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Dia de Muertos & Halloween Displays: A Meow Wolf-ish STREAM Lesson

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I have the privilege of teaching gifted education in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Two unique characteristics of living and working here is (1) there is a strong Mexican population who have retained their beautiful culture – language, culture, food, and holiday, and (2) it is the birthplace of Meow Wolf, unique and immersive art installations with multimedia elements and a mysterious narrative throughout; whose mission is to inspire creativity in people’s lives through art, exploration, and play so that imagination will transform our worlds.

Because of these unique elements in my community, each year I ask the students to create Dia de los Muertos and/or Halloween story-driven and technology-enhanced displays which are put in the front foyers of my schools for the students and visitors to enjoy. They are project-based, high engagement (as students can draw on their individual strengths within their teams), and focus on student voice and choice. In other words, these projects become strong STREAM (Science, Technology, wRiting, Engineering, Art, Math)-based lessons which translates into being interdisciplinary. I believe all lessons should be interdisciplinary as I discuss in https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2019/01/13/all-lessons-should-be-interdisciplinary:

Standards Addressed

Due to the project’s cross disciplinary nature, standards were addressed from several disciplines:

Common Core State Standards – ELA

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.6 – With some guidance and support from adults, use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.5.10 – Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Science Standard

  • NGSS: 4-PS3-2. Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

GSS Engineering Standards

  • 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and
  • constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

ISTE Standards for Students

  • Know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • Develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  • Exhibit a tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance and the capacity to work with open-ended problems.
  • Create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

National Core Arts Standards

  • Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
  • Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

National Standards in Gifted and Talented Education

  • 1.1. Self-Understanding. Students with gifts and talents recognize their interests, strengths, and needs in cognitive, creative, social, emotional, and psychological areas.
  • 1.5. Cognitive, Psychosocial, and Affective Growth. Students with gifts and talents demonstrate cognitive growth and psychosocial skills that support their talent development as a result of meaningful and challenging learning activities that address their unique characteristics and needs.

The Lesson

One of the schools where I teach (I teach at two schools) has a large Mexican (self-identifying term) population and as such, each grade has a bilingual class. My students from this school were asked to create stories and displays based on Dia de los Muertos.

The events were as follows:

  • Write a Thematic Story
  • Review Possible Projects for Story
  • Create Artifacts and Display

Write a Story About Dia de los Muertos or Halloween

With the older students, grades 4 through 6, I reviewed the story arc and explained that they needed to include all of those elements within their stories. With the younger kids, grades 2 and 3, I talked about characters, setting, and plot and reinforced including these elements in their stories. There were 2 to 4 students per group, so they collaborated on their stories using Google Docs. What follows is one of the stories written in English and then translated into Spanish:

English Version


Spanish Version


Links to Other Stories

Story as a Storyboard That Comic

One student requested and created his group’s story as a comic as his other two groups members wrote their story out on Google Docs. Here are a few of his cells.

The rest can be view at https://www.storyboardthat.com/portal/storyboards/cdamm/classroom-public/unknown-story3

Review Possible Projects for Story Display

For possible artifacts to create their story-driven displays and as a way to honor voice and choice, students could select from the following projects:

If interested in a specific project, I would either provide the interested student and/or group with a link to a tutorial or give a mini-lesson on it.

Create Artifacts and Display

Individual groups selected a combination of the following artifacts:

  • micro:bit Characters
  • Neopixels – micro:bit driven
  • Servos – micro:bit driven
  • Sugar Skulls
  • Paper Circuits Skulls and Pumpkins
  • Laser Cut Objects Out of Wood
  • Cardboard Construction Kits
  • Jack-O-Lanterns Lit by Circuit Playgrounds 
  • Hummingbird Bits for Servos and Lights

Here is a slideshow of the students’ creation efforts:

Personal Reflection

The joy both my students experience throughout the lesson is palatable. I love listening to their excitement as they develop their stories. I love watching their smiles as they create their elements for their stories. I love seeing their bodies shake with excitement when their displays are complete, and I love witnessing their pride when the other students excitedly approach and comment on their displays.

Because I have students in my gifted program throughout their elementary years, I love seeing their excitement when we begin this project each year. I always try to introduce some new possibilities for their display elements each year. For example, this year I introduced and taught Hummingbird Bits which I learned about during a PD workshop this past summer. In addition, since I blog about this project each year as a means to document both students’ and my learning, I can see my own progress. Here is the blog post from the first two years I did it – Halloween Wars: An Interdisciplinary Lesson with a STEM, STEAM, Maker Education Focus. During the first year, I provided students with cookies, ping pong balls, LED lights, gummy worms, candy skeletons – no physical computing. So, for me, it is great to see my own growth, too.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 31, 2022 at 12:40 am

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