Cracking Web Code in the Bronx

When the students at John F. Kennedy HS in the Bronx ventured into their technology-driven research and Thinkquest foray, they created a site that has continually evolved since 1997. Ultimately, the Why is the Mona Lisa Smiling? project was picked up by Oracle to be part of its library of outstanding ThinkQuest Web resources.

In each subsequent year, from 1997 through 2005 and ongoing, the students were able to tap into technology and create remarkable and noteworthy Web sites under the guidance of their computer instructor, Steve Feld. One aspect or component of Mona Lisa’s mystique, or Da Vinci’s diverse multidisciplinary investigations inspired each offshoot site.

ArtiFAQ 2100 combines art history and predictions of art futures, predicated on the past and explicit quiz/problem solving experiences. This project, which won 1 st prize in the Microsoft Challenge in 2000, inspired the students to delve into the ancient past.

In the year 2002 they created the uniquely designed Curse of Tut: Fact or Myth? Each project is embellished with interactive components. In this case, a visual literacy puzzle, which challenges students to select the right key to open locks to reveal the treasures of the Tomb.

In 2004, they produced two semi-finalist entries for ThinkQuest NYC. A Collaboration of Ideas demonstrates what can be done in collaboration with peers from Kiev, Nigeria and India using PowerPoint. Among the themes and law-related issues covered here are multicultural political perspectives on student rights and free speech

Our partners examined dress codes in their respective schools and cultures. Our link with the Project Legal TIPS network at Syracuse University strengthened our civic concerns through constitutional study and judicial research.

Another aspect of this project involved the students’ participation in a residency funded by the Bronx Council on the Arts, which resulted in a photo display “Memoirs - A Family Album” at the Focal Point Gallery in City Island. This integrated key literacy journal writing and digital photography, plus parallel online exhibition, and thoroughly exemplifies technology suffused balanced literacy arts driven community outreach effort.

The second entry explores ancient Chinese medical practices and a new product, The Acupoint Detector, a device for locating elusive acu-pressure points for treating pain.

Our school’s ongoing project in 2005, Newton’s Castle, synthesizes our love for Leonardo with the phenomena of multidisciplinary genius and intellectual freedom. Extensive research uncovered a secret life of Sir Isaac Newton and examines the legal ramifications of his censorship. There are also details of a Lost Leonardo Workshop recently discovered in Florence, Italy. This work was presented at the Guggenheim Museum as part of the Dedalus Art History Fellows Project in New York. Chancellor Joel Klein had this to say: "Thanks for the tour... this is good stuff!"

So, while the general public waits for the movie version of Brown’s best selling book, a group of knowledgeable cyberspace explorers at a Bronx, New York high school have developed Web sites to explore Sir Isaac Newton, King Tut, freedom of speech, and the details of a Lost Leonardo workshop. Perhaps in these Web sites there is an explanation of Why is the Mona Lisa Smiling?!

Web Sites Referenced:

Email: Steve Feld