Primary Sources Across the Curriculum: Connecting the Spider Webs

Have you ever thought about taking one topic or theme and finding the connections in various subjects? As I was dreaming up ideas for a Halloween-themed post, I found several great items about spiders that would fit into many different classes and activities. Consider having a spider-themed day at your school and see how you can work spiders into your classroom activities.

Here are a few suggestions:

Sleeping Beauty, 1905

To kick off the day, students can read Jennifer Harbster’s Arachnophilia: Celebrating Spiders on Halloween from the Library’s Inside Adams blog. She shows how spiders are seen in history, in science, in music and in culture. Her post is a great way to get students engaged.

Students in history, civics, or economics classes can explore the political cartoons found in Puck Magazine. A search of photos, prints and drawings on the Library of Congress website using the search string “spiders Puck” leads to several cartoons that focus on events and people from the Gilded Age. Students can explore how spiders are used in the cartoons and what they represent. They might focus on how the spider was used to show changing opinions about financial markets, government and business leaders and other events of the time.

In English class, students can choose one of the cartoons and write an editorial piece or article about the event described in the cartoon. They could also write a short story or play based on the cartoon where they expound on either what each character in the piece is thinking or what each character is saying to the others.

In music classes students can either listen to performances of or learn to play pieces such as “The Spider and the Fly” or the “Spider’s Dance.” They can think about which musical instrument could be used to represent the spider or the fly and which sections of the music represent each creature and why. Students can study the lyrics of the song or the music and consider what story the music is trying to tell and the moral of the story. Students can also compose their own spider-themed piece, and they might work with dance students to choreograph a performance featuring the spider themed composition.

Arachnida – Spinnentiere. Ernst Haeckel, artist and Adolf Giltsch, lithographer, 1904.

Science teachers can explore the spider drawings of Ernst Haeckel. The detailed drawings can lead to a discussion on the anatomy of spiders or encourage students to study the similarities and difference between the spiders shown in the drawing. To supplement the drawings, students can read articles from the historical newspapers found in Chronicling America on spiders. Students can see how spider webs were used for clothing or researchers determined that spiders are not dangerous.  Students can compare current articles on spiders to the historical articles and consider how the writers of the past felt about spiders in comparison to current day writers. In addition, they can discuss why they think spiders don’t get caught in their webs and then read the answer from Everyday Mysteries.

How could you and your colleagues collaborate on a day where all the lessons feature spiders? Let us know in the comments.

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