By Denise Smith Amos
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In a recent history class at La Salle High School, what some boys wore - or took off - became part of the lesson plan.
Bryant Glandorf, 14, stood before his classmates and peeled off his T-shirt to reveal an abstract design painted in black on most of his back and shoulders.
Bryant Glandorf, 14, a freshmen at La Salle, gives a presentation on New Zealand. He is decorated with body paint, similar to the tattoos that the Maori of New Zealand would have.
(Tony Jones photo)
It was body painting, Bryant explained, a temporary copy of the permanent tattoos common among the Maori people of New Zealand. Girls and women tattoo their mouths and noses, he said, but men and boys wear designs on their backs, shoulders and faces.
The more covered a man is, the more important he is, Bryant said. Chiefs, healers and priests have the most intricate face designs.
Bryant, a 14-year-old freshman from White Oak, has never been to New Zealand. But for two months he visited it on the Internet and through library books.
It was research for an unusual assignment in the freshman World Cultures class at La Salle. The class has long been a requirement at the all-boy, college-prep school of 835. Students study different countries, provide a written report and then offer an oral presentation.
It's like a science fair, but it involves history and culture, said teacher Andy Farfsing. The approach is part of a trend in high school education of students actually teaching other students.
"This is the most interesting class," said Bryant, who said he picked New Zealand after seeing pictures of the Maoris' tattoos on the Internet. "Most other classes are boring because teachers mostly use books."
He studied some designs and drew them on his body; a friend touched up the paint before class.
Life outside Cincinnati
Farfsing, a 26-year-old Silverton resident and native, said he wants to get students thinking of the world beyond the boundaries of suburban Cincinnati.
"A lot of these boys had no idea about what existed outside Cincinnati,'' he said. "This being a pretty middle-class and upper-middle-class, private school, it's a pretty homogenous population."
World Cultures has long been mandatory at La Salle. But only in the past four years, have students used a World's Fair approach to research and illustrate cultures and histories.
Their visual presentations get as many points as their written, documented research.
That's why quite a few students go all out.
Several this year prepared dishes indigenous to their selected countries.
Some wore traditional garb. Others brought in art, artifacts and even games, which they explained to classmates.
After their presentations, students pepper the presenter with questions. And they're not always easy ones.
"Some of them like to try to stump each other," Farfsing said.
After the presentations, which end this week, students take quizzes on what they've learned about the world from their classmates.
Nick Roetting, 15, of Mount Healthy conducted his presentation on Japan last month in a blue- and white-striped kimono. He explained that men and women historically wore kimonos, but only women's kimonos had slits in their long, flowing arms. That way, women could fold their arms in front of them, without immodestly revealing their hands and forearms.
Earlier in the week, Nick asked a Chinese restaurateur how to make sushi and made the dish for class. He also brought in a pachsilo machine - a type of slot machine that combines luck and some hand-eye coordination - to demonstrate why that kind of gambling generates billions of dollars for gaming parlors in Japan.
"It's fun doing a class where you get to dress up and make food," Nick said. "I think it's cool studying world history, instead of just American History."
Students still had to write research papers, many 25 pages or more, and they delivered a 15-minute Power Point presentation. They had to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of the country's history - its history, wars and revolutions, leaders and global status.
But the boys said they have fun illustrating each country's cultural nuances.
Some boys danced.
Others brought in imported food and drink. "One kid brought in emu jerky" from Australia, Farfsing said. "We had crocodile last year. We've even had reindeer."
Clever presentations abound
First-year students at LaSalle High School have taken creative looks at several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Ireland, Russia and Panama. Here's a snapshot of some of their presentations to classmates:
One boy explained why gladiators were popular heroes in Italy, even though half died battling each other or animals.
Another student explained how a Coca-Cola drink was made and bottled in South Africa and shipped to Australia. From there, it was labeled and imported to Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield.
A third provided the history of Japanese kimonos, even bringing one to class for classmates to inspect.
Teacher Andy Farfsing plans to put future Power Point presentations on a Web site accessible to students and parents.
About teacher Andy Farfsing: 26, married, lives in Silverton, has taught four years, all at La Salle. He also has taught Survey of Law (in which students write their own wills), religion, African-American history, geography and Western Civilization.
Teaching philosophy: "A lot of school is so much by-the-book. That alienates a lot of students. When you have the freedom to create, that kind of learning works for a lot of people," Farfsing said.
What others say about Farfsing's class: "It's a growing trend across high schools and probably grade schools .., to have more student involvement in their own learning, on a much deeper and broader level," said Mike Stewart, social studies department chairman at La Salle. "In his class, students are more involved than usual."
This series spotlights a local classroom in which teachers are challenging students in bold, innovative ways. To nominate a class, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, fax (513) 768-8340 or write Bill Cieslewicz, Education Editor, The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202. Please include your name, daytime phone, e-mail and school.
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