TLDR: Mario Odyssey and Zack's lesson is a great chance to get kids realizing that they are always learning and also to build understanding that culture and diversity are things to be respected, appreciated, and proud of. I went overboard with it and executed something I will always remember. This is a little about me and A LOT about my experience. Thanks for reading, and thanks a million to Zack for the spark.
I finished my summer school unit last week. WOW. I told my wife about halfway through it that this might be the lesson I become most proud of building from and teaching. After the week, I know it's true and its something I see myself referencing forever for personal and professional growth and an opportunity to teach kids a HUGE lesson for life. For the initial lesson, I'm super appreciative of Zack and this website. I stumbled upon his specific lesson while scrolling Flipboard on my phone, and now I've been digging through some different posts and trying to think of how to bring more gaming into my teaching. I've got a couple games I've used in minor ways, and plan to post about them and am now thinking of how to build upon one of them. Please go to Zack's original post for the handout and original slides. I have never done anything like this, social media is not my gig but as a teacher you know I beg, borrow, and steal. Zack asked that I respond after using his lesson, and I feel that if I can create a new spark then it is all worth the time spent. I am posting my slides here, and included HLG branding for all slides pulled and tweaked from the original version. I tried to be thorough, and appreciate feedback, questions, and constructive criticisms.
For some background, I taught this lesson with 3-6 graders which are 9-12 years old here. I am a freshly tenured elementary teacher from a rural town in Western Nebraska. Agriculture and the railroad are the main businesses that brought and keep people here. I've lived in this area my whole life, and its safe to say that we don't have a ton of exposure to what the USA or world really encompasses in regards to cultural diversity, opportunity, and what some might say is "city living". I think it is safe to say most people either break out or become "entrenched" in certain views and lifestyles around here.
Not to say there isn't some diversity and varied cultural representation in the area, but it is tends to be pretty limited. You have to seek it out rather than be exposed and encompassed within a larger social net. College is the first opportunity most kids have to really see new perspectives, and colleges within the area have some incredible programs. I also need to say that when I started, our school was big into Ron Clark and sent teachers to his academy. That in itself was a launchpad for me, and shows that there have been some truly great opportunities to provide more to and for our local education system and in the general public.
I grew up loving school, because some of my teachers opened me to new interests and fed my curiosity. I now teach fourth grade and have a passion for history, and video games are a big part of my life. In state studies I teach all about the plight of Native Americans and don't spare much detail. Our reading curriculum includes MLK Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers' Union, Sacajawea's journey and more. I provide some of the real and ugly details that can't be lost in history, and WE TALK THEM OUT trying to understand many perspectives. I believe I have a HUGE opportunity to feed the souls and minds of these young people so that when they get out and see more of how the world looks and operates they aren't blindsided or coming in close-minded. I'm grateful my administration has seen this passion at least in part, and have thus far supported me (topics within this lesson may have raised an eyebrow).
I signed up for summer school because I couldn't pass up the paycheck even in the condition our country is in. School has me nervous, summer school eased those nerves a little but I am still just so unsure of everything surrounding the return to full classes and what it all looks like. Full technology options are here and helping. Anyways, I elected for "history/social studies" and was pretty much told "figure it out and have fun" when I asked if I should have specific focuses through K-6 levels (K-2 had a mini Nebraska state unit that let me play with some new ideas for my fourth graders as well). I had no idea where I really wanted to start until browsing around and coming upon Zack's lesson. The more I thought about it the more I was inspired to plan and prepare.
My unit focused around cultural representation in media and was broken into three parts. The big idea of the unit was to try to better understand those two words individually and then also their relationship. My slides really follow the entire flow of the unit, while switching back and forth between screens for gameplay and new images as conversations started. I introduced Part 1 from Zack with a quick round of Super Smash Bros as a way to prove the AIM of the lesson before even starting to talk specifically about Mario and SMO. You could choose to do the same thing at the end as proof of the AIM as well. Super Smash Bros offered an incredible vehicle to start this lesson because I could drop a student who had never played into a stage with the context of "fighting game" and start them only seeing the character select screen. They had to call out (with some help) what they were learning as they played (see slide notes). The levels within Mario Odyssey and Zack's AIM centering around implicit learning helped get the conversation started in a way that was super engaging and still fairly light while letting us hone in on culture in media. We had to conclude that the game was BOTH respectful AND offensive in it's portrayal of cultures because of how it generalizes them (see slides and notes for detail).
In a stroke of luck and maybe destiny, my groups had finished the questions after day 2 and I took my Switch home for the night. We foster a healthy relationship with video games and definitely exhibit a Nintendo fandom in our household. My 4 y.o. son loves Mario and loves SMO and wanted to play as soon as I walked in the door. I had just beat the game before the lesson and haven't explored anything post-game. My son wants to jump into the Moon Kingdom first. As soon as we take off I see the group of characters from the different kingdoms all together on the moon and we head over. What a small but powerful game design choice and interaction to help conclude the story. It solidified the lessons and things I was trying to reach toward IN GAME and I caught it during a spontaneous session with my son. It made me think of retired astronaut Chris Hadfield explaining the "overview effect" and how profound Earth is when seen from a distance. Within the game and within my own teaching we want to appreciate all the diversity of the world but be able to take a step back and admire the whole thing as OUR home. I had to add these things and talk to the group on day 3 about these ideas and a lesson still in development. Thanks to my classroom globe for helping me dramatize that idea.
Other additions that weren't directly part of the slides in part 1 included me bringing up South American indigenous cultures that seek shelter from a modernized world and also a student bringing up Amish practices as something they have seen and we need to understand. I also am fairly animated when I teach, so I would animate some accents from New York and France while letting them know that joking around with culture can be okay but can also easily cross lines that are hard to see. When discussing the "damsel in distress" trope you better believe I acted super helpless and sounded like Peach.
Part 2 took the ideas we had gathered about culture in media and led us into discussions of current events. The slides I built with the help of a fellow teacher and also my wife (a social worker) about discussion rules will now be at the forefront of my regular classroom forever. There were two topics up for discussion, protests and Black Lives Matter and the recent events around businesses and brands changing cultural logos. The protests and BLM discussion was only for my 5-6 grade group because of some of the background and context. I wouldn't begin that discussion at all without doing a whole lot of reading and listening from all sides. That slide only includes some "buzzwords" and images that require a lot more context from the teacher. The businesses/brands changing logos can be discussed entirely from the caricature art perspective, and can be used much more readily for various age levels. Thanks to my brother-in-law for helping there! It includes articles that help explain the issues with many different logos.
Part 3 let the students make creative choices and decisions. They had two options, being in charge of changing the Washington NFL team logo (extra article and context on ideas included) or create a new level within Mario Odyssey focusing on a different culture/place in the world. With more time we could have really gotten into some of the research on these things. I saw unique ideas, designs, and incorporation for both options, and through the whole thing I feel that some of the kids really did gain something that might affect them in positive and lasting ways. The second to last slide was be really over-emphasizing the lessons I was trying to get across, but it was a great way to wrap up our week and I left it there for kids to read during the creative process and as the last thing on my board for the week. The very last slide includes some of the whiteboard notes I had that helped facilitate and record the process and discussion. (I wish I would have taken an image of the rewritten board I had that was a little nicer and more thorough.)
If you read this far, thanks for being interested and allowing me to take some of your time. Thanks again to Zack and all the people that helped me create this. I look forward to hopefully hearing some feedback and continuing to use HLG and post more ideas myself.
I hope that any and all of you that help in educating young minds keep striving to reach them in unique, creative, and personal ways. I haven't been in this field for long and am still very much a young mind myself, but realize more each day that you only reach your best personal and professional potential through taking chances, making mistakes, and learning through life. As long as I can be the teacher that SOMEONE looks back on the way I appreciate some of my teachers in the past, it will have all been worth it.