The Grade 8 interdisciplinary comparative mythology unit began with an outdoor education trip to Manning Park. While there, students were asked to look up at the night sky and consider all of the people throughout time and space who had looked up to the stars and wondered what was up there and why. This reproduction of the sky and constellations is from that night on September 24th.
We then took the Grade 8s to the Planetarium, where we had worked with educators there to create an experience for the students that encouraged their sense of wonder. At the Planetarium, the Grade 8s were shown the night sky from their evening at Manning Park. While we gazed up at this vision of outer space, the storyteller from the Planetarium, walked us through the power of myth and story and described how humans across time and space have told their stories and thrown them to the sky. We share these stories now in the characters, the monsters, the shapes, and the symbols that make up the constellations, as well as in the zodiac signs which were used to remember the times of the year and the seasons for planting, harvesting, etc.
As the student’s sat back and listened to the magical voice of Peter, the Planetarium’s storyteller, questions began bubbling up. At the end of the presentation, the students were bursting with their questions about supernovas, black holes, the zodiac, and more. We brought these questions back to the classroom and invited students to create a “Wonder” postcard where they researched a pressing question. We asked them to summarize their findings and write it as if they were trying to explain their question to their little brother or sister, in language they would understand.
Returning to story, we asked the students to consider what images, symbols, and stories had made it into the night sky from a Western perspective? Thus formally began our mythology unit! The students shared their previous knowledge about Greek and Roman myths. But we wanted them to think about what current, powerful stories and myths we could “throw to the night sky.” Drawing on a tool from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Thinking Visible, students were asked to consider a character they admired from a book they had recently read. They were asked: what made that character worthy of mythologizing? What quality stood out and what about the character did the student admire? Courage? Honesty? Integrity? Students then created a Colour, Symbol, Image based on this thinking. And from the symbol they created, they were asked to design a constellation which they posted to our night sky from Garibaldi on September 24th. In the photo here, you can see that one student chose a heart with a crown on one tip to symbolize her character’s ability to stay true to herself. And you can also see the constellation she created as she threw this symbol to the night sky.
From here, we read several myths from around the world: Africa, Thailand, and China. Using Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” as a way to help students identify the patterns that we see in many myths and stories, we traced this pattern through multiple myths. The students then identified a stage of the journey they felt curious and excited about. They wrote a mini-essay identifying the stage and explaining its importance in a story or movie they had watched. They also created a tableau of this stage with their classmates, and finally they explained the significance of this stage in their own lives – either in an experience already passed or a hoped for experience in the future. This was our culminating activity in our exploration of the power of story, myth, and patterns in our own lives and in the stories that we find so compelling.
Ms. Sara Sjerven and Ms. Kara McDonald