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Modernizing Shakespeare

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Shakespeare — the famous literary figure and the dreaded high school and college lesson assignment. For years many students have universally viewed Shakespeare's plays with trepidation and gloom. No matter what your native tongue, it can be quite tedious to delve in to the language and customs of Shakespeare's world. But, as teachers well know, learning Shakespeare is an invaluable practice that serves to form a literary foundation for a lifetime. However, the challenge of engaging students still remains.

How can a modern teacher engage their iPhone-wielding, YouTube-watching, and Snapchatting extraordinaires (who will be simply referring to as "students" from now on) with plays that were written around 400 years ago? This is a worldwide problem and one in which our 9th grade English teachers at Shanghai American School wanted to solve.

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Our teachers joined forces with some experts in the field, The Prague Shakespeare Company, for their first annual "ShakeMeUp: International Online Student Shakespeare Film Festival". Our students will not only have to understand and analyze the ancient Shakespearean play Julius Caesar, they also have to showcase their modern technological skills and ability to create a project that is unique, entertaining, and fits in to the prescribed educational rubric.

Our freshmen have been divided into small groups to prepare their project entry. The groups are allowed to either do a reenactment from a key scene in the play, created a modern version of a key scene, film a documentary that explains why Julius Caesar is still a relevant piece of literature, set up and film a political debate between two key characters, or rewrite and film a key scene and place in the context of a modern political or cultural context. All projects will be submitted online.

An interesting twist to this project is that the first round of judging does not go to the panel of experts in Prague, or even an English teacher. Rather, a peer group from another school will be the initial judges. The school that has been paired with Shanghai American School in this project is Central Middle School in Minnesota. Early next week, each class will take time to watch and judge peer submissions from Central Middle School.

Shakemeup - american school in shanghai

The top three entries from each school will then be chosen and sent on to be judged in two additional rounds by professionals, such as seasoned Shakespearean actors, university professors, literary specialists, and filmmakers. The final winners not only get worldwide bragging rights, but prizes as well. (Don't worry mom and dad — they also have to write an essay over the play for the final exam in class.)

We are eagerly waiting to see the final entries our students submit to this educational contest. Be on the lookout for the Round 1 winning entries as we will share them on social media as soon as we can. Let the backstabbing begin...

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