Saturday, November 12, 2016

Día de los Muertos Experience Stations

I have not been able to celebrate this holiday with my students in over 15 years as I have had a rather large population of families with a religious background that do not support the teaching of it. Creating an alternative activity would require most students not being able to participate. So, when I had the opportunity to bring this back to my classroom (in a new district), I was so excited! I love how latinos celebrate death and welcome it rather than being afraid of it and being overshadowed by negative feelings.

When I was approached by a parent who had molds that I could borrow, I was totally excited to give this a whirl in class. Yeah me! Yeah for my students! Yeah for super supportive parents! I've tried doing molds in the past and they didn't work so well, but these were f.a.b.u.l.o.u.s! They were from I created 65 sugar skulls one Sunday afternoon. They stood up perfectly with a mix of 3 cups of sugar, 1 Tblsp meringue powder and 1 Tblsp water. It was like moon sand consistency and I was very leery at first, but after letting them dry for 12 hours, they were amazingly hard and firm enough to decorate.

Students passed through three different experience stations in class. I firmly believe that in order for students to get a full appreciation of a culture without actually traveling abroad, they must experience various aspect of the culture as much as possible. So, they don't just talk about the sugar skulls, but they actually create one themselves. This becomes more than just learning; it's an experience. So, I feel like these are better named Experience Stations rather than simply learning stations.

Station 1
During class, students watched a video about Day of the Dead, and were directed to pay particular attention to the images that they would be seeing in the video for a later activity. It was a Spanglish video so all levels could understand easily. They then completed guiding questions about the video that we later discussed.

Station 2 mariposas
After all watched the introductory video, the class divided into two groups. One group went to Experience Station #2 and the other to Experience Station #3. For Spanish III and IV, these were given to them in the target language and completed in the target language. For Spanish II, it was completed in English.
In this station, the students learned about butterflies and why they are important to Day of the Dead. They speculated the meaning and symbolism of butterflies, then watched a brief video clip. They decided if their reflection was accurate or not and other information they learned as a result of watching the video.
Lastly, they chose a butterfly to decorate and display in the commons. They could choose to write the name of a loved on their butterfly if they wanted.

Station 3 calaveras
The other half of the class went to the sugar skull experience station. They reflected on the images they saw in the video they watched and how the Day of the Dead celebration compared to Halloween.
Lastly, they were able to decorate their own calavera using any of the materials provided or whatever they may have had in their personal possession.

Value Beyond School
Giving students a place to display their work and to educate a broader audience is so important in my classroom. They need to see how their lives fit into a broader world and have greater acceptance of other people and cultures to better understand and appreciate their own. We displayed their calaveras in the commons for a day in a set-up altar.

The altar included some of the key components of an actual altar: photo of the deceased, fruit, flowers, water, calaveras, bread, items particular to that family member, papel picado (decorative tissue paper), and other items. The students' butterflies were also displayed in the window behind the altar and a skeleton dressed up as the deceased family member.

The day after the students completed their Experience Stations, they went to the commons area to see the altar, the butterflies, and their decorated sugar skulls. We discussed what was similar and different on the altar that they discovered from the videos and the Experience Stations from the previous day.

Block scheduling allowed us to complete these activities in about one and a half class periods. On a regular schedule, this would have taken 3-4 class periods. I heard numerous positive comments from the students and from the school community throughout the week. We capped the celebration with sugar cookies in the shape of skulls.

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