One of my big “kicks” this year came after I read Teaching for Tomorrow as part of our building-wide professional development. This book advocates a sort of project-based learning that is based on authentic, “real world” problems. For example, we spent some time learning about the economy, and the guiding project for the unit was to compose a report for the Secretary of the Treasury explaining how to spend the $700 Billion in bailout money. This project required a basic understanding of our economic system, underlying causes to the economic crisis, and an idea of how the bailout money could help improve our economy. I liked the idea so much, I’ve been trying to use it, though with varying levels of success. I’ve come to realize that it requires a balance of freedom and guidance for the students (especially my 9th grade English students) to be successful.
Our most recent attempt at a “real world” problem is, I think, a very creative and very engaging one. I’d like to take credit for it, but the idea came as I was asking my students what sort of projects they would like to do during mythology. During my 1st period class, one student suggested dressing up as gods, another student suggested doing skits, and yet another student suggested doing a video. Finally, one student synthesized all those ideas into one brilliant, totally valid thought: “We could do like a Jerry Springer Show where we have to act like someone else!” And boom goes the dynamite.
Even as I took ideas from 5 other classes, this idea began to blossom in my brain. Some of the details:
- Students pick a god or goddess and they must “be” that god or goddess in a reality TV show.
- Using a real casting call as a template, I created a fake “application” and asked the students to research their god/goddess
- They had to create a biography that includes information like a fake address, email address, and why he/she would be perfect for one of three reality shows: “The Real World: Mount Olympus,” “Survivor: Tartarus,” or “The Gary Stringer Show.”
- Students select their own groups of no more than 6 and prepare a 5-10 minute video or skit in which they interact on a reality show
- The reality show has to be TV-PG, and should use costumes, props, etc. It can either be traditional Greek (i.e. tunics, togas, etc.) or can be modernized (tank tops and flip flops). What matters is that the characters are accurately portrayed (i.e. Zeus can’t be a quiet, shy person).
You should have seen these kids research. Since I made them sign up for a god or goddess before they knew anything about them, they had no idea what was coming. When they got into the library and onto the computers, they started laughing, looking at each others’ computers, and there was even a little yelling at each other as they found out that another “person” had mistreated them in some way (though they did need to be warned ahead of time that they were learning a subject that isn’t exactly G-rated).
As we have progressed through the project, students have engaged in the subject and learned a lot about their gods and goddesses. Today, students were planning out and preparing the plot of their reality shows, and there was a lot of yelling going on. At first, I desperately wanted to yell at them and have them quiet down, but as I listened to what they were yelling about, I realized they were practicing for the “Gary Stringer” show – something about Aphrodite being pregnant. So I did ask them to tone the noise down a bit, but encouraged them to keep doing their thing.
I think there have been a lot of advantages to this project:
- Students are learning all about the gods and goddesses better than they did last year
- They don’t have to sit quietly and listen to me talk at them.
- They don’t have to read an old, somewhat poorly written anthology.
- They’re engaged in a school project to the degree that they actually talk about it outside of class (they’ve been overheard by other teachers saying things like, “I’m the god of love!”)
- The understanding of mythology that they have developed is much deeper than I would have imagined – they see the connections between stories and characters and even connections to their own lives. And I didn’t “teach” them any of it.
I know how I feel about the project (love it). A couple other teachers are waiting to see how it goes before they decide if it’s a worthwhile effort. I’m wondering what others think:
- Have you tried something like this in your class?
- Does this seem like a worthwhile idea to attempt?
- Are there any “holes” that need to be filled before you try it?