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  • Writer's pictureZoe Branigan-Pipe

Hearts & Heroes: Exploring Mythology in a Cross-Curricular Odyssey

*I am an Enrichment Special Education Teacher working with a diverse group of students with Gifted Exceptionalities and many with dual or multiple exceptionalities such as ASD and Gifted; Learning Disabled and Gifted (and many others). It is essential to understand your own bias and misconception of students (people) who are neuro-divergent - Students with a Gifted Exceptionlities are often misunderstood.

*Students have given their permission to share work here and in a physical space (bulletin board). Please do not post student work anywhere (online, brick/mortar) without their permission.




Examples of the outcome of our Unit:

Students are tasked with using symbols and settings from myths, Legends, or Vocabulary (figure of speech) to express a known story. Using Mixed Media is a metaphor for their practice of "Enrichment" (taking a task and giving it a wider, deeper and different dimension)

Students will explore various myths from different cultures, understand the influence of mythology on language and culture, and express their understanding through creative projects in a mixed media format.

I've recently shared my passion for Greek mythology with my family, travelling across Greece in 2022 with my husband and one of our children. We delved into the ancient landscapes, tracing the footsteps of the myriad characters and stories that have long captured my imagination - and that of my students. My love for genres —fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction, adventure, and the occasional romance—is perfectly echoed in the rich tapestry of Greek mythology, which often ventures beyond these genres into even more complex narratives. This was also when I started documenting our travels on YouTube - something I genuinely enjoy and plan to do more of!

Two books I recently read (and loved) - although I don't think they are suitable for middle schools:

My students' enthusiasm for Greek mythology has surged, largely thanks to Riordan's books and, most recently, the new series on Disney, of which I am also a huge fan. This resurgence of interest provides a fresh, contemporary context for exploring these ancient stories, making the mythology unit even more relevant and exciting. The connections students draw between the timeless themes of mythology and the modern interpretations they encounter in media enrich our discussions and creative projects, bridging the gap between the ancient and the present.

This dynamic blend of literature, culture, and creativity enhances their learning experience and fosters a deeper appreciation for the enduring power of mythology. I recently watched an interview with him, which resonated, particularly his insights into the half-gods and goddesses who find themselves on a threshold - not fully belonging to the world of gods or humans. He draws a compelling parallel to middle schoolers, poised on the brink of adolescence, navigating their identities and belonging. This perspective is especially poignant for me as a middle school teacher. It's an opportunity to integrate geography, literacy, art, and culture, examining myths from diverse traditions and math and engineering into a cohesive learning experience. Bringing these stories to life through Minecraft has been a delightful way to engage students, allowing them to construct and explore the settings of these ancient tales.

Rick Riordan: 

Share insights into Riordan's interview/video that shares the history of writing mythology-based stories relating to students' experiences and growth.

Let me share how I bring these ancient stories to life, making each lesson resonate on a deeply individual level.

Encouraging Personal Connections

It begins with offering students a choice. I present them with various cultural myths, emphasizing the importance of selecting a story that speaks to them. It's about guiding them to find a narrative thread that feels almost personal, whether it's a story, they've always been curious about or making a connection.

Flexible Exploration

I try to encourage students to explore these stories in a way they feel most comfortable. I provide various resources: videos for visual learners, podcasts for those who prefer audio, and traditional texts for the readers. This flexibility ensures that every student can engage with their chosen myth in a way that best suits their learning style. My role is facilitating this exploration, offering guidance and materials to help them delve into their stories.

Don’t just make it a “one-off” Unit - Instead, think of this unit as inspiring them to want more.

I find opportunities to weave mythology into the fabric of our everyday classroom life. Whether it's the quiet moments before class begins or a break during lunch, we make space for these ancient tales, myths and legends and try to incorporate those from across the world. Sometimes, I'll share a short video or an interesting podcast episode with the class during these times, transforming a brief pause into a spontaneous mythological journey. This approach helps to demystify the idea that learning only happens during "lesson time" and shows that these stories can be a part of our daily lives.

Mythology Lesson - Overview: 

1.) Warm-Up with AI-Created Mythology Story:

Begin with a story integrating students' names into mythological contexts, sparking initial interest and personal connection. This is so much fun, and I would not have the time to do this for all my classes/students without this tool. Students love seeing themselves in the story.

For Example: In the heart of (School Name)  amidst its sprawling, verdant grounds, stood the Enchanted Enrichment Classroom, a place of wonder that Teacher Zoe called home. This classroom was not like any other; it was a realm where the boundaries between times blurred, where myths breathed life into the present, and where a group of students from various schools were about to embark on an unparalleled adventure. (Student Names) stepped into the classroom, their eyes wide with anticipation. They were greeted by walls adorned with ancient scripts and vibrant paintings depicting heroes and beasts from when gods walked the earth. With a gleam of excitement in her eyes, Teacher Zoe introduced them to the heart of their adventure: an ancient hourglass said to have been crafted by Hephaestus himself. This was no ordinary hourglass; it was imbued with the power to transport those who wielded it through the annals of time to the very heart of the myths they had only read about. "Our journey," Teacher Zoe began, her voice tinged with mystery, "will take us to the origins of the stories that have shaped the world. Today, you will not just learn about mythology; you will experience it."

2) Group Discussion on Mythology: 

Starting your lesson with a discussion or hook helps give context. Explain why we are learning this - allow for student agency and choice. Let them talk about what they know and what excites them.

I try to start all lessons with a general discussion. It's a fantastic strategy for gauging what my students already know and figuring out where I want the lesson to head. Plus, I always aim to shake things up by hosting this phase somewhere other than their usual desks. It could be on a carpet, a comfy corner, outside, or around a work table where we can all gather together. Even my Grade 8 Students love the change of scenery. It seems like just moving to a different spot can help lower their anxiety and stress, making them more open and ready to engage.

In this topic - I’ll toss out a question like, "What do you already know about how words and language are influenced by mythology and stories?"  Students start chiming in with words like "atlas," "Pandora's box," "Achilles' heel," "echo," and so on. We dive into how these terms, rooted in mythology, play a role in today's language. It's not just about listing words; it's about connecting with their origins and how they've shaped how we communicate now. (this could take up a couple of literacy blocks easily!).

This is also the perfect time for everyone to share their favourite myths. The stories of Icarus and Daedalus, or Sisyphus, always seem to capture their imaginations.

In this particular unit of study, I often wrap up our discussion by reading a short myth or inviting students to share or retell their favourite ones. It's a gentle way to end our chat, leaving everyone with some storytelling magic. 

For me, this discussion phase is all about giving every student a voice and a chance to share in a setting that feels a bit more relaxed and open than the usual classroom setup.

3) Cross-Curricular - Mythology and Language Arts: 

Integrating mythology with language arts in my lessons allows for a rich, cross-curricular exploration that touches on these ancient stories' historical and cultural significance and their enduring impact on modern language and society. This approach deepens students' understanding of language origins and invites them to see the connections between past and present, literature and daily life.

One key aspect of this lesson is exploring how mythology influences modern language through phrases, idioms, figures of speech, and expressions. For example, we dive into how the story of Pandora's box has given us the idiom "to open Pandora's box," meaning to start something that causes many unforeseen problems. We discuss the story behind the phrase "Achilles' heel" as well, drawing from the tale of Achilles to illustrate vulnerability. This exploration extends to mass media and marketing, highlighting how mythological symbols are woven into the fabric of contemporary culture. A prime example is the Starbucks logo, which features the siren from Greek mythology, inviting a discussion on the symbolism and its appeal in marketing.

I like to plant seeds for future exploration.

While we only scratch the surface in our current lessons, I point out how this knowledge can be expanded in future grades, high school, and university or college (or other pathways of their choice). Whether it's delving deeper into classical literature, exploring linguistics, or studying the influence of mythology on modern storytelling and media, the possibilities are endless. This fosters a love for learning and encourages students to think about how they can continue to connect with these themes throughout their educational journey. By intertwining mythology with language arts, the lesson transcends traditional boundaries, offering a holistic view of how the past informs the present and inspiring students to explore the interconnectedness of knowledge.

4) Creative Myth Representation Project (Our Culminating Project)

Students undertake a project to represent a myth or a symbol from a myth using mixed media, focusing on visual storytelling.

This mythology lesson plan is crafted with the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) at its core, ensuring it meets the needs of a wide range of learners. This approach not only makes the content more accessible but also encourages higher-order thinking and creativity, embodying a "low floor, high ceiling" philosophy. Every student can participate and contribute, regardless of their starting point, but there's also ample room for those who wish to delve deeper. This inclusivity and flexibility mean all students can engage meaningfully, feel successful, and be challenged, making the lesson plan a practical application of UDL. Through this thoughtful structuring, we ensure that learning mythology isn't just about memorizing facts but about connecting with stories that span cultures and epochs, fostering a rich, inclusive, and engaging classroom experience.


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