• Monkey Man: Origins
    A Sophomore Biology Class Project

    Monkey Man: Origins is a project over a year in the making.  Hobson freshmen study science in many contexts and as Spring warms the ground, I maintain some student interest with a science fiction unit.  At the end of our lessons, students create a science fiction presentation.  They mostly make comics, short stories, recorded readings or posters.  But last year, one brave group of boys made their own movie, Monkey Man, the tale of a teen wandering around an abandoned school in a monkey costume while other teens walk around trying to find him.   It was mostly terrible, lacking in substance, audio quality, science content, questions about science ethics, plot, character… etc.  Of course, the kids loved it.
                As sophomores, we study biology, including a unit on gene technologies where students make some kind of creative, informative presentation about a specific genetic tool.  They work as individuals or partners to make research papers, slide shows, news broadcasts, YouTube explainers, board games, game shows and one Bob Ross style video explaining environmental engineering while a student wearing an afro wig painted a landscape.
    Naturally, the boys that made Monkey Man last year wanted to make a sequel as sophomore biology students.  Under the promise of it including more, actual science, and that they would write a script with a plot, I agreed and they began work. 
    But the next day, the class grimly filtered into the room and sat down.  While the entire class maintained sad puppy dog eyes, one boy raised a hand and asked, “Mr. Poser can we make our movie as a class project and all work on it together?”  Eyes lit up around the room.  Scenes from School of Rock started playing in my head.  “YES!” I said excitedly, “Yes, let’s make this a class project.”
    Fifteen minutes later, I was having severe indigestion from the undertaking I'd just agreed to.  If you are not in education, you might not know that this age group, sophomores, are the scum of the Earth.  They are the most difficult age group to teach.  Middle school and freshmen have a sense of wonder and curiosity.  Juniors and seniors are motivated by college, placement exams, and their future.  Sophomores don’t care.  They aren’t mature.  Most haven’t developed a strong sense of responsibility and most struggle with big projects.  And as far as sophomore classes go, this one, in particular, has individuals with a reputation of being… unruly. Pedagogical panic paralyzed me and I stumbled out of the room to ask the advice of my wiser colleagues. 
    Jumping to the end, most people who have seen the movie have said the same thing, “It’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”  And as terrifically mediocre as the final product was, the learning process, the educational outcomes, the skills educators want to instill into minds was absolutely outstanding.  This class conducted themselves in a manner beyond their years.  Classes started with team meetings.  They assigned roles and made plans.  Everyone in the class appears in the film and worked other jobs like recording audio, setting up lights, flying a drone and making promotional posters.  Everyone put in a fair, equitable amount of work, but watch the credits and you’ll see that some students served many roles and really went beyond what was expected.
    They were good sports, and good to each other.  They worked hard and cleaned up the areas they used for sets.  They followed school rules and listened to my instructions.  They learned how to run equipment and software.  They used some of their class funds to buy a gorilla costume and police vests.  They shot movie trailers on their own to add to the movie for the classic cinematic experience.  They stayed late after school.  They came one weekend to shoot for a full day uninterrupted. They had fun.
    I could complain that the science isn’t very accessible to a wide audience (and still a little bit fantastical) or that the acting was stilted.  But the central ethical question (“Should scientists be allowed to genetically modify humans?”) and science fiction premise (“What does a future where gm humans exist look like?”) are outstanding.  Everyone did a great job in the role they served.  I am very proud of this class.  So proud that I’ll probably never do a sophomore class project again.
    Thank you to everyone who helped and thank you to the Hobson Boosters for buying better recording equipment. Please enjoy Monkey Man: Origins and let those students know they did a terrific job.