Monday, October 24, 2016

BECOMING THE ANIMAL: How InterPlay Enhances Science Communication and the Communicator

TRANSFORMATION OF A CLASSROOM--HOW? These first year college students are fully engaged in body and mind communication information they collected in a homework assignment about animals indigenous to the Emory University's campus. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
InterPlay + Science Communication='s FUN--I'm repeating this mantra regularly, especially when I have the opportunity to teach college students in a science class how to express their data!

This October 2016 signals the third time that I have conducted a two-part storytelling workshop for my husband's first year seminar, "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See," using activities from the improvisational system of InterPlay. Each time, I have had the opportunity to refine my facilitation to provide clearer incremental steps to support the students' easeful stepping into the role of an embodied storyteller.

I envision every student finding storytelling "tools" in this workshop that they can adapt to their own personal communication style. My job is to offer ways for them to play around with expanding vocal and physical range as they express scientific information to an audience of one or many. 

In this blog post, I am offering my InterPlay facilitation experience in the form of photos and photo captions. At the end of this post are links to other blog posts I have written about this freshman seminar, as well as other science communication workshops. Enjoy! I appreciate any feedback in the form of comments here or on Facebook.
WHAT IS IMPROVISATION? WHAT IS INTERPLAY? Desks have already been rearranged from rows to a circle around the perimeter of the classroom when students arrive. After being introduced as a certified InterPlay leader, I invite students to define improvisation and how it could relate to science communication. InterPlay, I explain, is an improvisational system that fosters and supports authenticity. I invite the students to always make choices to participate in the InterPlay improvisational activities in a way that feels good to them. Soon they will be asked to use the available space to "create" or "improvise" ideas related to their seminar, "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not Know." (photo by Tony Martin)
OUT OF THEIR DESKS AND INTO THEIR BODIES. What does the "whole" communicator  look like when fully engaged--physically, mentally, and emotionally? A simple invitation to stand up, warm up their bodies and then partner with another classmate for leading and following at first brings nervous laughter and then.... (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
THE CLASSROOM TRANSFORMED. Within moments the classroom is electrified as students step into the invitation to "play" with one another. Creative move after creative move appears as leadership alternates back-and-forth between the paired students. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
THE ROLE OF THE PROFESSOR SHIFTS. When the professor participates in these InterPlay activities as Tony Martin (far right) does here, the classroom dynamic shifts with the students.  Students have an opportunity to interact creatively one-to-one with their professor in a give-and-take relationship. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EXPANDING THEIR METHOD OF EXPLANATION. After warming up physically and vocally "playing" around with telling short nonlinear descriptions, students return to their desks to take turns describing the nature observations they have recorded in their "sit spot journals," a class requirement. During the semester, they must make a minimum of thirty entries from the same "sit spot" on the Emory campus that they have chosen to observe. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
BECOMING THE TREE. Following the activity of describing their "sit spot," students change partners and are asked to stand up in front of their listening partner (or witness). Choosing an animate or inanimate object from their "sit spot," they then "become" it and speak from its perspective. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
DAY 2 OF THE STORYTELLING WORKSHOP--DEVELOPING RAPPORT. What is rapport and how is it created with the listener? We know that our audience is like a mirror reflecting back to us what we ourselves as speakers are creating. This group exercise of leading and following is an excellent way to "embody" that connect between what we "enact" and its impact on others. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EXPERIENCING NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION. Team "Red Sloth" prepares to move together for this nonverbal exercise. Teammates are asked to assume leadership as the group moves and shifts about the space like a flock of starlings in a murmuration. (photo by Tony Martin)
BODY TO BODY COMMUNICATION. Students experience first hand that communicating effectively without words is possible as each one creates unique movements and other group members follow. The leadership shifts effortlessly as long as a teammate is willing to accept his/her turn when the opportunity accuates. (photo by Tony Martin)
OBSERVATION IS PART OF LEARNING. Team "Red Sloth" observes team "Blue Whale." The process of "embodying" concepts occurs over time and through different practices. Observing others perform activities helps students to integrate their own experiences with the "new" ideas presented. (photo by Tony Martin)

PRESENTING RESEARCH? YES! Does this look like students are having fun? Is any learning going on here? Are both presenter and audience engaged? Is the transference of information occurring? Do you think students are having the opportunity to teach something they know with enthusiasm? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding YES! (photo by Tony Martin)
WHAT ANIMAL AM I? At the conclusion of our two-part storytelling InterPlay workshops, we gathered in a circle for a guessing game. Each student had researched a different animal indigenous to the Emory campus and had kept their animal "top secret." In this activity, students took turns presenting a behavior and one informational sentence (or hint) about their animal. Everyone repeated the animal behavior and tried to guess the animal. Often several other hints had to be provided before the animal could be identified. The students' enthusiasm, lack of self consciousness, and engaged presence was very rewarding to the professor (Tony Martin) and me, the facilitator.  (photo by Tony Martin)
THE EMORY CAMPUS. Here is the Math and Science Building, the site of our storytelling InterPlay workshops on this sunny fall week in October 2016 on the lovely Emory campus. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
TELLING A STORY FROM A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE! I'm so grateful to these trusting students who allowed themselves to be engaged in improvisational exercises. Here we are embodying a squirrel. Students chose a living animal or inanimate object from their "sit spot" on the Emory University campus to embody in this freshman seminar, "How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See." In the first workshop, I introduced InterPlay babbling and big body stories. I loved seeing the students' confidence grow as they had fun moving from partner to partner. At the end of the class, each student shared what he/she had chosen to embody from his/her sit spot and create a movement for us to repeat. Lots of deer appeared, a fish, two dead trees, a blade of grass, a clam, etc. The movements were inventive and fun to follow!(photo by Tony Martin)
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to InterPlay co-founders, Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter for this sneaky deep improvisational system that fosters and supports authentic communication. Deep gratitude to my life partner, Tony Martin, who is an excellent science communicator. He has helped me grow in my communication skills and capacity as an instructor. Thank you for making education and science outreach fun! You inspire me!

Other blogposts about my work with InterPlay and “How to Interpret Behavior You Did Not See”

April 11, 2016

November 6, 2014

Other blogposts on how I use InterPlay for Science Communication and Outreach:

October 2016

March 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

EMBODYING THE MESSAGE: Engineers play around with expanding vocal and physical range

"INCREASING YOUR ACADEMIC & PROFESSIONAL SPEAKING SKILLS USING IMPROVISATION," OCTOBER 15th, 2016 WORKSHOP. Ta dah! Here are some of the 28 participants at the conclusion of a 5-hour workshop on a Georgia Tech game day Saturday. An exciting odyssey of expression was traveled in this short intense gathering of graduate engineering students!
Whether you are a scientist or artist, lawyer or educator, performer or poet, administrator or physician, you can benefit from a more fully embodied engagement to your life. -Celeste Snowber

How might engineers begin to enjoy communicating their ideas to colleagues, professional audiences, and the world at large? The typical stereotype of the engineer is of a person far more engaged in the head, mining the mechanics of algorithms and linear thinking slumped over a computer than that of one who inhabits a "body," reveling in spatial creative thinking and wanting to physically interact with a curious public. End result? These engineers are not only miserable when they have to present their research, but they are also judged as POOR communicators.

What are the possibilities for these engineers to communicate more successfully and with passion once they are given some improvisational tools? What if engineers were to "open" to their own life stories, gestures, and "bodily" understandings? What might they create or co-create? How differently might they express themselves personally and professionally?
GREETED BY BUZZ, THE GT MASCOT. Our 5-hour workshop convened on a football game day in the Mechanical Engineering building. The campus was abuzz with football fans barbecuing under trees around academic buildings and in parking lots filled with recreation vehicles. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
What do I mean by "bodily" understandings? Celeste Snowber in her book, Embodied Inquiry, expresses the concept this way: "A return to celebration of our physicality awakens the juices of a creative life. Life in and of itself is an art form and living artfully and aesthetically is central to being responsive to a life. The body in all of its fullness is a gift that allows us to walk, run, flop and fall along the journey that is set before us." 

Let me restate this concept in my own words based on my experience of teaching international graduate students at Georgia Tech for two decades, being a visual artist, and certified leader in the improvisational system of InterPlay. The parameters of communicating effectively does not begin and end when it is time to present research results to colleagues, potential employers, or lay people. Effective communication is an outcome of a life fully engaged in physically, mentally, and emotionally. That is, what you are, you communicate.

If we want our engineers, biologists, physicists, etc., to inform us about their deeply complex ideas and outcomes, we educators must assist them in becoming more fully human. We can invite them to integrate their "head" with their "bodies" and "hearts." This integration can be achieved in playful incremental steps!

An example of what these incremental steps might look like can be seen in the Saturday, October 15th workshop I facilitated on the Georgia Tech campus for graduate students in Materials Science Engineering and Mechanical Engineering. Convening from 9:30 to 2:30 with breakfast and lunch included, we did the following:

1. Warmed up by doing InterPlay physical exercises to Jami Sieber music
2. Played around with saying our names using vocal variation (speed, rhythm and pitch) and physical actions
2. Developed rapport by leading and following intervals
3. Told nonlinear stories in 30-second and 1-minute intervals, implementing physicality and emotions (enthusiasm)
4. Embodied some of the six skills of English rhythm and intonation (pausing, linking, stress, reduction, focus, and rising/falling intonation.
5. Walked out the rhythm of a poem (student led)
6. Practiced embodied intonation in the improvisational activity, "Yes, and..."
7. Integrated physicality, English rhythm and intonation, and emotions in a big body story explaining research to a lay person
8. Practiced summarizing ideas and increasing physicality
9. Played kazoos to experience the heft of breath of intonation using the GT Fight Song and have conversations  
DEVELOPING RAPPORT. Through a series of leading and following exercises, participants had the opportunity to connect with different participants while embodying creative choices of their own and that of their partner's. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
EMBODYING THE RHYTHM OF THEIR SPEECH. Both native and nonnative speakers of English participated in this graduate science communication workshop. Everyone was asked to prepare a 150-200 word paragraph explaining their research to a lay person. Here they are applying the rhythm and intonation skills presented earlier in the workshop in a "solo" walk around the room. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
GAINING CONFIDENCE AND INCREASING EXPRESSIVENESS. In incremental steps, these researchers decreased their reliance on written text. They moved from reading their paragraph, to "just saying" it, to reducing it to 3 sentences, and finally to one sentence while networking and meeting each other. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
This improvisational workshop using the tools and principles of InterPlay succeeded in physically enaging these engineering graduate students from the United States, Iran, Peru, Colombia, Korea, China, Vietnam, and Brazil. Some noticed feeling awkward and challenged. Some experienced release from stress. Others enjoyed connecting with classmates they never have a chance to talk with on a day-to-day basis. Two students, one from Iran and another from Colombia, discovered they did similar research and sat down immediately after the workshop for a deeper discussion. Students from the United States had the opportunity to be with international students in a different way and to confront their own challenges of communicating in English. The feedback that brought me the greatest joy? One Korean student approached me before he left to express a relief at being invited to play! I had informed everyone that I was a "recovering serious person." He said he would like to be one too!
IMPRESSIVE BUILDINGS FOR ENGINEERS ON THE GEORGIA TECH CAMPUS. It was such a pleasure to be invited into this engineering complex on the GT campus to assist these scholars in building their communication skills and encourage them to engage more fully in their lives as a way to enhance their effectiveness and joy. (photo by Ruth Schowalter, aka Hallelujah Truth)
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I am happily grateful to Celeste Snowber, who I just discovered, and her most recent book, "Embodied Inquiry: Writing, Living, and Being through the Body." Part of the wider InterPlay community, Celeste is a dancer, writer, poet, and educator at Simon Fraser University, B.C., Canada, where she is an associate professor in the Faculty of Education. As usual, I am forever thankful to co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for the improvisational system of InterPlay and how they facilitate friendships and collaboration among national and international InterPlay communities. It is with deep gratitude I acknowledge Karen Tucker, director of the Georgia Tech Language Institute, for her dedication to expand her understanding of ways we might communicate and hence the LI's programming across the GT campus. Many thanks to Amanda Gable (MSE) and Jeffrey Donnell (ME) who facilitated this improv workshop for their graduate students. And thank you Tony Martin for being my driver and relieving me from the worry of driving on a GT football game day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What is Possible in Play? Creative Communication Class at the Clarkston Global Academy

WHAT IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO CREATE? After warming up, saying our names, talking about what brings us love, ease, and grace, and playing following and leading, my class of resettled teenage refugees sat down to draw and write. (photo art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
Hallelujah for CREATIVITY! Hallelujah for PLAY! Hallelujah for COMMUNITY--one in which we can CREATE and PLAY.

Many of you dear readers know that on my artist's pilgrimage, I have taken InterPlay, an improvisational system that nurtures authenticity and which I am proudly certified in, to the Ellis Island of the South, Clarkston, Georgia (see this blog).

On Monday afternoons, I arrive to facilitate an hour-long class "Creative Communications," with resettled refugee teenagers from countries such as Nepal, Burma, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Using InterPlay as the foundation for this after school program in the Clarkston Global Academy, I engage these teens in movement, storytelling, voice, and shape and stillness.

As a 3-decade-long English as a Second Language instructor, a goal I integrate with play and creativity is verbal and physical expansion. Inviting the teens to experiment with volume, pitch, and speed as well as gestures, I encourage them to use English (or their own language) to offer what is unique to them. In this way, voicing their names become subtle or exaggerated dances. Talking about an ordinary day at school becomes an enthusiastically expressed story. The InterPlay forms offer adventures in being oneself and connecting with others.
CREATING WITH EASY FOCUS. What can a minute of ease offer to your creativity? Playing in community is a powerful way to access what is yours to claim. What is it your body, mind, heart, and spirit want to express?  (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
Yesterday, I decided to add drawing and writing to our creative communications. "What is possible for you to create and communicate," I asked them, "when you are using easy focus?" Wheee... (Easy Focus is an InterPlay principle that gives us permission to release expectations or "hard focus" and enjoy the process of creating/being).

Students gathered around a long narrow table, selected a colored marker and were asked to draw a shape, then to repeat that shape again and again, changing direction and size. Music from Eric Chappelle, swirled around them. Two InterPlay volunteers, Carolyn Renee and Lynn Hesse, engaged in the activity too. As facilitator, I had the honor to witness.

The teens relaxed into their assignment and increased the speed with which they drew their shapes. As they filled their 8" x 11" page, I encouraged them to find another color and to use that as "spice." When everyone was slowing down, I asked them to turn their papers over and write three words or more that were coming into their minds. And then, if they wanted, to write a sentence.

The energy was just right. I observed a confidence in their actions, a certainty in what to write, what to create. Ta dah!  That is what is POSSIBLE IN PLAY in Creative Communication Class at the Clarkston Global Academy.

InterPlay activities comprised the concluding 15 minutes of class, supporting an embodied way of sharing the newly generated "visual and word art." 
SHARE YOUR IMAGE IN DANCE AND WORDS. In pairs, the teens were invited to communicate their drawing through movement, however they wanted to express their multiple shapes. Then to use words from the back of their drawings or any new words that came to them. (photo by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
EXPRESSING IN THE LARGER COMMUNITY. How to share this newly created work with the larger community of the class? InterPlay has a form, "Walk Stop Run." With ease, the teens made their own choices of when and what to share with others. They chose to walk, stop, run, or show and speak about their work. The fun engagement was phenomenal! (photo art by Hallelujah Truth, aka Ruth Schowalter)
One of the greatest gifts I received from this hour of creative communicating was when I heard one of the young women from Nepal read her sentence aloud: "I love myself, and I am enough!"

Many thanks go to Jes Gordon, whose Intuitive Painting class taught me some simple ways to engage people in drawing without judgment. As I explore ways to use music with lyrics, I am grateful to Soyinka Rahim for her album "BIBO LOVE." During this class, the teens happily took turns leading and following to "BIBO Funk" with such joy and fun moves. I am so appreciative to the CPACS facilitators and the Clarkston Global Academy educational program director, Justine Okello for supporting this Creative Communication Class. Recently being joined by volunteers from the InterPlay Atlanta community has filled me with such a feeling of bounty. As always, I want to acknowledge InterPlay co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for this community building improvisational system and all that they do to make it accessible to everyone.


That's Coffee with Hallelujah Truth! SOUL BLOG with me! What is possible in play for you? What is your truth that you want to share in the world?