Iron Age to the Information Age

The first stories we told tried to describe the unknown while developing a sense of the self with tales of great heroes, ferocious monsters, disastrous floods, and lands of unsurpassed beauty. For millennia, these tales were passed from mouth to ear. Then, as writing emerged the first stories ever written regaled the adventures of Sargon and Gilgamesh. Now with the flood of new technologies students can navigate the vast seas of information and enjoy the journeys of epic adventurers online. Folklore and myths, provide an opportunity to connect the oldest known narratives with the newest text to emerge, the Internet.

Technology has always acted as a catalyst for literary change (Leu & Kinzer, 2000), yet the ancient tales of oral traditions remain the same. As a result the same traits of mythological and folklore heroes first identified by early folklorist such as Edward Taylor, George von Hahn, and Vladimir Propp (Segal, 1990) have spread through the Internet. These yarns are no longer bound to cultural of physical boundaries. Audiences today have access to the written and oral traditions from infinite resources and many cultures. Readers can use these online resources to develop an understanding of mythology and folklore, which Dundes (1989) called, “crucial to establishing a sense of identity or senses of identity” (p. vii). In this weeks post I describe a mythology unit I taught that utilized the internet.

Looking back three years later, I see how the lesson not only introduced the affordances of the internet but also allowed students to develop and share their own voice.

Creation Myths

As teachers we can use narrative hypertext to introduce students to new literacies (Castek, Bevans-Mangelson, Goldstone, 2006). First, literacy classrooms have a strong focus on literature and this can allow children to dedicate more cognitive energy into the development of new literacies skills. Second, reading and writing online motivates students. (McNabb, 2006). Therefore, online narrative texts, like creation myths, offer opportunities for students to interact with ICT’s. Students can analyze an author’s use of hypertext features, and reflect on how their comprehension skills change because of digital texts. In order to do this in my class I had students read myths using offline texts, static webpages, and multimedia flash stories.

We began by first reading the Greek Creation myth in D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths . We discussed the myth and created an interactive storyboard. Basically I would retell the myth as we read. The kids loved when I, in the role of Cronus, would puke up my children. Granted I added plenty of green goo and audio effects.

Next we read Murtagh’s Common Elements of Creation Myths When previewing the Murtagh website with students I asked questions like, “Why does the author link words in her text to other pages? Which buttons did you use to navigate the text? Did you choose the hyperlinks in the text or those listed at the bottom? What caused confusion during your navigational choices? Can the author have made it easier for the reader to find the creation myths?” These questions had the student evaluate the decision the author made and lead to an understanding of how to effectively navigate online text.

Finally we moved from a static website with hyperlinks to ineractive multimedia stories on bigmyth.comThe interactive website provides students a launching point for the study of creation mythology. The website, created by Distant Train and the International Association of Intercultural Education provides flash videos of creation myths from around the world. The videos contain animation, text, and sound while they retell creation myths from every corner of the globe. Along with each myth, the authors created a series of activities for students after they finish reading a myth. When choosing a myth students must select buttons that overlay a map of the globe. Some buttons, those in red, are free, and other grey buttons only work with a subscription. I started conversations with questions such as, “Why do you think the authors use a map as a navigation menu? How does geography affect a culture’s outlook? Why would the author’s choose to provide some myths for free and charge for others? Why and how did the author’s choose one culture for the free version and decide to include other cultures as part of a subscription?

After we had read texts using a variety of tools we discussed the formats and how they Internet changed reading for the students on a class discussion board.Some of their responses are below:

Thread 15 Posted by Mr. Mac
How is reading a a book different from reading a static website (no animation), and an animated website? How are your reading comprehension skills of predicting, summarizing, clarifying, questioning, and connecting used differently between medias. Compare and contrast.

In media myths (animated), static online myths, and books are different because they both affext how you have to think. For instance, in a book you have to read the text by yourself, picture the characters in your head, and
predict what will happen on the next page or two. In an animated myth you can have the computer read the myth to you or read it yourself, there are pictures and you don’t have to picture it in your head like when you read a book, you also have a variety of links on the web pages and you have to narrow down the choices that will help you, you have to predict what will happen on the next page that you go to just like when you read a book. When you read a static myth you can’t picture the scenes and characters in your head like you can when you watch a myth online, you still can have the
computer read the myth to you, you are also forced to predict the same way
you have to in the other media types. When you connect to the real world I
think that it is easier to do it in a book that you have to read than in any
type of myth online.

I think that reading a book is different than using a computer by that when using a computer you are more motivated to actually read and pay attention. Also, when using the computer your reading skills are different because you can read longer or shorter versions of stories, you can understand the stoy better when you have animated picttures of scens so you know what’s going on, and sometimes you can have a recording read the story out loud to you while you read along so, you can understand the story the way it is supposed to sound. In a book you only have pictures that can be sometimes complicated. and you have to read it when you might not understand it. Predicting is different because on a computer you have to predict what a page is going to be about, where a different page will take you, and if the information on that page will be important to you.In a book you have to predict what will be on the next page of the book. When summarizing on a computer you can use animated pictures and different pages or sites to help you, where in a book you have to use the detailed descriptions to help you. when questionning a book you want to find your answer in the pages and detailed descriptions of the book to help you where on a computer you have many differentways to find an answer to your question. A computer may be easier for most kids.

Reading a book is different from reading a website without pictures/animation because on a website you can take notes on a document and look up words, phrases, or things that confused you, or you ask someone. Where as, when your reading a book, you tend to just try to figure things out on your own using the text, instead of looking them up or asking someone. On an animated website you tend to use the animations to figure things out instead of using the text, looking it up, or asking someone. Your reading comprehension skills are used different because when you predict in a book you usually tell someone else who has read the book, or keep it to your self. You also predict on what will happen next/to the main character. While predicting on a website you predict where links will take you, what will happen in the animation, and what will happen next/to the main character. When you summarize a book you either write it all or self, or copy off the back. When you write a summary of a webpage, you usually
copy and paste it into a word document.

From the responses it is evident that many comprehension strategies do change as texts move online and that students prefer to have the tools of the internet available to them as they read.

Finally to measure how students understood how comprehension strategies evolve as text changed they created their own multimedia poems using PPT. The students had to pick a myth or God/Goddess not taught in class and create a retelling. The PPT had to include the myth, a family tree, use action buttons, include a quiz, and also prompt students to use comprehension strategies. I wish I could share the products they came out great!

Writing your own Creation Myth

The next part of the unit had the students write a creation myth for a fictional world of their own design.

Returning to we explored the understanding that literature cannot be separated from its historical context. For example in the Inuit creation myth berries and animals are spread far apart to reduce over hunting. We also used the Inuit creation myth to explore gender roles. What are the implications when women are created to cure the boredom of man? Why is the woman the helper and companion of the man? These gender roles, along with other elements of culture, could then be contrasted to other creation myths.

The students identified common elements of creation myths from the list provided on Murtagh’s Common Elements of Creation Myths. They also contrasted creation myths. For example the Inuit myth was based on hunter/gatherer culture while the Incan myth had a clear connection of the divine right of rulers.

Next the students, using an adapted version of the graphic organizer provided by planned a fictional culture. They then wrote a creation myth that this culture would believe in. I assessed them on the fictional connections between their myth and their culture (also on the hero archetype, but more on that lesson later. The stories came out great.

Fiction and Agency
More importantly than their content learning, what I loved the most was the expression of student voices throughout the unit. For example, Lauren (pseudonym), an adopted student of Haitian descent, wove the mythology she read online with her own sense of identity to further explore culture and identity through writing literature.

After spending time reading multimedia versions of creation mythology, Lauren created a fictional nation where the people had a culture that revolved around the sea. She, then wrote a creation story of a people kicked out of their planet who had to travel to another galaxy on a ship. On the way the boat crashed and became a new planet, which the people inhabited. In her brief myth elements common to her culture and identity are evident. The ship may represent a common theme from mythology she read, a connection to Haitian culture, it may serve as a metaphor to the greater African Diaspora, or build upon her sense as an adopted child. She used the Internet and literature to explore her own identity and, as a reader, make connections to the stories she read online.

Lauren’s adventure began by reading an online multimedia myth about the Voudon creation myth, which developed in Haitian culture. After enjoying the tale she went to the Internet and found many people discussing links between Caribbean mythology and African mythology. She became very interested in looking for connections between the myths of Western Africa, the myth she just read, and her own beliefs. After exploring the Yoruba creation myth she noted the common elements of water that exist in both myths. She then spent time comparing the Vodoun and Yoruba cultures and commented that it was nice to learn about “where she came from.” As an adopted child who did not share the same culture of her parents she used online literature to explore her sense of identity, culture, and place in the world.

Other students also expressed themselves through the creation myth unit. One student, who fancied herself a comedian, wrote about a haphazardous culture that worshiped a porcupine god (her world was modeled after Vail, CO) and everyone was ordered to constantly shop. Many of the boys chose to write about empire cultures (although it was hard to convince them that in a short story choose a battle not the entire war). These worlds often focused on adolescent ideals of sports such as motorcross or ATV’s.


I know this is way too long for a blog post, but I wanted to share this lesson. When I tell teachers I was studying common elements of creation myths and hero archetypes with sixth graders they are amzed, but my students loved it. Below is a list of mythology resources online. I haven’t checked the links so many maybe dead. Good luck and have fun using the oldest stories with some of the newest literacy tools.

Common Elements of Creation Myths
A student created website that explores common characteristics in creation myths.

The Big Myth
A collection of creation myths from around the world retold using Flash movies.

Online Mythology and Folklore Collections Encyclopedia Mythica
An online encyclopedia of world mythology organized by continent.

Timeless Myths
A collection of Norse, Classical, Celtic, and Arthurian Mythology.

In Search of Myths and Heroes
Companion website for PBS television show. Contains many myths from around the world and an overview of the hero archetype.

African Mythology and Folklore
A dictionary of African God/Goddesses and a collection of African myths and folktales.

Cutting to the Essence
A description of the West African Yoruba people’s Gods, arts, and mythology

Chinese Myths and Fantasies
An overview and history of Chinese mythology.

Crystal Dragon of Taiwan
A collection of Chinese myths and fables.

Greek Mythology
An online dictionary of Greek Gods/Goddesses, myths, and heroes.

Greek Mythology Link
A comprehensive website with biographies, topics, stories, and Spanish versions of Greek Myths.

A collection of animated Greek Myths.

Winged Sandals
An Interactive flash sites with fully animated movies, games, and many extras.

Hawaiian Mythology
A website created by students at Ahuimanu Elementary School containing a collection of Hawaiian myths.

Indian Divinity
An animated flash adventure detailing Hindu creation mythology.

American Folklore
An anthology of American folklore.

Legends of America
Comprehensive collection of Native American myths, American folklore, and tall tales.

Mexico Connect
A collection of Mayan, Aztec, and Mexican myths and fables.
Mythology of the Inca and Maya
A collection of myths from Central and South America and lesson plans for the classroom.

Native American Mythology
A collection of myths from Native Americans and lesson plans for the classroom

Windows to the Universe
An overview of Aztec mythology with Spanish and English Versions and three reading levels,

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