Unit Planning (Fall 2015)

So I’m going to start a post where we can share some of the directions we’re going with the essential questions for the units you’re planning for this course. I’ll start the post with my own current thoughts (and update as things become more clear for me). I’d encourage you to respond in the comments below by sharing your own thoughts (at the least) and then adding to any others’ ideas as you see fit.

I’m starting with the anchor text, in this case Frankenstein, and developing an essential question from that novel. Here’s what I’m thinking of now:

  • My first inclination is to go with something about the power of creation, how we all (both as individuals and as a society in general) have the God-like power to create things. But with that comes a great responsibility (I think of Spiderman and the famous line from his origin story: “With great power comes great responsibility.”) Our advanced knowledge can create amazing devices like smartphones and destructive devices like the atomic bomb, but we don’t often give enough thought to the implications of how we use that power. I’m always bothered, reading this book, at the way Victor simply abandons his creation and feels no real loyalty to it until he’s forced (through his disgust at what the monster has become) to destroy it. I suspect there’s a lot of philosophical thinking we could engage in relative to this question, and many connections to contemporary issues in our society. So the question might be: “In what ways are we creators like Victor? What responsibilities come with this power?”
  • The Frankenstein story is one that has been adapted and reused multiple times since Shelley first created it; the story of Victor and his monster has reappeared in countless varieties and seems now to have a life of its own. I’d love to study some of these adaptations as a way of getting at the core of this story and why it continues to speak to us in varied and important ways. We could look at adaptations that are more faithful to the original story (like film adaptations that essentially seek to “retell” the story) as well as adaptations that take more license with characters and events but seek to retain something of the spirit of the story (like Frankenweenie or Weird Science or David Almond’s book Clay). In looking at these adaptations, I’m thinking of a possible question like: “What happens to a story when it’s adapted into other forms? What is it about Frankenstein that lends itself to such frequent adaptation?”

I’m open to any ideas you might have about my unit and essential questions, and I’ll update this post as I come up with things like an assessment and linked text sets.

In the comments below, please post your unit ideas and I would encourage all of us to respond and engage with additional ideas or responses so we can help each other in the planning process.

8 thoughts on “Unit Planning (Fall 2015)

  1. I am going to be teaching Twelfth Night to seventh graders.
    As I read, I thought of two main themes: pretending to be something you’re not, and foolishness vs wit
    I think that based on the experiences of seventh graders, they might have a lot to relate to the idea of pretending or hiding your identity.

    So here’s my question:
    What are the consequences of pretending to be something you’re not?

    I think students will be able to relate, as they find themselves acting differently around different, people, they try to act older than they are, or hide something, etc.
    Thoughts and advice welcome. Thanks!

  2. I have decided that for this project, I would like to use The Giver as my text. In this text, I’ve encountered many themes based on the power and rights of government vs. the power and rights of the individual. I think that this is something that is important for students to think about this when it comes to viewing our own society or other societies in the world.
    Because of this, my essential question will be: How much control should the government have over the individual rights of its citizens for the benefit of society?

  3. I have not been told where I will be student teaching this upcoming semester so I chose Unwind by Neal Shusterman to base my Unit Plan on in hopes that one day I will be able to teach it. There are so many essential questions that could be drawn from this novel but one that I am interested in is one that we briefly touched on in class when talking about Frankenstein and mentioning the quote from Jurassic Park. I looked that clip up on YouTube later and what the character says really made me think about Unwind:

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.
    Donald Gennaro: It’s hardly appropriate to start hurling generalizations…
    Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now [bangs on the table] you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well…
    John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…
    Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

    So here is my “rough draft question: What impact does the pursuit and discovery of science/knowledge/technology play on individuals and society? (Both positive and negative)

    I’m wondering if there is a better way to phrase this question. Help! Thoughts?

    I think its an interesting idea because I feel that it can connect to students’ lives, even to current events and films such as Jurassic Park, I-Robot, Gattaca, Inception, etc.

  4. I’ll be teaching Code Name Verity to twelfth graders, which I’m really excited about. I think that students study a lot about the Holocaust, especially by the time they’re seniors, so I don’t want my essential question to necessarily emphasize that, but rather I want it to be related, and to help the students make connections within their lives.

    Because of some of the themes and characters in Code Name Verity, I really want to focus on the idea of ordinary people doing evil things, and viewing historically “evil” things from the standpoint of regular people and their daily lives. I think this also has some fantastic connections to things happening in the world today (hello, Putin!).

    I’ve had a hard time phrasing this into a question, so feedback is welcome, but my idea here is:
    What happens to make ordinary people commit acts of evil, and where do you see it in the world today?

    Please help me phrase this into a better question. I need you!

  5. I’ll be doing my unit on “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I think students get a unit on racism or prejudice just about every year, through a holocaust unit or whatever it may be. So I’ve been thinking about how I might present the essential question in such a way that it gives my students a different perspective and they make connections to different issues, not just racism. If I’m honest, though, I’m struggling with avoiding a unit explicitly about racism, because even though they get it a lot, it’s not as if the world isn’t still dealing with this. Anyway, I think discussing this book in the terms of prejudice in general (i.e. in its many forms) and how we cure or combat it.

    So, here are my questions: What is the origin of prejudice? How do we stem the contagion of prejudice and fear of the unknown?

  6. I have chosen to do the Diary of Anne Frank. This book has different elements that could frame an essential question. There are questions on prejudice, outlook and perspective and relationships. I want students to be able to have a meaningful connection to this text. I’m still not set on the direction I want to take but here are some possible directions.

    1. Where does prejudice originate and how do we recognize it in ourselves?

    2. How do meaningful relationships help us to work through difficulties?

  7. I am teaching A Midsummer Night’s Dream to ninth graders, both honors and regular classes. My cooperating teacher is leaving a lot to my discretion but she did say that one goal she has for the second half of the year is to focus on argumentative writing so I’ll be expected to work that in.

    Two essential questions originally came to mind. The first was more disciplinary: what makes comedy? I thought of that because as I read the play I realized how funny it was and how a lot of that humor would be easily lost in a classroom where you’re breaking the reading of the play up into several days instead of looking at it in one sitting. Also, lots of comedy gags last for hundreds of years, while others lose their punch over time. So the question would lead us to consider Shakespearean comedy and its effectiveness for modern readers, and it would also lead to a discussion of how we would create comedy, or the forms of comedy with which we are most familiar. The second essential question is more affective: what is true/real love. There are so many couples in this play! And so many different kinds of love and barriers and catalysts.

    I think I’ve decided to go with the love question because it lends itself to argument as a final product. The idea is that the students will determine which couple they think best represents true love and follow that couple through the play looking for evidence to support their reasoning. I think it lends itself to group discussion and debate. I also think the play will make more sense if they can zero in on a single through-line.

    Dr. Ostenson suggested using a non-traditional final product like creating a playlist that defines the love of your chosen couple. I like that idea because you would have to tie evidence from the play to the songs you choose, which is a pretty complex task. I like the idea of having a rationale or defense piece and a reflection attached as the writing components of that playlist. I also like the idea of a found poem, used in a similar vein. The playlist sounds more engaging though, so I’m still looking into it.

    A few objectives I’m looking at are obviously the idea that students will do some more complex thinking about what love means, entails, and represents. Skills based objectives will focus a lot on finding evidence and constructing an argument. Still more work to do there, obviously. Feel free to weigh in!

  8. For my unit I have decided to use “The Chocolate War” by Cormier. The main character in this book does not do what society expects of him. He also is in a school where students are forced do do unpleasant things by the school’s secret society. Jerry, the main character fights against the status quo. He is motivated by a poster that questions “Dare I disturb the universe?”

    I think that I would like my question to be When should we maintain the status quo or when is it okay to “disturb the universe?” I feel like this question is a little clunky though so any thoughts, comments, or feedback would be greatly appreciated!

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