The central skills I want the unit to focus on are close reading, researching, forming arguments, and writing. In looking at the landscape, writing, and films closely, students will learn about the material while sharpening this skill. For the final project, students will have an option of researching an aspect of the New Haven cityscape in relation to the diverse New Haven community or delving into a film and producing a critical analysis.
At the beginning of the unit, I would like to show the film,
. This film would actually be the first activity in the unit. It is a film about the destruction of a neighborhood to build a new school in the Hill part of New Haven. This recent film will hopefully grab the students' attention to the fact that things are happening everyday to the cityscape they live in and they can play an integral part in how these things transpire. Although I intend on focusing on New York City in the unit, I want to encourage students to think about their own projects from the get go. I believe this film will be a great hook.
Another technique to grab the students attention in relation to history being real and being a part of their lives, I will use maps. I think this will really encourage students to think about their environment in New Haven and how they want to make their own mark on it. The Yale collection of Sanborn fire maps of New Haven would be very cool to use with my students. The Sanborn maps are derived from fire insurance companies to provide details of city's buildings. Yale has all of the Connecticut Sanborn maps dating back to 1884 in some cases. By downloading Google Earth on your phone, you can view these maps. This is an exciting tool to use with my students. I hope to do at least a mini walking tour with my students of maybe downtown New Haven. Using a map of New Haven from 1911, let's say, on their phone and walk around New Haven viewing what it used to be versus what it is today. This could serve as a kind of brainstorming exercise for the students to start to think about what aspect of New Haven to select for their final project.
Some of the options for study include but are not limited to the Wooster Square Arch, the waterfront, the I-95 connector, or other feature of the New Haven landscape that interests students. The Wooster Square Arch that is significant to the Italian community's presence in New Haven. The history of this artifact and its relevance to the community could be explored. There is currently an exhibit at the New Haven Museum that I will have to take my students to in the beginning of the year to encourage them to think about New Haven's ever-changing cityscape. The waterfront's story from the oysterman of past to Sound School student of today as well as the other waterfront locations would be of special interest to my students. The displacement of ethnic communities with the building of the I-95 connector is also an interesting tale of the New Haven cityscape's influence on forming the community as we know it.
Students can take on an aspect of the New Haven landscape and build their own project around the landscape's influence on the community, the community's influence on the landscape and how it has helped to form the diverse population as we know it. The future vision of New Haven should also play a role in the selecting of the location and the research. What are the future visions for the city's population and structure? Students could meet with New Haven city planners to aid them in understanding what the city actually sees for its future as well as helping them to form their own visions. It is possible the experience could truly have the students make a mark on the city of New Haven. I would like to see the final project to have a visual component like a Prezi or PowerPoint. The students could meld the visuals of their landscape with music and poetry. As an additional aspect of the project, I would like to see students write their own poem about New Haven from their experience of studying the cityscape. We have read poetry about New York throughout the unit and the students can exhibit their understanding of place, community, and literary expression through writing their own poetry.
An alternative to the city project is a film project. We will be watching some films throughout the unit. I have already mentioned
Gangs of New York
West Side Story
. Another film that is interesting to use is
I am Legend
. This dystopic view of the future taps into the fears of Americans. Many Science-Fiction/Horror films do exactly that. Therefore, students can start to think about the future of the city, the fears about the city, and the role of the landscape in all of this. The landscape is pretty desolate and destroyed in
I am Legend
for example. Students will read the film closely and we will practice as a group. This will bring the unit to the point of the future city as well as offer a practice ground for the students choosing to do a film for a final project. Some possible film choices for the student film project could be
The Day After Tomorrow
Planet of the Apes
, etc. I would not even limit them to Science Fiction, but it is a good theme to start with.