John Dewey once said meaningful learning occurs when successive learning experiences “are integrated with one another. It [a learning experience] can be built up only as a world of related objects is constructed.”
That’s one of the tasks of the soon-to-be-released final installment of my Ancient Elements series, The Silver Coin – helping students build up this world of related objects by associating the historical fiction adventures they read about in the Ancient Elements series to life and geography in the ancient Mesopotamian areas of today.
The Silver Coin, set for release by the end of August or early September, includes maps and scenes of Sam’s father on a caravan trip from Babylonia to Tyre in search of a treasure and revenge. Dagon’s caravan travels through the ancient city of Halab, known today as Aleppo. The teacher’s guide provides information helping teachers relate current events in Aleppo to Dagon’s 1780’s BC experience of the city, giving students, as Dewey suggested, a meaningful learning opportunity where “successive experiences are integrated with one another.”
Here’s an example. Teachers using The Silver Coin in their curriculum this fall could bring in any number of current events regarding Syria, but one that occurred just this past week really struck a chord with me. This week CNN’s Kate Bolduan broke down on air as she reported the story of Omran Daqneesh, a five-year-old whose rescuers pulled him out alive after a bomb blew up his home. As Americans, and especially for middle school students who study ancient civilizations, it’s often difficult to relate to current events such as this. Reading the historical fiction adventures of thirteen-year-old Samsuluna and his father in ancient Mesopotamia provides students with a learning experience that current events information can then build upon, giving students a more meaningful learning experience. Here’s a sneak preview of a scene from The Silver Coin that relates to Aleppo.
Dagon rode a donkey behind his short-legged helper, Libluth, who walked alongside Dagon’s other pack animals. Following along in the caravan line, Dagon fitted a cloth over his mouth and nose to keep out the ever-present dust. After six long weeks of battling sun, thirst, winds, and sore feet, Dagon realized he hated life as a traveling merchant. He watched his helper with disdain as the snake of a man urged the donkeys forward. On the first night they met at the caravansary, his helper easily ferreted out Dagon’s impersonation of Shulgi and demanded one-third of Dagon’s profits as the price for his silence. Dagon considered doing away with the leech, but the man knew how to care for the donkeys, wield a spear, and throw a dagger. His skills would come in handy if they ran into bandits. No. For now, he needed the cockroach.
For the past week, however, they traveled through the Amorite kingdom of Yamhad, and when they reached the city of Tuba, their course turned westward, forcing them to leave the security of the Euphrates River. Enlil reminded everyone when they left Tuba that the two-day desert trail from Tuba to Yamhad’s capital, Halab, also known as Aleppo, would not provide any refreshing river or trees for shade, just blistering sun and hot winds.
Now, near the end of their first day crossing the desert, Dagon’s eyes threatened to close as weariness overtook him. He considered getting off his donkey and walking once again in order to stay alert, but his sore feet protested.
Just then Enlil rode his donkey down the caravan line. “We’ll stop soon to make camp for the night,” he announced. “There’s a well up ahead where we can quench our thirst, refill our flasks, and water our animals. After that, it’s only one more day’s ride to the city of Halab.”
News that they’d soon stop for the night cheered Dagon. He decided to stay atop his donkey until they stopped for the night. At last night’s camp he heard that the city of Halab, also known as Aleppo, served as the capital of the Amorite kingdom of Yamhad, currently ruled by King Yarim-Lim. Even though the merchants spoke highly of Yarim-Lim, the hair on Dagon’s neck had bristled with every donkey bray since they’d entered the kingdom of Yamhad. The caravan guards talked about the Yamhad king’s recent alliance with King Hammurabi of Babylonia in order to challenge the military expansion of Assyria. Today, Dagon often found himself looking over his shoulder as they plodded through the desert sands. The guards said the Assyrian king had recently gained the support of a few cities within or near Yamhad’s borders. What if those allies decided to attack the city of Halab while they spent the night there?