Myths Illuminated in Class 5

The magical night sky has long captured our imaginations. Since prehistoric times, constellations of stars – and the shapes and patterns they form – have inspired a treasure trove of myths, legends and stories from Aquarius to the Big Dipper.

Through a far-reaching interdisciplinary project in Middle School that combined Humanities, Science and Technology, Class 5 students learned about constellations and the cultures that appointed them as they prepared to write, record and make models of their very own celestial myths.

The project began in Jenet Dibble and Nisa Wheatley’s Humanities sections. “We started the year looking at story arcs – exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution – and at how conflicts drive stories,” explained Ms. Dibble, adding that these early lessons helped the students plan, write and revise their pieces.

They also studied the astronomy of constellations and the accompanying myths, which began in Ancient Greece, China, Hawaii, the Navajo Nation, and Western societies, among many others. The website “Figures in the Sky” (http://www.datasketch.es/may/code/nadieh/) served as a fascinating and informative resource, noted Science teacher Anna Mello.

During the writing process, Ms. Dibble and Ms. Wheatley encouraged their students to be as inventive as possible while staying true to the culture of their choosing. Among the requirements, their myths needed to include a balance of good versus evil, a carefully considered plot, a strong conflict, and a description of the main star or constellation’s origin story.

Working diligently, the Humanities students created several drafts before completing their final versions. As these examples demonstrate, they made the most of this exhilarating exercise.

One student’s myth began, “Far in the lands of Egypt, where the blue waters of the Nile River drifted lazily to the north, there was a large and sandy desert cave. A majestic lion lived there, though this lion was not happy. He had beauty and grace, but he had always wished for a friend because he lived alone. But the lion knew this was an impossible dream. He ate humans, and everyone was afraid of him.”

Another opened this way: “Many moons ago, in South Korea, a land was formed out of the air that blew the rocks and dirt around. People had no way of transportation, and South Korea was not remembered as anything. No trees, buses, or trains, only the Seomjin River stood, where they drank most of their water. There were no homes, only small huts made out of tree bark, and animal fur. There it was nice and cozy, but with no light nothing would be warm. Until the first star was formed, Opeute.”

For the next step, the students worked with Trude Goodman, Director of Middle School Academic Technology, to transform their written words into captivating recordings.

"Raise your hand if you’ve ever listened to a podcast,” Ms. Goodman asked one of her sections during a recent morning. A number of students expressed familiarity with this popular medium, and even more seemed excited at the prospect of creating their own myth-centered podcasts using the digital platform GarageBand.

Sharing her screen, Ms. Goodman introduced the class to “The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian,” a kids’ podcast starring space-loving Finn and his crew of pet robots. After playing a short sample, she asked, “what did you notice about this podcast?”

A discussion about mood-setting music, dramatic sound effects and eye-catching digital cover art ensued. Ms. Goodman offered tricks for successful audio recording and finding virtually any type of sound, from barking dogs to crashing waves. For the rest of the period, the students practiced reading their myths aloud and experimenting with unique ways to engage their listeners.

Meanwhile back in Ms. Mello’s Science classes, the students explored constellations to go with their myths. “We have been researching types of stars and original myths in different sky cultures,” she said. To further their understanding, Ms. Mello helped her students navigate Stellarium Web (https://stellarium-web.org/), a mesmerizing interactive planetarium that allows users to view stars, galaxies, planets and moons from different locations.

Then, informed by their research findings, these young scientists designed physical models of their constellations, which were fashioned from cardboard, paper or foam core board with paint and marker enhancements.

For their starring elements, they chose from Ms. Mello’s abundant selection of star-like devices, including multi-hued metallic stars, glow-in-the-dark varieties, LED lights and circuits of different colors and sizes, and strings of twinkle lights. To say they had fun making these models was an understatement.

As the Class 5 students proudly held up their completed projects, which shone brightly against black and midnight-blue “skies,” it was evident that these gorgeous constellations, like the creative myths they inspired, were simply out of this world.