Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Using Ponnivala in the Classroom

In traditional cultures, the tales people pass on from one generation to the next do more than preserve religious teachings. In fact, most often the religious elements are merely threaded through these stories, with gods and goddesses acting as intercessors in the affairs of humans. The stories themselves become classrooms for everything from political and social standards to regional and cultural history, from mathematics and trading systems to herbology and food lore.

Often, a single unit of study can open the gateway to a flood of teaching ideas on a wide variety of subjects. Take the example of Bonnie Boggs. Bonnie teaches in a two room school in the ranching community of Miles City, Montana. Yet despite the limited resources afforded her in this town of just 9,000, she was awarded the 1995 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics.


In Boggs’ classroom was a terrarium, occupied by two very special assistants: Zsa Zsa the tarantula and Arby the black widow spider. Using these two spiders as the core of her teaching curriculum, Boggs was able to develop, over fourteen years, one of the most innovative teaching plans ever devised.

In “Spider Social Studies,” students research spiders around the globe and learn about the geography and history of those regions. The create fictional lands and try to figure out what spider would live in their made-up environment. Environmental studies and ecology preservation are included in the study.

Her students read Charlotte’s Web as a component of their literature studies, then discuss the advantages, or disadvantages, of being a spider.

She can teach genetics, biology, family life, and diversity. She teaches spelling, vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar through a game she calls “VENOM.” This clever variation on BINGO uses the word VENOM at the top of the card, and replaces the numbers with scientific terms relating to spiders. When a winner has filled a line, they must correctly spell and pronounce the words in the line, further providing a seamless inroad into Latin.

Using a single focal resource; as Boggs has done with her spiders; can not only be an innovative and refreshing change to the normal lesson plan. It can inspire young learners to delve much more deeply into subjects they care about, revealing all sorts of life lessons in things they might otherwise take for granted every day. Our goal with The Legend of Ponnivala is to see teachers use this remarkable legend to accomplish the same ends. Lesson plans are already available to accompany the series, encompassing a variety of subjects, including:

  • History
  • Religion
  • Cultural & Social Studies
  • Mythology & Folklore
  • Political Studies
  • Literature
  • Geography
  • Art & Music
  • Philosophy & Ethics

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