There's an interesting juxtaposition of ancient history and modern technology going on in Deb Canton's sixth-grade classroom at South Middle School, where students are telling mythology stories using clay figures, cameras and computers.
So, where 3,000 years ago the poet Homer wandered from city to city to tell the story of the Trojan War, today Canton's students are making clay animation movies (sometimes called Claymation) to do the same thing.
Of course, Homer never had to worry about the clay arms and legs and heads of his figures falling off between shots. Students Briana Bridgeford, Chad Loeffler and Joshua Saunders said they struggled to keep their clay figure of Hera, queen of the gods, intact as they posed her to bend over and pick up an apple.
"It was really hard because Hera's back kept breaking in half," Loeffler said.
The sixth-graders venture into Greek mythology began in the library, Canton said, where they read stories like the one about the Greek prince Theseus, who braved the labyrinth to kill the half-man, half-bull minotaur, and about the fabled musician Orpheus and his trip to the underworld to rescue his beloved wife, Eurydice.
Carla DeHaaven, South's curriculum technology partner, had received two grants $180.60 from North Dakota Arts Council and $405 for Grand Forks Foundation for Education to purchase clay and a camera and other equipment to make the movies.
From there, the class was split into groups of three to four students. Each chose a story to tell. They wrote a script, made a story board, designed clay figures, built sets of cardboard boxes and then starting taking the still photos they needed to make their movies.
"We've kind of run the gamut from ancient history to modern technology," Canton said Thursday as the students kept rearranging their clay figures and shooting photos with small digital cameras perched on six-inch tripods. "They like it."
The next step will be the computer work of using the still photos to make animated iMovies and adding dialogue and voices.
In addition to the stories of the Trojan war, Theseus and Orpheus, students were making movies about Phaethon and the horses of the sun and the tragic nymph Callisto and her son Arcas.
Through their work, the students are learning about history, mythology, art, technology and storytelling, and about collaborating and problem solving, their teachers said. And they're learning about how the lives of the ancient Greeks, their politics and stories, remain relevant today.
"Greek history has a huge impact on our lives now, in architecture and our system of government," sixth-grader Connor Joseph said.