In the wake of another culturally-situated Hollywood blockbuster, Crazy Rich Asians, we are revisiting our Black Panther collection from our digital fabrication lessons on the www.scopesdf.org website. This special collection was developed to teach digital fabrication through the lens of culture and identity. So, with another mega film focused on the stories of the ‘other’, countless responses from everyday people and celebrities alike have harkened our attention to the meaning and value that these diverse stories bring.
One of my favorites was a tweet from Chrissy Teigen, Asian American model, actress, and writer who shared, “You never know how much you miss being represented...until you see what it’s like to be represented.” Her words ring true, not only in entertainment but also education. Culturally responsive pedagogy shows that children are empowered, feel valued and are ready to learn when content is relatable even if that connection is made by teaching lessons through pop culture, movies, and music.
In the Black Panther collection we tapped into this principle and developed a number of lessons that built upon the direct ties to STEM ( science, technology, engineering and math) – as well as the elements of African culture – to craft content relatable to over 7.5M school-age children in the United States that experience very little academic material related to their own history and culture.
As digital fabrication grows in its importance in the 3rd digital revolution and our emerging global economy, it’s essential that all children see it as a relatable field of study for their participation in future society. It’s also essential that exposure to digital fabrication and culturally-situated learning occurs in and out of school.
In partnership with Thinkbox, a digital fabrication makerspace at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), the Fab Foundation hosted a group of elementary and middle school students for a day in their makerspace to explore the themes of identity and lessons from Black Panther through digital fabrication. In a hands-on activity, 15 students from Cleveland area schools worked with CWRU staff and students, along with Fab Foundation staff to create a pendant inspired by King T’Chala’s necklace. During the creation of their pendant, students not only learned about design software, metal making, and 3D printing; they also explored the topic of identity. They discussed individual identity from physical characteristics, in relation to personal preferences to group and community identity. These identities are either embraced by or placed upon groups of people. They can be based on factors like race and culture. To learn more, see the lesson from our website here:
In addition to the Black Panther special collection, there are other culturally situated lessons on the scopes website under World Culture, including a lesson focused on Asian lanterns here: https://www.scopesdf.org/laser-cut-lantern
As we celebrate films that speak to the essential story of belonging and acknowledgment - like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther - we can take it a step further through inclusive practices. Identity does matter. This was magnified for me in a recent teacher professional development when we discussed inspiration, and one of the teachers shared that he was inspired by the movie Crazy Rich Asians and how important that was to him. To see a wide range of Asian people and customs and practices on the big screen. That was highlighted at the end of our day at Thinkbox in Cleveland too. In fact, one of the students shared that seeing Black Panther made him proud. He also knew he could work in STEM because he had seen it in a movie of people that looked like him, and he could do it as he did with us on that Saturday in May.
If SCOPES-DF is re-imagining education through equity, collaboration, and deeper learning, it's essential that we create teachable moments from the world around us and offer the opportunity for all people to be celebrated. Teaching our children how to celebrate themselves and others all while using technology as a tool of extension for ideas and progress.