I’m really not a fan of the Artemis Fowl books. They’re written in a way that reminds me of a pre-teen trying to use a thesaurus to sound more pompous; it kind of grates on my nerves and makes it harder for me to want to continue reading them. I’m definitely not the target audience.

But I know that a lot of my (usually male) students really like the concepts in the books, so I decided to use it with my class of one boy because he had expressed some interest in reading it.

Which was great! He really enjoyed it, so it definitely helped him get more into reading (and start asking for other books to read). However, there was one thing that really caught the attention of both of us: Artemis translating The Book of the People.

He hit me hard with a lot of questions: How do people translate languages or codes that they’ve never encountered before? How do they decipher symbols? Why was Artemis looking at Egyptian hieroglyphs and comparing them to the language in the book? Is there a point other than simple communication?

This gave us a huge chance to work on an accidental interdisciplinary unit, looking at topics that might fall into a language acquisition, social sciences, or other humanities courses.

I gave him a list of examples of languages that we’ve learned to translate or haven’t yet fully translated: Cuneiform, Meroitic script, writing from the Indus Valley, Linear A, and Cypro-Minoan. The question I led with was: If we could translate these ancient scripts, how could it shape what we know now?

The kid was bright and immediately saw some useful applications:

  • A better understanding of history so we could stop labeling artifacts as for religious ceremony (which I thought was hilarious as an answer, since that’s sometimes a running joke between anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians about an artifact we can’t explain);
  • Regaining lost knowledge, including processes that we could try again to help either the environment or society;
  • Helping to reconnect cultural connections between ancient and modern cultures.

But again he asked: Why are codes useful? Aren’t they only used by silly children trying to avoid adults reading their writing?

To his credit, he was twelve and hadn’t really been introduced to different codes that were used in politics or wars. So I showed him codes that existed during the World Wars: the Enigma Machine, the Playfair cipher, and the Navajo Code Talkers.

As we talked about them, he became really interested in the Navajo Code Talkers. He was really interested in how the code seemed unbreakable. He was interested in how there were other Native American code talkers, such as people from the Cherokee and Choctaw. He was engaged in learning about Native Americans and their contributions to history, which he complained was “entirely neglected by his American school” (and when I told him that I was in university the first time I’d ever heard about the Navajo Code Talkers, he was even more infuriated).

So his project reflected this interest. He made me two separate poster-sized ‘game cards’ (in the tradition of Magic the Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon, etc.) about both the Navajo Code Talkers and Chester Nez (the last surviving member of the original Navajo Code Talkers).

Two Poster-Sized Game Cards

Two poster-sized ‘game cards’. One is an ‘attack card’ for Chester Nez that requires support of another card to be used; his ‘evolution’ is to show him as he was in old age. The other is a ‘support card’ for the Navajo Code Talkers.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is something that, in my personal experience, isn’t something that is widely taught in schools. As a student, I only ever encountered tragedies; Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and Hamlet were the go-to plays when Shakespeare was involved. (That isn’t to say that they aren’t good plays, but I feel like you should introduce students to his work through his comedies first because they have a lot of the same elements but are lighter-hearted.)

I love this play because it’s pretty hilarious — c’mon, Nick Bottom gets his head turned into an ass’s head — and it breaks a lot of the expectations that students tend to immediately feel when they hear the name Shakespeare (many of them sort of reminiscent of either Fred Savage in The Princess Bride or just generally not happy because everything is unhappy).

Also, there are so many reincarnations of this play that really lends itself well to comparing how the play works for ‘modern day’ audiences. (My favourite is the 2016 BBC version, which I know a lot of my literature friends were not happy with because so many of the lines got swapped to other characters. But the aesthetics are amazing, Nonso Anozie makes for an awesome Oberon, Puck was wonderfully played by Hiran Abeysekera, and Matthew Tennyson’s Lysander looks like a super lost Harry Potter.)

As I only had one student during the time that I was teaching this play, we had a lot of time to work with and really explore it. It was such a good moment for a lot of interesting conversations that were largely student-initiated:

  • ‘Translating’ the play from Shakespeare’s Early Modern English to today’s Modern English (my student’s request) and exploring some changes in language.
  • During the above, he found a lot of words that he didn’t expect and wanted to find out the etymology of them and compare modern usage to Shakespeare’s usage.
  • What makes an insult? Using Shakespearean insults to discuss parts of speech (my suggestion, obviously), how and why certain words are insulting and the associations we make to other words, and modern equivalents of the insults Shakespeare used.
  • How do we ‘disarm’ insults? Some of the insults used in A Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t really seem, at first, to be too insulting. My student wanted to know why that changed.
  • Why is some language taboo? This stemmed from a combination of his propensity to use ‘bad’ language and also a genuine interest in why certain words are considered ‘bad’.

Honestly, there are so many subjects to explore in this play that this is only one avenue of discussion.

Anyway, through the ‘translation’ process, there was a project where my student created a TV (his decision) where he had to represent roughly every scene with one image depicting the events in it. As he worked the TV, he had to summarise the scenes and what was happening. (It’s annoying because I used to have a video of him doing this, but my school-owned iPad was reset three times in one year without letting me back-up files.)

Anyway, this is the final product of that assignment. It’s super cute!

GIF of A Midsummer Night's Dream, 7 scenes.

A GIF of every scene in my student’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream TV. All images are individually available here.