Aequora – The Unlevel Sea Sharing Latin with Elementary Students

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Aequora is one of the many Latin words for “sea,” here with the connotation that the sea is calm and level (it comes from the same word, aequus, that we get our English word “equal” from). For my BLI Capstone Project, I decided to start an Aequora program at an elementary school in Michigan — and my experience was anything but calm and level! It was a wild wave of excitement, setbacks, enthusiasm, drama, emotion, and lots and lots of Latin — but I learned and grew so much more than I would have from an easier voyage, and for that I am grateful.

For a little bit about myself, I am finishing up my Junior year at the University of Michigan, where I am majoring in Latin Language & Literature and seeking a Secondary Teaching Certification from the School of Education — basically, I am a nerd about all things Latin, and I want to be a high school teacher when I grow up.

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In the dark winter months of 2016 I was told to check out The Paideia Institute’s website for a summer program that a friend thought would interest me. I saw something else on that site though — an outreach program called Aequora that sought to bring afterschool programs that taught Latin to elementary school students in somewhat disadvantaged school districts. The name was chosen because the first Aequora operated out of an afterschool program called Still Waters in a Storm (get it!? Because Aequora means “still waters”), which is still running to this day. They were looking for volunteers, specifically for more people to start sites across the country.

Around the same time a professor introduced me to the Barger Leadership Institute and their Capstone project, and I decided to put two and two together. For my capstone project I decided to bring Aequora to Michigan. I started a club through Eastern Michigan University’s Bright Futures program where I taught a group of second through sixth grade Ypsilanti students Latin. And thus, the storm began which agitated the sea.

O Socii

The first phase of implementation involved communicating with stakeholders — the Aequora Michigan team was lucky enough to be supported by three incredibly helpful programs: The Barger Leadership Institute, who pushed us to work hard and get our dream off the ground, The Paideia Institute, who every step of the way provided help, tips, and resources for a successful Latin program, and Eastern Michigan University’s Bright Futures, an afterschool program set up in schools around Metro Detroit, who provided a wonderful and quirky home for us to grow as well as even more tips, support, and resources. We also rounded up a dedicated team of volunteers from the Classics Department at the University of Michigan, and I could not have done this program without their enthusiasm week after week.

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Once we had all our stakeholders in place and organized our resources, including our textbook and lesson plans, it was time to begin the lessons! This is where we took off, and where Aequora’s definition felt the most ironic; we had a bit of a rocky start to our program. Second to sixth grade is a big gap, especially since we had a textbook geared for fourth graders, and we often struggled to come up with activities that could appeal to all of our students. We also did not have the same group of students every week, since it was an afterschool program and parents picked their kids up at different times, which meant that we had no idea how much Latin was going to stick with them. Finally, we were all new and inexperienced afterschool class leaders, and discipline issues arose and were sometimes difficult to control. After one particularly harrowing game of Latin Simon Says, we knew that we were going to have to approach our classroom differently. It was our turning point.

If BLI taught me anything, it’s that I have to be proactive. So we adjusted our sails. We started dividing the kids up into groups based on age (and sometimes gender) — this assisted with the issues in range of activity, since we could do different exercises with different age groups, as well as with the discipline problems, since it was much easier to reason with groups of three or four rather than the whole group of ten to twenty. The attendance problem was something out of our control, but we still decided to work with it rather than write it off — and for the rest of the semester we focused less on grammar and vocabulary (no more games about imperatives) and more on the culture that surrounds the Latin language. We played a game where we walked around the room and identified significant landmarks from Rome (the Colosseum, the Forum); we read stories about the founding of Rome; we did a puppet show based on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Once I realized that that was what was going to get the kids excited, I ran with it.

So, I don’t know if I taught any of these kids Latin. A few of them might remember Salve as “hello.” One or two might remember shouting “I’m a puer!” when they learned the word for “boy.” But my hope is that all of them will remember the stories they learned and that they will remember the Classics fondly in their future!

Gratias tibi ago

It feels like I am giving an Oscar speech now, but I really do have a lot of people to thank. I am incredibly grateful to Evan David, Liz Butterworth, Julia Spears, Vaughn Williams, Patricia Chen, Tiffany Purnell, Nancy Christensen, Lynn Kleimann Malinoff, Sandy Krupa, Stephen Haff, Danny Misra, Neena Pio, Malia Piper, Ed Nolan, and all of the wonderful students whom I was privileged to work with this semester. You all truly are responsible for getting this program up off of the ground, and I cannot thank you enough. I would also like to thank everyone who has supported me and believed in me as I went on this voyage across the unlevel sea.

JUXT

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capstoneblog1It has been quite an honor to participate in the BLI’s inaugural Senior Capstone Project. Suffice to say, the Capstone has been equal parts more than we could imagine and also what you would expect. It’s been a long and at times arduous process, but also the most meaningful thing either of us has done. Throughout the project, our inspiration has remained consistent: we wanted to create something about video games, a longtime passion of ours, and the people who play them. Yet there is indeed a duality of our inspiration: while we wanted to make a game about video game communities, we were more so motivated to critique this culture in terms of its social issues, particularly gender. The project, which would eventually take the name JUXT, has been a highly creative endeavor, and it forced both of us to evaluate our skills and also our limitations.

The initial phase of our project was research. We studied online video gaming communities to better understand how gamers talk about gender. This was a step out of our comfort zone; we had no previous experience with analyzing raw data. Fortunately, we built a sustainable research plan and recruited a research partner to help along the way. After research, we began the game development phase. We started by building a team, as we alone did not possess the expertise needed to make a fully functioning game – even a small one. After a lengthy hiring process, we found a programmer and an audio producer to help realize our vision. We divided the roles of writer and artist between ourselves and designed the game together. Throughout the fall and winter semesters we worked to complete the game, and as of the end of this winter semester, we have a finished game.

The best advice we can give to our peers in the BLI and future members is to expect challenges. Any creative project has ups and downs: writer’s block, miscommunication, and juggling the Capstone with other priorities are a sample of pitfalls we had to maneuver. However, as in all projects, it is valuable to be wary of challenges rather than to fear them, and always be ready to find a solution. Working as creators rather than consumers was a difficult adjustment, for example. We were often tasked with re-evaluating our project’s scope, timeline, and organization.

We also found it crucial that projects like these understand that starting small does not capstoneblog2inhibit creative growth. Even for a confident team, starting small almost always yields positive results. In hindsight, we may have looked too much at the big picture while ignoring our considerable “small wins.” At each meeting, we would address many facets that need to be completed, while ignoring the value of what we had already accomplished. This could be due to our inexperience in game design, always wanting to improve upon what was laid out. We now have an appreciation for every step, no matter how minute, in any project setting.

Finally, we think our project has shown the value of working to learn, as our team was able to craft an experience, unlike anything we had ever done before. Much of the creative process was spent on first tries, and while that may be another kind of challenge, it offered a freedom from “absolute” statements (i.e., “This should be this way,” “Our game needs to have this,” etc.) In the conceptual stage, such statements heavily informed our thinking. It wasn’t until we got into our specialized zones that we could actually see how the pieces would come together. It forced us to communicate clearly, revisit our work, and critically examine each part to make sure we were reaching our goals. While our work may have changed a lot from initial concept to final product, our vision was never compromised by lack of experience. Not only are we proud to have worked on the BLI Senior Capstone, but it has invigorated our passion for meaningful creative projects and imparted invaluable perspective on what it takes to complete long-term projects.

Zachary and Jonah Beck