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Innovative Heroes of Myths and Legends course challenges students' modern perspectives by studying ancient mythology

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Seniors at Woodland High School can take an innovative new elective, the Heroes of Myths and Legends, to learn about ancient mythology, and use the skills they develop during class to analyze modern concepts and religions including Christianity and even science.

Seniors can elect to take the innovative Heroes of Myths and Legends course as an elective for English Language Arts.
Seniors can elect to take the innovative Heroes of Myths and Legends course as an elective for English Language Arts. 

Aaron Blackwelder, an English Language Arts teacher, developed the new Heroes of Myths and Legends course during the 2015-2016 school year as a way to introduce innovative approaches to the Common Core curriculum implemented throughout Washington State that year. "We wanted to offer options for English Language Arts courses that would fulfill the ideals of Common Core," he said. "I've always loved mythology and have incorporated mythology into my lessons over my teaching career, so creating a dedicated course made perfect sense."

During the first half of the semester-long course, students study general mythology along with the concepts that make up mythology such as myth creation, development, and how myths last throughout history. "I open the course talking about myth, the creation of myth, and how the concept of mythology is truly about each individual's life," explained Blackwelder. "The stories are fabricated with an element of truth that resonates throughout the myth."

Students study specific myths during the second half of the course, including concepts and subjects not traditionally considered mythology. "We study Nordic, Egyptian, and Hindu mythology, and we even look at science and Christianity from a mythological perspective," said Blackwelder. "We dive into the concepts of heroes, the Hero's Journey, and how every culture holds the same concept of what makes up a hero."

Students perform intensive research projects including a recent project where student teams debated different forms of ancient religious mythology.
Students perform intensive research projects including a recent project where student teams debated different forms of ancient religious mythology. 

Throughout the course, students work on projects involving using research to formulate opinions and perspective. Most recently, the students formed teams to debate the concepts of three different forms of ancient religious mythologies: Egyptian, Hindu, and Norse. Each team attempted to debate why their represented religion was the "true" creation mythology. "The most valuable thing an educator can do is teach kids how to get information, use it, and advocate for themselves," said Blackwelder.

Blackwelder served as the debate moderator, asking each team guided questions followed by rebuttals from the other teams. Questions included summarizing an explanation of the mythology so a layperson could understand it; describing the god or gods worshipped in their religion; explaining the purpose of humans and the universe according to their mythology; and, finally, arguing why their religion should be the one "true" creation mythology. The debate concluded with each group presenting closing arguments regarding their defended religions.

Teachers and staff volunteered to judge each team's debate performance based on a pre-determined set of criteria.
Teachers and staff volunteered to judge each team's debate performance based on a predetermined set of criteria.

Teachers and staff members volunteered to judge the performance of each team during the debates including Assistant Principal Dan Uhlenkott and Principal John Shoup. Judges used predefined criteria including team responses to questions, rebuttals to opponents, organization of arguments, use of facts, and respect for other teams.

For the students, the course provides a different approach to English Language Arts. "I initially signed up for the course without high expectations, but I thought it sounded interesting and it truly has been," said Isaac Anderson, a senior. "I find distancing myself from my own religion to be challenging, but it's certainly been incredibly interesting to do so." Monica Sinclair, a senior classmate of Anderson's, agreed. "The course speaks volumes about religion, morals, and ethics," she explained. "The most challenging element of the course is how fast-paced it is – we learn a lot!"

For some students, the course has challenged their own perspectives at their core. "This course has made me rethink my entire belief structure," exclaimed Robb Schiedler, a senior. "This course has blown my mind by making me think about mythology, religion, and even science in a different context than I did previously."

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