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Shakespeare, Libya, and Arcade Fire: Using Prezi and a Music Video to Relate to Julius Caesar

Written by None None
April 08, 2011

My sophomore English classes just finished Julius Caesar, which at first, they were reluctant to read. I hyped it up quite a bit by making comparisons between Caesar and gang shows like The Wire (“See, Antony took them all out, just like Stringer Bell. Pop! Pop!”), but it was difficult to maintain their enthusiasm. However, everything really came together when we finished the play.
As we studied the play, we began to notice similarities between Julius Caesar and events unfolding in the Middle East. That’s when I came across this amazing resource (I <3 NYT Learning Network):
Using the NYT web links to timelines and videos (our school tech guy was cool about unblocking YouTube for the duration of our project), students created Prezis to identify significant events that led to the conflict in Libya, while addressing larger questions such as US involvement and what implications this conflict has for the US and the Middle East.
I’ve wanted to use Prezi with my students  in the past, but I hesitated because I was concerned about having them register (it requires an e-mail address, or so I thought!, which our school does not provide). But I was pretty psyched to discover that Prezi doesn’t verify the address, so we were able to sneak in by creating fake ones. Before we began using the software, we viewed three tutorial videos and completed a walk-through on Prezi’s features.
To go along with our “power struggle” theme, we read Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power” and identified elements of the laws at work in Caesar and Gaddafi’s roles as leaders . Thanks to Toronto’s web-based Anarchist University, AnarchistU, and their course offering “Practical Group Dynamics,” for the Greene recommendation.
I was amazed at the collaborative approach my students took in assembling colorful, media-rich presentations. Although I initially had reservations about “turning them loose” in the computer lab, the autonomous structure of this assignment enabled them to work together, assigning roles, to probe deeply into the issues surrounding the conflict. As a result, we were able to have an insightful conversation about a complicated political issue, in which students assumed roles as experts on the research they conducted, contributing their piece of the Libya puzzle.
But the coolest moment came today, when we watched Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”:

This music video is very powerful. Aside from shamelessly promoting one of my favorite bands (which I have tickets to see at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis next week) I wanted to show the video because it imagines America as a dystopian state, with the government interrogating families, pulling people from their homes in the middle of the night, bombs and plumes of smoke spiraling into the clouds, amidst teenagers rolling their unmanned bicycles into traffic and going to parties. I wanted my students to make a connection to Libya by thinking about how their lives would be affected if there were a political uprising in our own country.
When we first began our study of the Middle East, some students had a difficult time relating to the people affected by the conflict in Libya. The prevailing opinion was “Let them deal with their own problems. We have enough to worry about.” Some students were very outspoken, particularly those who had a brother or sister overseas. I hoped that the Arcade Fire video would help my students relate with the experiences of Libyans embroiled in this conflict.
After watching the music video, we responded to a writing prompt that asked us to consider two things:
1. Could what happened in Libya happen in the US?
2. What would life in our community be like if it did? (this was a fictional writing response)
We talked about whether or not our government would restrict Internet access, like the Egyptian government. Here is my response to the second question, which I shared:
On the way to work, I stop at a military checkpoint near D-Camp (local restaurant). They let me pass through, but I see other cars on the side of the road being searched. Each day, empty desks serve as grim reminders of students who are gone because their families have been suspected of plotting against the government. At night, in Edwardsville, I hear bombs in the distance, and I’m afraid. I don’t speak much, because I don’t know who might be listening, and I don’t know who I can trust. I communicate secretly with other rebels via contraband communication devices.
Most students shared that they see how a domestic conflict could occur. They pointed to high unemployment as a cause of frustration. Some were grandiose (“Mr. Sellers, I’d walk around with my guns a’blazin’!”) while others imagined scenarios where they were afraid (“As I walked down the street, I could feel the eyes of soldiers watching my every move. I am nervous”). Another student argued that America is too strong to succumb to internal conflicts. She argued that we have a process to remove corrupt leadership through impeachment.
In the end, our research yielded more questions than answers, which is a good thing. As a teacher, I wonder about other applications for Prezi. I was surprised by my students’ eyes for good design, so I am excited to use it again soon. A few of my students have approached me with updates on the conflict in Libya, and one pointed out that it was ironic that we were reading Julius Caesar while it was occurring, which means that he was able to make a connection. Exciting.