Friday, October 30, 2015

Calacas y Calaveras, Oh My!

Skulls can be ofrendas (offerings), too!
(They don't have to be morbid.)
Día de los Muertos has certainly made its way into mainstream commercialism, with skulls and calacas (skeletons) adorning everything from napkins to clothing to notebooks and bags.

But, what is it really? Dia de los Muertos celebrates death as a natural part of the human experience and stems from ancient Aztec traditions. It holds that the dead would be offended by grieving and sadness, so it is better to welcome the them back into the living community to celebrate each year in a joyous occasion. Although celebrated throughout Latin America, and even into South America, the traditions of Mexico are what seem to be the most well-known here in North America.

This is the altar created as a display for our
school hallway. Wow!
Día de los Muertos is technically Dias de los Muertos, since it is celebrated over 2 days. November 1st is Día de los Angelitos, when the heaven gates open to let the deceased children (angels of infants and small children who have passed away) fly down to visit their families for 24 hours. November 2nd (Dia de los Muertos) is when the heaven gates open to allow adults who have passed away to fly down to visit their families, also for 24 hours.

Families clean the gravesites, then decorate them, often with flowers, specifically orange marigolds (cempasúchil). On the gravesite or small personal altar, they then leave ofrendas (offerings) which the deceased person enjoyed, such as favorite foods, toys, flowers, candles, photos, and other personally significant objects. Some ofrendas may be "necessities", such as water for their thirst following their journey, and coins for payment along the way.
What do you think this person may have enjoyed, by looking
at the ofrendas? 
Example of an altar. Although orange marigolds are the most
traditional flowers used, Ms. J handmade these flowers, in
gorgeous colors--definitely creating a joyous space!
My colleague, Ms. J, who created the altar and bulletin board displays for our school is not Mexican (and very few of our international students are). She is from Costa Rica, so I had to ask:
"Why did you spend so much time creating these displays if you are not Mexican, and this is not the way you celebrate in your home country of Costa Rica?"
 (She has literally spent hours upon hours after school and on the weekends preparing these displays!!)
Her response?
"We are all Latin American, and it's important as an ESL teacher to show respect for the cultures of my students. 'C' was so excited when he learned I was making this. If just one student is excited, then it's worth my time. But I also want to share about other cultures. There are so many interesting things to learn."
Quick facts for students to learn something new. Note the flags
above, also decorated with las calaveras!

We may not have mariachi bands stirring up joyous tunes for us as they do at Mexican cemeteries, but no doubt wonder and curiosity will share a dance or two as our students learn more than they imagined from Ms. J's displays.

As for the calaveras? Stay tuned for part two as we see how Ms. J creates sugar skulls!
Can't wait for the makeover!

Some lessons you might want to use for your students:
(click on the "dia de los Muertos" for the links)

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Best Self? It's All Greek to Me, But That's Ok


A simple word for a big idea. When studying about Ancient Greece, students learned about different characteristics of society, government, and citizenship. They also learned a little about language--particularly key terms that lent insight into Greek thought.

Like Arete.

Arete is a tiny word that literally means virtue or excellence, but the bigger idea is about living at your highest potential from moment to moment to moment. Arete was considered one of the highest ideals of Greek culture, and we used this as a warm-up/ bellringer to get the creative juices flowing while tying in a little growth mindset.

Think Arete. What will you do to live your highest potential from one moment to the next? What does your highest self look like? What would you sketch if you were to sketch yourself with Arete, you being your best self in each moment?

Here are some simple examples from this 5 minute warmup. This work, by the way, although seemingly simplistic, serves as a continual reminder and reference point for days and weeks to come.

Remind your students that everyday when we wake up we have two options. Hit that snooze and dream about what we want.
Get up, and step into your Vision. Be your best self, in each moment. If you let yourself down in one moment, get back up the next. And continue.

Even if it isn't easy  (which it won't be), how will you live this moment and today with Arete?
Think, then live, Arete.