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9-12 | Reading & Language Arts | Digital Storytelling

Station KLCS in California

My Classroom Innovation

This project is part of an integrated studies program at a Humanities Magnet High School. The CORE curriculum examines the socio-biological explanations for attraction while a class on Aesthetics emphasizes cultural preferences for mating partners and practices. Students are concurrently enrolled in a Visual Culture class that uses problem-based learning strategies, cameras, video production equipment to explore the CORE classwork (Philosophy, Aesthetics, Social Institutions, and English). This project asks 180 12th graders working in small groups to to explore a single problem: How do we become beautiful objects, and is it worth it? Students conducted field research requiring data collection and documentation in research-intensive fields (biology, history, and philosophy). Students concluded through authentic research that, due to the relative homogeneity on the high school campus -- they are all of similar age, socio-economic status, life experiences based on geography -- that the primary mode of participation in beauty culture was just standing out from the crowd. This finding seemed to unify all small-group hypotheses: e.g.tattoos were done younger and larger, gauges in students' ears were larger, skirts needed to be shorter, hair was dyed brighter, piercings were more abundant, etc. Our students used "Sweaty T-Shirts and Human Mate Choice" (PBS) as an introduction to both a biological account of attraction as well as an introduction to field research practices. This was then followed up with excerpts from Jared Diamond's thematically similar work, The Third Chimpanzee.

How Students were Engaged

Using Canon HD DLSR’s students synthesized a variety of scientific research and cultural criticism regarding the evolutionary origins of attraction and its current expression in teen culture. Students formed hypotheses regarding various aspects of beauty culture, then conduced authentic ethnographic research to test those hypotheses, recording their qualitative results in documentary film segments. These segments were then edited together into a single documentary that emphasized the best of several of the smaller documentaries. The smaller documentaries were assessed on four levels. First, individual students wrote on several nonfiction pieces presenting the socio-biological and cultural reasons for attraction (including Charles Darwin, Jared Diamond, and E.O., Wilson). Next, student "crews" of 4-7 were responsible for creating hypotheses of student participation in beauty culture using the high school campus as their ethnographic environment: e.g., Why do teenagers gauge their ears, and is this an effective way to become beautiful to perspective partners. Students had to create a list of interview questions, informed by their research, to accompany production schedules and breakdowns. Third, students were accountable for daily participation while filming. Finally, the completed short-subject documentaries were graded on a standard student film rubric (sound design, lighting, editing, art design, etc.) Finally, as part of a writing-based Humanities program, students were asked to evaluate their own project at the end of a rigorous two-hour summative essay that included the theories of Jean-Paul Sartre (as related to sex, power, Being-for Others, etc.). The knowledge and skills were therefore demonstrated in a variety of formats (both written and through the use of film).

PBS Program/Content Used

Sweaty T-Shirts and Human Mate Choice