Putting the pieces together

Mix together world history, geometry, technology and art. Combine with creative, energetic freshman. Add two exceptional teachers and gently stir in the experience of a ceramic artist. For students in the Mosaic Experience, one of the five small schools at Heights High, this was the perfect educational recipe. Under the guidance of social studies teacher John Stevens, math teacher Al De Gennaro, and ceramic artist George Woideck, the 9th grade students in world history and geometry classes spent two months researching, designing and building the mosaic mural that hangs outside the Mosaic Experience office.

“Student-generated ideas shape our school,” said Principal Nick Petty. “Teachers become guides in helping students bring a wide range of experiences.” Mosaic staff emphasize relationship building. “The grant we received from the Jennings Foundation allowed us to marry the geometry and world history curriculums, infusing the learning experience with art and technology in a way that made it fun. The mural is a visual expression of what the students learned.”

Five of the project workers, LaTonya Bouldin, Jonathan Tarnay, Christopher Rutherford, David Schellenberg, and Ajia Mason, explained that the teachers gave them parameters: the final piece had to include a world map, for example. In math classes the students learned how to include tessellations in their design to fit the mosaic pieces together. Tessellations are formed when a shape is copied over and over again, covering a plane without any spaces, gaps or overlaps. They then met with artist Woideck who showed them examples of his work.

The students initially planned to base the world map on the GDP of each country, but the design became too cluttered. They decided instead to use population as the sole factor for determining the size of the countries.

Geometry teacher De Gennaro recalls: “Students had to take what they were learning in class and apply those concepts to the design. They had to fit corners, shapes and rotations, the mechanics of how to pieces fit together.” De Gennaro would love to find more artists to work on collaborative projects. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a glass blower willing to work with students to build a Galileo Thermometer or an artist to build a unique working sun dial? It’s all about marrying the core subjects with technology and art to make these concepts come alive.”

“We learn all these things in school,” said David Schellenberg. “Subconsciously we know how things work, but to actually work on this project and see the final mural, it changed how we view the world.”

“And," Jonathan Tarnay added, "it makes it so much easier to find the Mosaic office.”

Lita Gonzalez, a long time community volunteer, lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband Mark. Both her daughters are Heights High graduates.
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Volume 1, Issue 3, Posted 1:01 PM, 05.07.2008