Monday, March 12, 2012

Heroes, DaVinci, Fibonacci and Nautilus Shells

DaVinci is credited for telling his students, "Study the science of art, the art of science and remember everything is connected."

The stories we read and the movies we watch, if well done, serve as metaphors for the journeys we make through life.  In the stories that connect to us the most, we become the hero, their journey becoming ours.  

It is an essential understanding that I use to structure my sixth grade ELA class.  Each of us is the hero in our own journey through life and during our journey we will transform as we move from a state of dependency to one of independence; immaturity to maturity; selfishness to sacrifice; carelessness to responsibility.

These observations are known as the Hero's Journey, first made culturally popular by George Lucas in applying the work of Joseph Campbell to the Star Wars movies.  In the years since Luke flew into the Death Star's trench, transforming from an immature "child" to a mature Jedi, the model has been used to analyze and develop the best selling movies and novels of all time. 

It is a model of storytelling that connects to our earliest ancestors, connects to the journey of life, the journey of us.  When we watch Neo, Frodo, Luke or Po, we follow the journey's of others through life, as they transform from child to adult.

It is this journey that I want my students to be aware of as they begin their transformation from elementary school children to middle school adolescents.  

My textbook and curriculum guides would like me to use the Freytag Model of Dramatic Structure.      The model was originally designed to analyze Greek and Shakespearean Drama in 1863.  

My disconnection with the model is it presents stories as linear events, isolated and disconnected from the journey that we make in life.  

Here is what we know, in our lives, as each journey ends, a new one begins, a new circle expanding from the previous. Each journey building on the one before.  As the circles expand outward, they create a mathematical balance, a spiral, much like the nautilus shell.  A pattern that can be described as a fibonacci sequence.  The connection and the balance of the model is one that seems to connect to all aspects of life.  

Lost in the Freytag Model is the biological and mathematical beauty of the journeys of our lives. And when those journeys are captured as stories in the framework observed by Joseph Campbell they ring true, they ring eternal, they connect to us at the very core of our being.

It is important for students to understand that there is a structure to creativity and to there lives.  The stories we read are the blueprints for the journeys we make in life. The hero shows us how to proceed, showing us where the pitfalls lie and how to find help.  Students begin to experience that within the randomness of living is the structure of life.  They see that there is a science to art, an art to science and everything is connected.


  1. I have recently stumbled upon the same findings that your write about here. Over the Holidays I searched Fibonacci and Storytelling and found this excellent post. You summed up what I wast thinking. How has this process worked in your teaching and with your students? I'm using a very similar process for a new Executive Masters for Sustainability Leadership at Arizona State University, and I'd love to hear about your experience with it.

    1. Thank you for the question. I teach sixth graders so they are at a developmental age where they are awakening to these concepts and ideas. The feedback I receive has come from students two to three years after being in my class as they gain more life experience and are consciously looking at the interconnections of art and science. And what I hear is their frustration that the classes they take later in their educational careers seem to ignore the search for connections. Unfortunately many high school programs remain isolated silos of knowledge and for the students I taught, a very frustrating experience. I hope to hear more about your thought on the topic.