National Geographic contacted Karl Fisch and I sometime ago about participating in a pilot program they were trying to get underway called Learn.Dream.Go. They had selected a few teachers in the Denver Metro area to try out a new learning platform that NG was interested in implementing. There are a number of very interesting parts to participating in this pilot as well as a number of pondering ones as well. First of all, NG has never started a program like this one before. Typically, they hire a number of people to look at focus groups and do a wide array of testing before putting any material out to the public. This endeavor would be built in a more grass roots effort Also, rather than be the creator of content, they were looking to what teachers and students were creating, thus seeing a shift from one giant corporation being the distributor of information to anyone/ anytime/ anywhere creating understanding.
After a number of meetings with two of their representatives, Philip and Mikela, Karl and I decided, "what the heck" and we would give it a whirl. I also managed to get my deskmate and friend, Lauren Gaffney to participate with her two classes of English Literature students. Both Lauren and I were having our students focus on the essential questions of "What does literature say about us as human beings? do you agree of disagree with what it says? How does it come true in modern society?". With these questions, we derived at an assignment I had done previously with my seniors using Dante Aligheri's The Divine Comedy. With this text, as Dante explores the afterlife, we learn the nine levels of hell that Dante encountered including the symbolic retribution he bestowed on many of his contemporaries. In our assignment, we ask our students to be a modern day Dante, and create their own interpretation of the afterlife.
Now, you are probably thinking, how can they talk about heaven and hell in a public school? It is a fine line, I will acknowledge that. We sent home a parent letter indicating our reasoning for participating in this project. All forms came back signed! We had tremendous support for the journey we were about to take.
Before we began working on the project though, we needed to establish some background information for all students to come with so we had a basis as to what various people believe of the afterlife. We had the students listen to a variety of music with accompanying YouTube videos, watched movies (Legend- my own best interpretation of what Satan looks like, Bedazzled-female devil, The Devil's Advocate- Satan as a lawyer, and South Park's Satan's Sweet Sixteen- got to have the humor). They also answered a couple of blog posts: greatest wrongs and why does a just and good God allow evil to exist?. We also looked at a number of different art pieces. And finally, we actually did some reading. We read from the book of Genesis, and excerpt fromMilton's Paradise Lost, and two creation stories (one Hindu and one Native American Hopi Indian). After all the videos, songs, reading and blogging, I had them pull together their interpretations in a creative manner of what connections they saw. What did hell and heaven look like to them? Here are some examples:
Then came they big project, A Hypothetical Situation.
The project, as I have said before, asks them to emulate the situation Dante faced upon his exile. He was cast away from society because his political beliefs did not correlate with the ruling party and forced to live away from his family for the remainder of his life. So given those circumstances, our students were asked to create their own creative interpretations of the afterlife in modern society. Who would be there? What would their punishments be? etc... Mikela and Philip even provided a storyboard handout walking them through creating their own story. Originally, the students were to turn in their projects last week, but after talking with them about some preliminary feedback I was getting from Mikela and Philip as well as my own observations, the students asked for an extension to go deeper with their learning. How can you turn that down?
Now the students are able to redo their projects before submitting their final work to NG. NG is posting the projects for all to see, but I thought it would be great to get some early feedback for the students to continue to work on bettering their submissions. Take a look and let them know what you think. Feel free to use the language of the rubric to evaluate.