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Our Frankenstein

Our Inquiry

Why Frankenstein in Elementary School?
It may come as a surprise to some, but Frankenstein has very little to do with horror and gore. In our study the major themes that sparked interest with our students revolved around commentaries about the human condition (love, acceptance, belonging), choices we make and the consequences of those choices, as well as the separation of spirit, intellect and heart. Of course these themes are just as relevant today as when the book was written and provide many rich possibilities within the classroom.

The initial connection came from the study of ancient Greece, specifically the story of Prometheus. In the students’ study of Greek Gods they found out that Frankenstein is often referred to as a modern day Prometheus. Eager to explore this connection, the students took up the reading of Frankenstein.

In December 2003, we began reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We gathered two other versions, both abridged and retold, for small group readings. The read aloud progressed slowly as we took time to investigate the vocabulary, as well as social and scientific issues of the time period. Students were required to complete several activities to compliment the classroom discussions (vocabulary, history research, descriptive writing, scientific investigation into the human body, connecting novel themes to current events). It was imperative for the students to understand the advancement of scientific knowledge and methodology that has taken place over the last three hundred years and how these influences during Mary Shelley’s time contributed to her classic novel.

Frankenstein lent itself naturally to artistic endeavours. We were fortunate to have the advice and assistance of Joy Bacon (a fabulous art teacher) as well as Jason Wallin (AISI Curriculum Leader) to inspire the students with charcoal, portraits and soft sculpture. Sketching, drawing and creating helped to further develop the students understanding of the characters.

We received an AFA (Alberta Foundation for the Arts) grant that allowed us to call upon Richard Zywotkiewicz, a local videographer, to assist in the camera training, filming, and editing of the movie.

To better understand Dr. Frankenstein’s struggle in creating life, students signed up for body systems that they were interested in investigating. Our goal was to build a monster based upon scientific knowledge that the students gained through their research. As much as possible and when appropriate, the students built life sized replications. Other students built larger models (DNA, The Eye, The Ear etc.) as part of their work. These activities contributed to the construction of our collective knowledge about the human body as well as our monster.

The students were fascinated with the connections that they could make between current issues and a novel that was written in the early 1800’s. This provides many stimulating and sometimes heated discussions about right versus wrong, scientific moral and ethical responsibility and social morality in general. We began to us the phrase, “Just because we can, does it mean we should” and applied it to events as diverse as the Todd Bertuzzi case and human right issues (working conditions in Brooks Alberta).

Why Make a Movie?
When we were done reading the novel, our students approached us about making a movie of Frankenstein. While we were open to making a movie, we challenged the students to come up with reasons beyond it just being a cool thing to do. The students immediately sympathized with the monster and made many connections between the monster’s experiences and their personal struggles with peer pressure and conformity. It was this story that the students wanted to communicate through a movie.

A project like a movie requires the students to function as a cohesive unit. We talked at length about the need for this to be an all or nothing effort where every piece was as important as the next, but each was nothing without the other. Movies allow children to express themselves in a medium that they can relate to – this is their genre. A movie also allows for many skill sets to shine through and even be discovered. Where in the traditional classroom setting some of these skills lie undiscovered and untapped, a movie allows a different form of knowledge to be nurtured. Movie making requires writers, actors, artists, editors, camera operators, visionaries, producers, directors, technicians, and others we’ve probably left out! The scope of movie making allows children to work in spaces they are familiar with, at the same time challenging them with many other possibilities. From what we’ve witnessed, a project like this pulls students together unlike any other – everyone working towards a common goal, everyone’s role just as important as the other.