What is The Shield of Achilles?
In The Iliad, the Achean (Greek) warrior Achilles refuses to fight the Trojan forces when his commanding officer, Agamemnon, pulls rank and dishonors him. As the narrative progresses, his companion Patroclus decides to don Achilles' armor and fights in his stead, dying at the hands of the Trojan prince Hector. In order to help her son avenge his friend's death, Thetis (mother of Achilles and a Sea Nymph) asks the god Hephaestus to forge Achilles new armor. As part of that armor, the god of the forge crafts an elegant shield wrought with images of a peaceful and pastoral life. Achilles is a doomed man -- he knows that his fate is to die at Troy, to never experience a civilian life. With this shield Hephasestus seeks to protect the doomed warrior with the power of life itself, but for Achilles this shield stands as a testimate for all he stands to lose. And yet, he stays at Troy, essentially fighting for a life he can never claim as his own.
Note: I did design this Prezi but unfortunately cannot claim the art as my own. This is the work of Kathleen Vail.
More information about The Iliad and the Shield of Achilles can also be found in The War That Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander. It's a fantastic literary analysis of the core themes of the narrative and one of the main resources I've used in revising the project for the past two years.
The Shield of Achilles Project Overview:
The following Prezi is one of several I used to explain the background of the project while at the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum. If you have been directed here from my Edutopia article, this might help clarify some of the questions you might have. Otherwise, you can find said article here.
The following videos were used as part of my submission to the Microsoft Innovative Education Forum for 2011. The first is a model I scrapped together at my students' request to show them how I wanted them to use pictures and thematically appropriate music to tell their story without words (thereby transcending language barriers). The second two videos are student examples, both created by former ELL students whose mastery of English was still in development.
These videos have been posted to YouTube, albeit on a private channel. Depending on your district's internet policies they may not be visible.
The Shield of Achilles, 2011-2012:
Here are a few sample videos from this year's students. For the most part the focus of this group's "shields" ended up being Family -- which considering the rural and insular nature of our community isn't too surprising. Though not every student completed the project, I was extremely happy with the overall quality of their work and the learning they demonstrated through the project.
The following videos have had their sound deleted to adhere to copyright requirements.
As The Shield of Achilles Project progressed this year, we had the opportunity to join forces with our district's Contemporary World Problems course and write a book detailing the journey and experiences of modern soldiers. This project melded well with our investigation of Iron Age Greek soldiers and their cultural values. The end result was this book:
Copies of the book are being sent to Gold Star Families as late Christmas presents. These are families who have lost loved ones in active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. While this wasn’t originally the direction I intended to take with this project, it’s been an enjoyable surprise and something I’m glad we accomplished.
For the time being the Shield of Achilles Project has ended for the 2011-2012 school year. As we wrap up for the Christmas holiday student videos are still trickling in, but for the most part our exploration of classical Greek literature and it's impact on the modern world has ended for the year. It's been an enjoyable unit, but not one without issues. The reading of The Iliad was more challenging than I had originally expected and we moved through the text far slower than planned. We ended up not reading The Odyssey or Oedipus Rex as originally planned. The videos were a smashing success but some of my more traditional assessments (papers, tests) did not go as well. The "Warrior Stories" offshoot project was a great segway into understanding contemporary issues, but only 50% of the students managed to finish their biographies by the publication deadline.
For next year my goal is to simplify the project somewhat. I originally planned to do far too much this year and it's just not reasonable. For 2012-2013 I plan to focus on the core texts of The Iliad and conduct the writing pieces through smaller chunks using consistent feedback to get students where they need to be. Most likely we'll do a second edition of "Warrior Stories" and we'll of course do videos, but I need to change how I meld some of my traditional assessments with my other assignments. I'm looking forward to making the changes I need to and I'm confident next year will be a tad smoother.