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Classroom Close-Up
Posted 02/25/2020 02:00PM

One in an occasional series that shines a light on teaching, learning, and classroom life at St. John's Prep.

Subject: English 4

Classroom Close-UpTeacher: Dave Edson (in partnership with St. John’s Digital Learning Specialist Julie Cremin and Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning Kerry Gallagher)

Topic: Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

The Approach: Shelley's novel about a “mad scientist” probing the boundaries between life and death by using forbidden laboratory methods captured readers’ imaginations two centuries ago and remains deeply relevant in our world of breakneck technological innovation. Students were asked to design an original Adobe Spark Page exploring two distinct areas of scientific exploration and experimentation. In addition to comprehensively synopsizing the subject areas, students were prompted to consider the ethical implications of the technology, the potential pros and cons for society, and their personal feelings about its development and implementation. The assignment challenged class members to reference at least three reputable sources using hyperlinks to articles in accredited newspapers, magazines, or peer-reviewed journals. Essential design elements also included at least one embedded YouTube video (a Ted Talk or other professional imagery to amplify student research) as well as at least three properly cited still images using Creative Commons sources. Copyright and fair use—key components of St. John’s digital citizenship initiative—were an additional focus of the assignment. The project concludes with students presenting their findings to the class using their online publications created with Adobe.

How Students Benefit: The unit prompted students to employ and integrate multiple skill sets, including writing, applied technology, critical reading skills, and a deeper, more internalized focus on the novel and the issues it raises. The learning goal is to have classes engage with the text in an innovative way and venture beyond a traditional literary-analysis model, like term papers, tests, or other writing assignments.

Teacher Takeaway: “Echoing the turbulent and momentous history of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ was published in 1818, during a time of incredible change and innovation. When we’re looking at the novel, it’s not just the story itself, but the monstrous repercussions of science that she investigated in researching the book, and how that relates to modern-day life. I think the assignment gives the students voice and choice and an authentic framework to explore their individual passions for science and tech, the humanities, morality and modernity—it’s applicable on so many levels.

“The Frankenstein unit gives them a forum to take something they’re already interested in, learn more about, let them run with their own passions, and demonstrate what they know by presenting on a subject they’ve pursued to become more expert. I’ve been assigning this project for 20 years, but it’s been modified in ways I never anticipated because of rapid technological advancements in environmental science, gene therapy, biology, and more. Students have presented on GMO ‘Frankenfoods,’ the reanimation of nerves for prosthetics, and 3D-printed organ replacements. The unit also ties into the latter part of our senior year curriculum when we read George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and explore surveillance and electronic warfare that causes actual physical harm—both incredibly relevant to the modern day.”

Dave Edson's Classroom Close-UpThe Student Experience:

Franklin Xu ’20: “I think that being able to choose my own topic sparked my interest in both the book and the science I researched. The project gave me more appreciation for the technology we have access to. It also raises the question of when we’ve taken (a technological innovation) too far. Every advancement can have a consequence. Things may seem to be getting easier, and in the case of alternative forms of renewable energy, they are. But technology is getting more personal than ever with the tracking of our online interests, the information we use to authenticate ourselves, or (our release of) information we don’t want to get out. I think using an iPad for the creation of my Spark Page was a convenience, and easy access to the classroom projector with AirPlay was also a bonus.”

Brett Torra ’20: I think it was great to apply my interest in internet privacy to English class because it’s a great modern-day example (of a runaway technological innovation). I learned that some people in this world make unethical decisions about people’s privacy. There are many ways to regulate this, but also some very smart programmers out there who are hard to stop.”

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