"Broken Shields/Enduring Culture" is a two-part unit that can cover from four to six weeks, specifically the period in October and November right after the CMT. It should provide relief from that intense period of preparation and provide an appropriate curriculum for Hispanic Heritage Month. It has been designed for 5th or 6th graders but can be adjusted to younger grades as well. Note: I have created lessons based on the forty-minute periods that are common in Middle Schools. In a block schedule or in a self-contained classroom, there can be much more flexibility, combinations and extensions of lessons.
In Part One, we will be Picturing the World. Our first activity will be to go outside of the classroom, if possible, to work with compasses. Back inside, the students will label the walls of the classroom with the four directions of the compass written in as many languages as we can muster. The students are now partially prepared for a journey, but in order to be sure that they have some sense of place and space, we will next work with maps of the United States and Mesoamerica. Using our first glyph and our first pictograph, the foot that signifies "journey" and an Aztec drawing of a boat that signifies a journey over water, as well as our compasses, students will proceed to trek--or paddle--their way from Connecticut to Tenochtitlan, labeling as they go.
Once there, they will copy the way in which pre-conquest Maya and Aztec recorded important events and information by making what we would call screenfold books. In them, they will record the first part of their journey. Since these documents or codices were written on both sides, there will be space to use them a number of times during this unit and in Part Two, as well as at the end of the entire unit, to record what they consider most important.
We must then move consciously to 1519-21, that terrible time of irreversible change for first the Aztec Empire and then the Maya polities. To do so, we will study three books: The Flame of Peace, by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon by Leonard Everett Fisher and then the extraordinary eyewitness lament of the fall of the Aztec capital, Broken Shields. Students will record their retelling of the events in their screenfolds.
We are now ready to look at that universe that was so badly shaken. In the last section of Picturing the World, therefore, we will make Maya maps. Each student will now fit together two Maya cosmological maps using nine squares, six colors, and the tree and creatures believed to stabilize the center of the world. After reflecting in writing in their screenfolds about the colors and their significance, students will look at embroidery patterns of some of the symbols sacred to the Maya. They will each choose one creature and one directional color to write about, justifying their choice from what they are coming to understand about Maya color. After gluing the creature on the color they have chosen for it, the students will turn one of their maps into a warp for paper weaving and then, as a class, fashion an immense woven and embroidered shawl out of all of them as a wall or hall hanging.
In Part Two, we begin Living in the World. Here the students will do more independent work and the teaching of one another or reciprocal teaching that facilitates assessment. My text will continue to guide but become less scripted. As their first project, students will work with the Maya Map of Lesson Eleven in a three dimensional way. Since the universe is thought of as a field or a house, they will make both. Now teams of students will construct a small village, based on photographs from books in the classroom. They will also explore the tasks basic to the ecology of such a village by building their own irrigation project and planting corn. Five Key Witness Teams will then begin their Expert Testimony Projects, each addressing a different question: about archeologists, the founding of Tenochtitlan, Aztec childhood, Maya math, El Dia de los Muertos, the properties and preparation of chocolate, and the nutrition of the pre-Cortes diet. Note that these questions will cover Aztec as well as Maya topics so that the unit becomes a blend of both. Finally the students will stage a fiesta in which they present their work either to families or to another class, act out an Aztec folk tale, and serve chocolate caliente Mexicano.
Finally we must go back before the time of ordinary human beings and look at two boys, the Hero Twins, who lived and survived despite immense odds, not only in our world but in Xibalba, the Underworld. What is more, they secured the universe for us by limiting the power of the evil gods of Xibalba and by returning their father, Hun Hunahpu, the maize god, to the earth. Thus they gave the gods something to make us out of--namely corn!
The exploits of these two are recorded in the much translated and studied Popol Vuh, or Council Book, the sacred book of the Quiche Maya that is regarded as the masterpiece of Native America literature. Although the themes are serious, portions of the Popol Vuh, especially Parts II and III that record the deeds of the Twins, are filled with conversation and wit and would be delightfully appropriate for students to read. We, however, will be watching a brilliant video version whose animations are taken from designs and drawings on precontact ceramics. There will be several writing assignments in conjunction with the film. The final writing project will be an overview of our unit, recorded in the screenfold books.