As part of the GWC Summer Immersion Program (SIP), the students journal nearly every day. A question arose in my head, and I’m sure in many of the other instructors’ heads: How can we make the journaling more useful to the students both during and after the program? Clearly, meaningful prompts are part of this, but could there be a product at the end of the journaling that can serve the students in some way?
Because in my other, non-GWC life I hang out with the wrong sorts of people (English teachers), an idea crept into my head that can address both those purposes. There is an archetypal pattern in stories throughout the course of human history called the Hero’s Journey. English teachers talk about this stuff all the time. You’ve all seen, heard or read a Hero’s Journey, it’s in just about every Disney movie and popular book: Hercules, Mulan, Lion King, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you name it.
It occurred to me that the students experiences in the SIP fit the Hero’s Journey pattern quite well, and through journalling it, they can be lead to recognize their heroic inner selves.
Below I’ve outlined a simplified Hero’s Journey, including how it corresponds to the parts of the SIP and a suggested prompt. The idea is that after journaling, the students can go back and read the selected prompts and see their own Hero’s Journey, and perhaps use it as a basis for school work or college essays.
Different sources break the journey down into varying numbers of steps, some as many as seventeen, others as few as eight. I’ve chosen to use eight since it fits nicely into about one prompt a week over the seven weeks of the SIP. I’ll pretty closely follow the stages found here.
1. The Call to Adventure
At some point before they started the program, the students got “The Call”, the opportunity to face the unknown (the SIP), and possibly come back with something of value (coding skills and more).
Prompts, all on the same day in Week 1:
How did you first hear about the Summer Immersion Program? What was it that attracted you to apply? What do you hope to gain from being in the program?
Note: we used this prompt in place of the similar one from the first week: “GWC is super fun, but also pretty intense and time consuming. Why did you decide to dedicate your summer to this program as opposed to another activity?”
2. The Threshold: Jumping into the Unknown
On Week 1, Day 1, students will jump into the unknown. They will cross the threshold between what they know, their life at home and school, and what they don’t know, a seven week commitment to work with a bunch of strangers on tasks they know nothing about. They have no idea whether they will be successful or not. At this stage, helpers often appear, sometimes with gifts that might be useful later in the journey. The most important helpers are mentors who guide the hero and help keep them safe.
Prompt – given during Week 2, asks students to reflect back on their first day:
Think back the very beginning of the Summer Immersion Program and try to remember some of the items that were waiting for you when you arrived. How might these items help you during the summer? Who are the people you have met since then who might help you, and how might they assist you?
3. The Challenges
Week 3 is full of challenges. Early challenges in the program are relatively easy, helping students build confidence and skill. At this point, even students who entered with some programming experience will face obstacles they realize they may not be successful overcoming. Some of these challenges will strike right at their greatest weaknesses as programmers.
Prompt – given during Week 3:
Think about some of the challenges you’ve faced in the Summer Immersion Program so far. Describe one or two of them and how you overcame them. What strengths did you bring to solving the problems?
4. Into the Abyss
The challenges and obstacles continue to mount. In this prompt, we address the greatest challenge and hint that maybe what made it a challenge is a skill or trait they can work on improving.
Prompt – given during Week 4:
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far in the program (it doesn’t have to be programming challenge)? What skill or trait could you develop to make that challenge easier for you?
In this stage, the hero becomes transformed or reborn (sometimes literally) into a new being. At this point, the students too will have started to change. In this prompt, we ask them to reflect on the changes they’ve experienced.
Prompt – given during Week 5:
What is the biggest change you’ve experienced so far in the Summer Immersion Program? Make a list of things you can do now and things that you know now that you didn’t before that change.
Now we are getting late in the program. Most of the students will have changed the way they think at this point.
Prompt – given during the first half of Week 6:
What event or activity so far in the Summer Immersion Program has had the greatest impact on the way you think? What new knowledge did you gain in that event? What assumptions did you make before it that were challenged?
In this stage, the hero atones for a past wrong. In the SIP, the students have created their final project proposals for using technology to solve a problem. The prompt asks the student to reflect on how they are using their new, improved selves to correct wrongs they see in the world around them.
Prompt – given during the second half of Week 6:
Your final project is designed to use technology to solve a problem. Describe at least three ways you can use your new skills and knowledge from the Summer Immersion Program to help other people.
Now the students are ready to return to their old lives, but as renewed people with new skills and knowledge.
Prompt – given during Week 7:
What do you plan to do after the program ends to use your new skills and knowledge to improve the world around you?
How we are using these
We made a journalling template with all the prompts for the entire summer. We marked each of the Hero’s Journey prompts with an asterisk. Sometime after the response to the last prompt is written, we will explain the concept of The Hero’s Journey to the students, showing them a short video (example) that illustrates examples of the Hero’s Journey, and then inform them that they have completed their own Hero’s Journey documented through particular journal entries.
Special thanks to Trish Seeley for teaching me about the Hero’s Journey.
And if you must know, yes, I am listening to the Disney music channel on Pandora. (I‘ll make a Man Out of You – Mulan)