By Luke Frank

Using Improvisation to Engage Learning

Detroit Creativity Project Comes to UNM Oct. 26

Imagine an educational system where students develop the ability to collaborate, listen to others' views, build literacy skills and learn to take risks in a safe, supportive setting. That's the Detroit Creativity Project, and its founders are coming to the UNM Health Sciences Center Friday, Oct. 26.

The project is scheduled from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. in Domenici Center Auditorium for Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences grand rounds, followed by a workshop from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Domenici Center West Wing, Room 3010. Both events will explain how improvisational theater transformed Detroit public schools students' lives, and how educators and behavioral health practitioners can apply it here in Albuquerque.

According to the project's creators, improvisation's value extends beyond the performance stage into classrooms, workplaces and even daily lives. Students in the project develop the ability to collaborate, listen, respect others' views and build positive relationships. They also gain confidence and learn what's possible when they take risks, practice and persevere.

Detroit teachers say these young improvisers attend school more regularly, engage in class and achieve stronger academic growth.

"Detroit public schools has tripled school retention rates and reduced anxiety among its students and families using these techniques," says Jeff Katzman, MD, professor in the UNM Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and vice chair for education and academic affairs. "Why not bring that here?

"It's a very playful, spontaneous intervention that has garnered great results," adds Katzman, who also is medical director at the UNM Psychiatric Center Clinic and recently published a book about using improvisational theater in psychotherapy. "It creates connections, empathy and focus."

Katzman saw a TEDtalk last year on the Detroit Creativity Project and invited founders Marc Evan Jackson and Peter Felsman to share their experiences with improvisation in education at the Health Sciences Center.

"I've been using improvisation with patients and residents for a while and I like the results," he says. "What we're seeing happen with improvisation in schools is phenomenal. People involved in any form of education would really benefit from this, and of course, ultimately so would our students, neighborhoods and communities."

The afternoon workshop is free and open to the public. Albuquerque educators and behavioral health practitioners are encouraged to attend. For more information about the events, email

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