, and after she and Kinney became friends, the art teacher decided to put Adams’ talents to use.

In addition to acting, Adams is a certified “clown doctor” and has worked with the elderly and disabled in the Binghamton area.

Starting in the fall, Adams collaborated with Kinney, Beem-Miller and Abbatista to create workshops for third-graders. One such exercise had students in science class become a “human water molecule,” with some acting as hydrogen, others oxygen.

“Since there’s twice as much hydrogen as oxygen (in a water molecule), the ‘hydrogen’ kids walked around with two arms out, and (oxygen) just one,” Adams said. To learn about the different states of matter, the students formed a ball on the floor to represent ice, then ran around the room to replicate a gaseous state.

“Our sense of this kind of arts in an education project is that this is the best way children learn,” Kinney said. “Both concrete and abstract ideas are really clear to them now, and they see the relationship between the two.”

With the other third-grade classes as an audience, the 22 members of Beem-Miller’s class started the presentation with “The Beginning of Weather,” in which students formed cirrus, stratus and cumulus clouds onstage while others added sound effects from the side of the performance area.

Next, the group spread a long canvas on the ground, then splattered and dripped paint on it to create art in the style of Jackson Pollock, famous for his seemingly random designs.

“Actually, we chose colors Vincent van Gogh used in his (painting) ‘The Starry Night,’ so the idea was to create something like Pollock’s interpretation of van Gogh,” Kinney explained.

Later, the class divided into two groups, then acted out “A Summer Day at the Glen.” One group played instruments like xylophones, maracas and bongo drums to represent the sounds of rain, wind and falling rocks, while the others cavorted around the space and through the audience waving strips of colored gauze, to mimic a group of butterflies.

“The discoveries this year have just been remarkable,” Kinney said. “(The project) has really taught them to ‘think outside the box,’ and it’s introduced them to a whole new way of learning.”