Elementary school teachers Teresa Moucha and Alice Toepel at the Carl Traeger Elementary School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin started planning their author visit almost six months ahead.
They wrote a grant proposal and a curriculum plan. The idea was to bring art and science together using the fantasy of Dinotopia. Mrs. Moucha and Mrs. Toepel, with the blessing of principal Janna Cochrane, below right, asked their fourth and fifth graders to create their own utopian worlds.
The Oshkosh Public Museum’s assistant director Mike Breza, at the center of this picture with his daughters, coordinated the "Return to Dinotopia" museum exhibit in town and worked with the public library to develop a reading list. He received grant money to allow school kids free admission to the museum, which includes not only Dinotopia artwork, but costumes to try on and four full-size dinosaur skulls.
The students at Traeger sketched actual plants and taxidermied animals. They invented an animal character that talks, a plot conflict, and a plausible fantasy setting. During the two and a half months counting down to my visit, they designed maps, landscapes and architecture and wrote stories about their imaginary worlds.
The results included “Dragontopia,” “Gerbiltopia,” “Fishtopia,” and “Dogtopia.”
When I arrived on Friday, I gave a quick digital slide show about how I work, and then they performed the “Garden Chorale.” Then I visited four classes to talk in more detail with them about their projects and to share my Magic Marker presentation.
The day after the school visit, Mrs. Moucha handed me a beautiful handmade book with thank-you notes tucked into secret compartments. One student named Kaitlyn wrote a note that brought me tears of joy: “Thank you for coming to our school. You really changed my thinking about art.”
Here's a link to a newspaper story from the Nov. 4 Oshkosh newspaper, and a report in the District Newsletter.