Monday, October 27, 2014

Advancing Curriculum Mapping: Zombie Edition

I’ve been traveling a lot recently in the car and have had plenty of time to listen to multiple types of media. The last few trips have found me listening to new music, audiobooks, and podcasts from favorite speakers, news and media outlets, and comedians. One of the more interesting podcasts I’ve been listening to on the road is entitled The Walking Deadcast. This podcast is related to The Walking Dead television show from the AMC channel. It’s a show about zombies. It’s also a show about humanity and forgiveness and survival.

It also gave me an idea for upgrading curriculum maps.

The Walking Dead originally was a popular comic book series that was turned into an also popular television show four years ago. There are times when the tv show writers have elaborated on a theme from the comics and times when they stick fairly closely to the written storyline, as they currently are in this season of the show. I’ve been interested in the show since it began, but am only now discovering the podcast.

What struck me about the podcast the most is all the integrated elements. The hosts, Jason Cabassi and Karen Koppett have a natural rhythm to their conversation and set up their shows in a similar format. The format, in general, looks like this:

  • The show begins with their Aha! moments and then the sharing of their top 5 favorite moments from the previous show. They discuss thematic elements, analysis of observations, speculations on what may be coming next, and comparisons to previous shows or thematic elements. All of this is rooted in evidence rather than just opinion.
  • Jason and Karen then look to the masses and share what people are saying through multiple social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and their own website. Some of this is fluff, but some of it has a direct bearing on either supporting what they discussed already or causing them to think in even more divergent ways. Again, they continually refer to evidence from the show to support or shift their thinking or the thinking of the interactors.
  • The hosts then invite Comic Book experts Erik Feten and Gracie Lou to share how closely the filmed show aligns with the comic book. There is discussion about camera angles and analogous cells in the comic and how the film treatment of the comic, in general, was done.
  • Before the end of the show, they share information from multiple news sources that specifically relate to the show, theories about what’s next, reactions to suspenseful events, and more. All of this information is curated by another collaborator, Jason Walker.
  • Additionally, they’ve had actors and other folks from the show as guests to share their perspectives.

When I’m listening to this, I’m listening for entertainment, yes, but also for transferable skills that represent knowledge building, engagement, learning, and performance. In this collaboratively developed and performed product of value, this is what I’m hearing:

  • They engage in metacognition that values evidence. The hosts of the show as well as the others that contribute are thoughtful about what they say. They continually go back to the show or the comic book to support their reasoning or the reasoning of others.
  • They engage in deep analysis. The question the story arc and how the characters, settings, music, etc. all lead to the development of the plot. They notice and discuss (with evidence) themes and through lines that relate to both the current episode and the series as a whole. They delve into symbolism, patterns, perspectives, and more as they deconstruct the episode for deeper meaning and deeper discovery.
  • They have created a research product. This podcast doesn’t look like a traditional research paper but it has all of the elements. Claims, counter-claims, evidence from multiple sources and people, all in a formatted and well-produced product.
  • Good writing is apparent. In order to pull off this level of professionalism, there has to be some scripting. While some of the dialogue is off the cuff, there are specific elements that had to have been written down: their initial notes, their Top 5 lists with a rationale, what others contributed (even if the original podcasters didn’t write these specifically, they did choose to include some of those contributions. I think of it like quotes in a research paper.)
  • This was a collaborative act. The hosts worked together to provide the bulk of the podcast, but invited multiple people and additional media into the process and product.
  • This represents an authentic product. I think what the podcast hosts did here represents an authentic product that students in classrooms today would be willing to both create and produce but also be engaged enough to learn at high levels the skills that would be necessary to succeed in the world they will graduate into.

What if this is a new product that takes the place of something traditionally ensconced in today’s classrooms? What if this becomes a valid assessment of learning? What if this was the expectation of the creation of performance tasks that allow for true integration and student responsibility?

What if wasn’t just about zombies?

While this blog is specifically aimed at a Halloween audience, there are many podcasts out in the Internet ether to satisfy anyone’s interests. Students could potentially research and podcast just about anything, engaging in many of the transferable skills that we expect them to be proficient in. This podcast was audio only and so I see immediate upgrades to video as well as the production of a series podcasts that demonstrate learning versus more traditional and potentially less engaging demonstrations.

I’m not saying ditch the research papers, I’m saying think about the skills you expect your students to have and be innovative about the actual product that they create. Let them contribute to the design of the product and increase their level of vested interest in what they are producing.

If that product happens to include zombies, then I think that’s awesome.

Keeping curriculum maps living, breathing documents is work. (Much like keeping the humans alive and breathing on The Walking Dead.) Advancing this work is a constant act of rethinking assessments, methodology, and other instructional actions based on multiple lenses that include new standards, newly available resources, new technologies, and certainly, new students from year to year. Innovation and engagement matter a whole lot with today’s students. Being willing to upgrade, or perhaps abandon, traditional strongholds in methodology and/or assessments is a step in the right direction toward modern curriculum design.

By the way, here is the link to the page with the Walking Deadcast podcasts:

You can either subscribe and get the casts on your device or you can listen to a downloadable mp3 right on your computer.

Happy Halloween, all!

Available Now:

Photo credit: purchased from - #69992350 - zombies dawn © stuart

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