Renowned astronomer, Carl Sagan, reminds us that we are made of stardust, as all matter, energy, space and time in the universe would appear to have emanated from a single point about 15 to 20 billion years ago; a point perhaps no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. In a great explosion that we call big bang, all the substance of the universe was dispersed throughout space. Gravitational force pulled clumps of matter into huge clusters, which in turn formed galaxies and subsequently gave birth to our own planet. Not necessarily an easy birth at that, but a long process panting a toxic atmosphere that would take almost two billion years before it could begin to sustain life. That arduous labor was repeatedly convulsed by violent volcanic eruptions that subdued great land masses and eventually gave rise to the continents as we know them today, including the great expanse of plains, mountains and lakes we now call the United States of America. In this first section students will explore who they are in relation to their country, the world around them, and the universe of which substance we are all made.
THE ATOM GAME: To introduce students to the beginning of time, the unit begins with a game called Atom. Atom is played in an open space, which can be created by pushing chairs (and desks) aside, or weather permitting, going outside. The game begins with music (either played or sung by the teacher), which will be stopped intermittently throughout the game. As the music continues, students move around; walking, skipping, dancing, etc. The music is stopped and the teacher says, Freeze. Students then freeze their positions. The teacher calls out Atom and a number, e.g., Atom Five. Students try to gather together in groups of five. Any students left over from the groupings are out of the game, but can then help the teacher to call out numbers as the activity is repeated. The game ends when two students are left. As raucous as the game can get when students are hustling to form groups, Atom teaches students to listen and respond on cue even in the midst of their own enthusiasm for the game.
After the game, we will gather together in a circle of chairs (a typical setting for a theater class). Students will be asked Why is this game called Atom? In the discussion that follows, we will define the words matter, energy, space and time in context with the game they have just played, i.e., their bodies are matter, which they move with energy, from one place to another through space, and this action of a particle being energized to move through space from one position to another is what creates time. Students will then be introduced to Democritus, the Greek natural philosopher (c. 460-370 B.C.), who believed that everything in the world was made up of tiny immutable blocks that were invisible. Because Democritus considered such a block to be uncuttable, he called it an atom, which means the same thing. Democritus also believed that nature consisted of many kinds of atoms, and that each one had hooks and barbs so that it could join with others to make up all sorts of things from flower petals to human beings. Students will be asked how this could be? How could someone living over 2,000 years ago without the benefit of modern technology (not to mention the Discovery channel) come up with the idea of the atom? We will then discuss how each of us possesses the capacity for imagination, logic, and reason and that since the beginning of time human beings have had an insatiable desire to understand the mysteries of existence who we are and where we came from.
TALKING HEADS: To more clearly appreciate our human quest for understanding the mysteries of existence, and in particular, some of the ideas that led up to the Big Bang theory, students will share in an oral reading of Talking Heads Profiles timeline (next page). This timeline was synthesized from information from Steven Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, pages 1-13, and the eighth grade science text, Exploring the Universe, pages 56-62. It includes brief profiles of some of the remarkable thinkers throughout history, such as: Aristotle, Nicholas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Isaac Newton, Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawking.
TALK SHOW: The format of a television talk show is employed to help students practice theatrical character development. Since talk shows are one of Americas chief forms of entertainment ranging from the socially responsible Oprah Winfrey to the coliseum-like forum of Jerry Springer students are very responsive to play-acting a talk show. This format not only serves as a medium for improvisational work, but can also support selected thematic content. After students have completed the oral reading of Talking Heads, they will improvise a talk show (obviously capable of time travel) to discuss Who are we? and Where did the world come from? They will select their roles as MC and guests for the show from the people profiled in the Talking Heads timeline and will act in those characters.
Owing to space-age technology, we have been able to view our planet from high above Earth’s atmosphere and to witness a vast ocean covering most of its surface. With its dispersed cloud cover, it looks like a blue marble. Intuitively, ancient Greeks must have shared this view in their belief in Oceanus, the legendary ocean-river that ran past the Straits of Gibraltar to encompass the world. Homer, with no small degree of prescience, believed Oceanus to be the source of all things; an idea with which Charles Darwin might have agreed at least metaphorically in his Origin of the Species (1859).
HARD ROCK TIME LINE: Students will learn that the world’s oceans are, in fact, one great ocean-river, whose circular flowing currents form a continuous worldwide pattern of circulation by introducing them to geological concepts regarding the formation of the continents. Students will share in an oral reading of Hard Rock - the lithosphere takes shape (below), along with a presentation using illustrations from the eighth grade science text, Dynamic Earth, regarding continental drift and plate tectonics (Chapter 3, Plate Tectonics, pp. 54-77).