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May the 4th Be With You: Real-World Connections in the Classroom and Beyond

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars was created and a cultural phenomenon began. Star Wars’ focus on themes of good and evil, facing the unfamiliar, strange weapons, and explorable frontiers has led to an epic paracosm spanning generations of entertainment and creating worldwide fervent devotees. Such an ardent fan base must be celebrated, and so “May the Fourth” was created, stemming from the parallels between the date and the famous movie line, “May the force be with you.” If you’re struggling with ways to bring this epic saga down to Earth, have no fear!  PBSLearningMedia has material for students of all ages and levels to connect with and enjoy. 

This May the fourth, celebrate and teach Star Wars Day the way it was always intended to be: spread it over several periods, span all academic subjects, and, as Yoda said, “Pass on what you have learned.” 

By any standard, John Williams is one of the most recognizable and celebrated film composers of all time. Students of any age can (and should) appreciate the use of leitmotifs like Vader's Imperial March, conducted here by Williams himself. For extra fun, you could also point out the references in William’s score and Gustav Holst's, The Planets. Have students listen to the Imperial March and then to this Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War, and see what connections they make. There’s also an extended universe of opportunities available through interactive technology tools for students to use. Introduce students to Noteflight to compose and arrange scores inspired by themes and scenes from the movies or have them use Soundation to edit and mix sound bites from the existing music. 

The Star Wars movies are a visual feast for artists of all ages. Whether you are looking at the rich costuming details, vibrant landscapes, or the innovative prosthetics and puppetry, you’ll find a winning path if you teach using Star Wars. After discussing and learning about the works of the Color Field painters of the 1950s and 1960s, students can look at stills from the Star Wars movies before creating their own masterpieces with a galactic-themed inspiration. Or, discuss the different fabric and skin textures used within the Star Wars universe in comparison to the different textures explained here by KQED’s Elements of Art series. Students can mimic the textures of the Star Wars universe and creatively express themselves through many artistic mediums.

Through tropes and techniques alone, there’s plenty of material to engage students in a May the 4th lesson plan. However, it’s also worth looking exclusively at the protagonists of the Star Wars series and seeing how they hold up against other Heroes. Have students watch parts of the Crash Course on the Hero's Journey, and then chart Anakin, Luke, and Rey against other heroic characters from similar epic tales. However, if informational texts are more up your alley, help students differentiate science and pseudoscience by watching this video on how to read science news before looking at some examples to help teach students how to determine fact from fiction. 

That’s no moon – that’s a space station! Through the labs and videos attached, students will learn about gravity assist and how it changes a spaceship’s speed and direction. This link also allows students to learn how deaf NASA scientist Victoria Garcia uses VR to design spaces for astronauts. Have your students learn how we use gravity to explore the solar system  and then watch some clips of the space exploration in Star Wars. Or, instead of bringing balance to the force, balance some scales to solve equations using critical thinking and visual problem solving in this interactive exercise from WGBH. 

The galaxies of Star Wars are certainly entrenching and awe-inspiring, but it’s always more fun to create something yourself. Starting with some lessons on pattern recognition using addition, subtraction, and geometry, solve puzzles and crack the Hacker’s code. Then build your own galaxy using drag-drop blocks or JavaScript. Puzzles and problem-based learning in's Star Wars material will engage learners of all ages and skill levels. 

Democracy won’t die to thunderous applause if you can create some real-world connections between Star Wars and the world in which we all live. Talk with your students about the factors that made the Star Wars franchise such an incredible success. As the fastest movie to reach one billion dollars, there’s definitely something all students can learn about merchandising, box office sales, and investing in the paracosm.  Or, teach about space as the final frontier through Space X's momentous and successful rocket launch in 2015.  If you’d rather focus on the trek to space exploration, have students gallery walk this collection of missions and milestones from NASA over the years. 

Much like Star Wars, creative teachers have a flair for the dramatic. There may be vast distances between us, deep moral divisions on how to use the force, and cool technological tools that we apply, but when we pause to reflect on what we all have in common, together, we can bring balance to the force. 

Katherine Mulrooney has the best job in the world. She has had the pleasure of teaching English in Wilmington, Delaware for the past four years. She is passionate about appropriately integrating technology and creating a challenging, fun, and relevant classroom. Her students and coworkers' amazing abilities and work ethics have allowed for her to be recognized as a Kami Hero and as a PBS Digital Innovator for 2017.  Outside of school Katherine enjoys volunteering with Delaware's Youth in Government program, watching Broadway shows, hiking, and talking about her cat. 

Katherine Mulrooney

Katherine Mulrooney English Teacher

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