Props in hand, students in the Kutler Center’s Philosophy of Art and Science class stepped onto the dimly lit stage of Rugby Auditorium for their three-minute long semester exam.
“Part of the Kutler approach is to find alternative ways of evaluating work,” performing arts teacher Ted Walch said.
He and math teacher Kevin Weis designed a “show and tell” final for their new class. Students were graded on their presentations and the answer to a question asked by classmates, Walch or Weis about their presentation or any topic they covered in class.
Students were assigned to give a three minute presentation on an object of importance to them and then relate it to the works they had studied during the first semester: Kurt Vonnegurt’s “Cat’s Cradle,” the film “The Matrix,” John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” among other selections.
Students from both sections of the class spent three hours in Rugby, watching their classmates present and be sounded off the stage after 180 seconds with an electronic gong. The teachers said they were unexpectedly impressed by some students’ work.
“I think seeing each other’s projects was an enriching experience,” Weis said.
The three-minute time limit was determined purely to ensure everyone would have time to present. Walch said that at times he didn’t want to have to press the button.
“I didn’t want to but I had to gong him,” Walch said about Anser Abbas ’14.
Abbas presented a vial of ammonia and vial of chlorine. He spoke about the work of scientist Fritz Haber, who not only created the Haber process for production of ammonia, making fertilizer widely available for global agriculture, but also worked for the Nazis on the weaponization of chlorine gas despite his Jewish ancestry.
Abbas said he thought of themes in “Cat’s Cradle” when coming up with this presentation and got a chance to explore questions that lie at the root of science.
“What does it mean to know?” Abbas said he considered.
He said he liked this different kind of evaluation.
“It forces a kind of creativity that’s uncommon in other types of examination,” Abbas said.
Inspired by the “babies with rabies” mentioned in “Cat’s Cradle,” Kacey Wilson ’13 brought in three snow white bunnies. When she asked Weis if she could present next she said he was skeptical of her request, asking if her project was perishable. When she pulled out Scout, Sugar and Taco from her tote bag she said he replied, “Oh my god, you win.”
The babies referred to in the book are infectious as is the bunnies’ cuteness, according to Wilson. She said that since she began with two rabbits last year and has 11 today, she immediately made a connection with the theme of infection in the book. She also related the rabbits to the film “The Matrix,” in which a character is told to “follow the white rabbit,” in order to enter a parallel universe.
“They’re symbols of purity and innocence that lead people to discover new things about themselves and their world,” Wilson said.
Alex Musicant ’13 stepped on the stage clutching a purple Yarmulka from his Bar Mitzvah.
“It really got to the struggle between knowing there is no God and wanting there to be one,” Walch said of Musicant’s work.
He is particularly interested in the philosophy of religion but did not use this chance to try and present a logical argument for whether God exists or not.
“Among very educated people, religion is looked at as a sign of ignorance,” Musicant said. “Whether or not God exists, belief in him does a tremendous amount of good in the world.”
Musicant was inspired by a video they watched in class about a woman who tried multiple religions.
“It’s easy to sound preachy or like you’re talking to someone and I didn’t want to do that,” Musicant said. “I liked the chance to be creative and make connections.”
Though their prop of choice did not have as much history as Musicant’s, Gracen Evall ’13 and Maya Landau ’13 used red and blue M&M’s and purple Skittles to consider the ideas of William Wordsworth on what she calls the “philosophic mind.”
The pair presented for six minutes as a team.
“I always have the chance to think on my own and to reflect on my own view, but I wanted to seize the opportunity to bounce ideas off of someone else,” Evall said.
The pair used candy to represent the red pills and blue pills from “The Matrix.” In the film taking the red pill will expose one to the truth of reality while the blue pill will let one live in a happier, albeit false, reality.
Landau realized she is not willing to face the possibility that her relationships may be false, as the red pill could expose, while Evall feels she has a more philosophic mind and can’t trust her senses enough to use them as a basis for experiencing her world. The pair argued a need for a purple pill, represented with skittles.
“We took in the same information and filtered and interpreted it totally differently,” Evall said.