The decision to engage the students using a theme such as Star Wars can be a little tricky and may even be viewed as a gimmicky or kitschy way to waste time and watch movies. However, the plan isn’t just to kick-back and watch the movies (that is one component), but to create a rich learning experience that brings in multiple curricular connections that aims to engage all levels of learners, even those who might not be as into the Star Wars saga.
One of the first English Language Arts connections to the journey was to introduce the students to the writer, director, and creative mind behind Star Wars, George Lucas. Utilizing our Kidblog platform, I compiled a post, using various web sources for the students to read and answer questions in their Star Wars Passports (the journal/duotang to collect student work). The post contained information about who George Lucas was, when he wrote Star Wars, and some of the other companies he was involved with. The goal of this task was not only to introduce George Lucas to the students, but to also inform them of the other impacts he has had in the film industry.
It was an easy decision to make when deciding to use this thematic unit, but the more challenging question that I had to ask myself, was to what order would I share the movies? Yes, this question could be debated amongst the fanboys and fangirls (my heart lies with the originals, in their original untouched presentation, just for the record) and many choose to not even acknowledge episodes I-III altogether. However, it is about the students and I have digressed. Episode I: The Phantom Menace will be used to begin the galactic journey and proceed in sequential order.
Out of the group of 40 students, only about a quarter of them had seen any of the movies. The students who had enjoyed the movies were quite eager to share immediately with the rest of the student body about storyline and characters. However, it was discussed how if we revealed the story too soon, it would lose the element of surprise. The students understood, but it didn’t discourage them from asking leading questions to facilitate discussions.
Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Deisgn Your own Podracer
Before jumping to hyperdrive and engaging in the movie, we first discussed the title of the movie. I asked the students if they knew what a “Phantom” and “Menace” were. Some students blurted “it’s like a ghost” or “someone/something that isn’t really there.” When asked what a ‘Menace” was, in unison, they all said a “trouble-maker.” With the padawans (young Jedis) ready to engage and without further hesitation, the opening credits resumed and “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” splashed across the screen.
Periodically throughout the movie, the movie was stopped to check in with the students to discuss settings, characters and clear up any confusion the students might have. It was during these frequent stops, that we began to analyze and describe/discuss new settings, characters and events. The character of Anakin Skywalker was one that the students began discussing right away. Maybe it was because the age of the character in the movie is similar to their own age, or that he was recognized as being a special character. Either way, it was important that they picked up on this character’s importance.
As we progress through the movies, Anakin’s character will be studied and the list added to with new changes to the character.
After the first movie, students also were questioning who the “Phantom Menace” was. This question I posted on our class blog site and had the students post thoughts and insights in that digital medium. Here are some of the students thoughts:
Design Your Own Podracer
To continue building the momentum and ride the excitement from the movie, the first project the students applied their skills to was designing and constructing a Podracer (similar to what young Anakin Skywalker flew in episode I). Borrowing the idea from the Powerhouse Museum, students had one-week to build a miniature racer either on their own or in a workable partnership.
With the ideas from the movie, students had the following criteria to use to get the project started, although many already knew what they wanted to attempt.
You can take a look at the students creations here:
The final section to this first task was assessment. It wasn’t an issue to assess student engagement during this task as students eagerly planned and made lists of what materials they needed. In itself, initial design of the task promoted high-engagement with low-level engagement of the task in the viewing of the movie. However, students were glued and engaged watching and jotting notes down to share during discussions (surprisingly, without being asked to).
During the latter part of the past couple of months, our classroom has been fortunate to be taking part in a a pilot project involving the Google Apps for Education. The students have been using collaborative tools such as Google Docs and Google Drive to work on shared documents.
One of the application tools that was explored for this first project was to utilize the digital forms to create an assessment tool using Google Forms. This app can be used to create surveys or questionnaires that can then be sent via a link to the user (student) to complete. Although the form wasn’t completed entirely with the students, the form criteria was generated and adapted from previous student created rubrics. This particular form was a series of questions that allowed the students to assess their project (a new take on a rubric but in digital format).
When the students complete the form, their results/feedback/comments are sent to me to be viewed and I will have a digital copy for my records. What is hoped to be achieved with this type of assessment is for students to receive immediate feedback, from the form itself and teacher prompted feedback in email or face2face in class. What has been discovered with this type of collaborative and online tool is students are accessing the content from home and are able to contribute and share from their own dwelling or device of choice.
With the Star Wars in the Classroom event in full swing, students are actively engaged and joining in the discussions in the classroom and digital mediums.
Up next: Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, another design project and a great deal of FUN!
Until the next time,
May the force be with you!