The greatest adventures often begin with one small step of faith.
Part Two in a Three Part Retrospective Celebrating the
30th Anniversary of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
In 1992, the world discovered the story of young Indiana Jones, and educators discovered an incredible resource for teaching about many of the major events that helped shape the 20th Century through following the exploits of the young adventurer as seen in the critically acclaimed ABC television series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. As discussed in the first installment of this series, I was one of those teachers who, from the start, recognized this incredible series for what its creator, George Lucas, had intended it to be: an engaging way to teach history to learners of all ages.
“I wanted young people to realize that history is really about people more than it’s about events,” said Lucas. “I wanted to show that those people are just like we are, regardless of their impact on philosophy, music, religion and culture. And Indy’s childhood was a natural vehicle for the kinds of stories I had envisioned.”
Having taught with the series from the time it originally aired, I became well-versed in the content and created a fully developed collection of lesson plans that I successfully used with my students for years. However, in 2007, I left the classroom and accepted a position with our district office as the Social Studies Coordinator for Greenville County Schools. It was fortuitous timing for one who was eager to introduce others to the value of teaching with Young Indy because that was the year that Lucasfilm released the entire series of feature-length films (along with more than 90 documentaries to support them) in a massive three volume DVD set.
Knowing that I wanted to introduce teachers and students to this terrific resource, I developed a district-wide initiative that would allow our middle and high school students to explore the past with Young Indy as their guide while also creating an interactive museum-style exhibit based on the real historical events experienced by our favorite fictional archaeologist. Once I’d worked out the details, I wrote to Lucasfilm’s head of licensing, Howard Roffman, and informed him of my plans for rolling out the Young Indy DVD series in schools across our district, not knowing if anyone in the organization would approve, disapprove or even really care. Somewhere deep inside, there was a small flicker of hope.
I've heard it said that, the greatest adventures often begin with one small step of faith. That's what I was taking now.
A few weeks later, I was lying in bed doing a few emails on my laptop before turning in for the night when I checked one last message that had a voicemail attached. I clicked on it, and then, within a few seconds of listening to it, literally fell out of the bed in disbelief. The voicemail was from Tom Warner, former producer and director of marketing for Lucasfilm. He mentioned that Howard Roffman had passed along my letter and lesson plans and that, after reviewing them, they’d like to have a chat to “kick the tires” on some education ideas related to the Young Indy DVD release. To say that I was excited would be a gross understatement. I couldn’t believe that I was actually invited to a conversation with the team at Lucasfilm to discuss my ideas about a teaching with a character that I’d loved since I was a kid.
From there, things began to accelerate quickly. I knew that, whatever may come of my conversation with Lucasfilm, I wanted to have a platform for sharing a repository of lesson plans for the Young Indy films. So, I reached out to a good friend and fellow history teacher, Wes Dodgens, to explore what that might look like. Wes not only shared my affinity for teaching with both Indiana Jones and Star Wars, but was also a talented web designer as well. After several conversations, we decided to create a website that would provide lessons and resources for teaching with Indy. And with that, Adventures in Learning with Indiana Jones was born.
While Wes and I built out the website, I began having conversations with our new friends in the communications and marketing departments at Lucasfilm about ways to develop an educational component to the Young Indy DVD release. During those talks, I was thrilled to learn that George Lucas and Rick McCallum (who not only produced The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles but the Star Wars prequel trilogy as well) had personally reviewed the lessons that I’d sent. It was quite the honor to hear that at the time, and still is to this day.
Over the course of the Summer of 2007, as my conversations with Lucasfilm continued, I began to flesh out the Indiana Jones-themed educational initiative that I was planning for our district during the upcoming school year. I named it, Walking through Time with Indiana Jones.
The plan looked like this:
Phase One: Throughout the school year, I would offer workshops to middle and high school social studies teachers that would demonstrate effective ways to incorporate the Young Indy films in documentaries into their standards-based lessons. I would lead several of these workshops at education events across the state, including the South Carolina Council for the Social Studies Annual Conference.
Phase Two: Provide additional workshops for schools in our district that detailed plans for the museum-style exhibition that would require participating students to select an topic based on one of Indy’s lifelong adventures, research all aspects of it, determine its historical significance, identify its major players, and then create a display to be publicly displayed that would include artifacts, documents and other visuals to aid in illustrating that theme. These workshops would also include a crash-course for in museum exhibit design in collaboration with curators from our local history museum.
Phase Three: Check-ins and class visits with participating teachers and students to provide assistance, as needed, with the creation of their exhibit
Phase Four: Collaborate with our district-owned science center, Roper Mountain, to provide engaging, hands-on activities for learners of all ages for all areas of The Mountain, including their indoor rain forest, marine and ecology labs, living history farm, planetarium and nature trails.
The final goal of the year-long project was to display the student exhibits at Roper Mountain on Saturday, May 10th, ten days before the premiere of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
With these plans in hand, I began meeting with teachers and students throughout the fall of 2007. Interest in the project was high as was the excitement for using the Young Indy films and documentaries in class. To demonstrate the value of the documentaries, I’d asked my contacts in the marketing department at Lucasfilm if Wes and I could have early access to a few of them in order that we could be better prepared to describe them to teachers. To our surprise, and delight, we were overnighted a few cut disks of the documentaries that were hot of the press from the DVD manufacturer.
Upon receiving the disks, Wes and I decided to surprise one of his history classes and let them have the honor of being the first students in the world to view them. We selected, Hellfighters: Harlem’s Heroes of World War One.
As we showed the film, the students were totally mesmerized by the incredible story of the “Fighting 369th” and the hardships and discrimination that they fought to overcome. Afterward, an African-American young lady raised her hand and asked, “Why have I never heard of these men? Why haven’t we been taught about them? I want to know more!” The film had achieved its purpose: it inspired an entire class to go deeper into the stories of our past and learn the lessons that they’re waiting to teach to all who are willing to listen.
Hellfighters was only one of ninety-four inspirational and educational documentaries that were produced over four and a half years by Lucasfilms’ production division, JAK Films, for the Young Indy DVD series (the name “JAK” came from the initials of George Lucas’ first three children: Jett, Amanda and Katie). JAK was comprised of an extensive team of incredible filmmakers were led by veteran CBS producer, David Schneider. As we continued work with Lucasfilm on plans for the Young Indy release, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to work with David and gained not only from his insight and knowledge, but were blessed to also gain him as a friend.
In March of 2008, I had the honor to speak about the educational value of the Young Indy series along with David at the WNET Celebration of Teaching and Learning in New York City. Presenting at this prestigious teacher’s conference on behalf of Lucasfilm was a dream come true…and a terrific adventure to share with my wife who was able to attend as well.
After the conference, the next two months were busy meeting with teachers and students as they completed their projects for the Walking through Time with Indiana Jones exhibit. We invited David to be our special guest at the event and were extremely happy that he was able to attend. Our other special guest was noted adventurer, archaeologist and New York Times best-selling Star Wars and NASA author, Dr. David West Reynolds who we
asked to speak on his many adventures, including the story of how he tracked down and rediscovered the lost Saharan filming locations of Star Wars.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our friends in the marketing department at Lucasfilm, particularly Tracy Cannobbio (who is absolutely the best!) who very graciously sent us some fantastic Indy swag to use as giveaways for our guests.
After months of preparations and hundreds of hours of planning and work, the big day finally arrived.
On Saturday May 10th, approximately 2000 guests from across the Carolinas and Georgia were treated to an exciting day of learning and fun as they explored Roper Mountain in true "Indy style." From trekking through the indoor rainforest and digging for fossils in the Paleo Lab, to mapping an archaeological site and learning ancient hunting techniques, adventurers both young and old were provided hands-on activities that left more than one participant claiming, "I feel like Indiana Jones!" And thanks to one of our partnering companies, Art in History, like Indy, one hundred children made off with their own priceless treasure, a reproduction ancient artifact that they were able to decorate for themselves.
All across The Mountain, numerous student-created displays told Indy’s story through the real history that he learned and events that he witnessed. The themes of these displays included: Ancient China, Ancient Greece, World Mythology, Teddy Roosevelt and the Conservation Movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Suffrage Movement, Innovations in Transportation, World War I and World War II. One visiting teacher noted, "It’s wonderful how you have woven together such a wide variety of topics using the character of Indiana Jones as the common thread."
Despite the active work of technology gremlins shortly before the gates opened, several of JAK Films’ outstanding Young Indy documentaries were shown throughout the course of the day, including, Ecology: Pulse of the Planet, Archaeology: Unearthing Our Past, Howard Carter and the Tomb of Tutankhamun, Norman Rockwell: American Dreams, and Louis Armstrong: Ambassador of Jazz. Many thanks go to David Schneider for assisting with the technical difficulties as well as for sharing his expertise on documentary filmmaking and storytelling with our teachers and students on Friday and Saturday.
While there was truly something for everyone, the highlight for many was “The Archaeology of Indiana Jones” presented by David West Reynold. Beginning with two school group talks on Friday morning, followed by a standing-room only performance on Friday night for the members of the Roper Mountain Association, Dr. Reynolds was informative, engaging and entertaining as he not only delivered the real history behind Raiders of the Lost Ark but was equally uplifting in his message to children to never give up on their dreams. On Saturday, he continued to enthrall audiences with his captivating tales of adventure and scientific exploration and was kind enough to stay afterward for a book signing. Through five shows (including a live-feed to a packed overflow room) nearly 1000 people were able to learn from and be inspired by the adventures of Dr. Reynolds.
Walking through Time with Indiana Jones was a huge success. In terms of numbers alone, it was the largest single-day event in Roper Mountain’s history. Everyone who attended was complementary and appreciative of all that went into making the event. And everyone of them has a special memory that they’ll take away. For me, the best part of it all was seeing the countless children decked out in fedoras, leather jackets and kit bags with bits of rope dangling from their belt where a whip should be. Wide-eyed they moved from exhibit to exhibit, desperately trying to take it all in. Maybe, just maybe, one of those young explorers will look back in years to come and remember that day as the day they realized that learning can be one of the greatest adventures of all.
It had been an incredible year. Partnering with Lucasfilm to promote a film series that I loved while also producing an inspiring and adventurous Indiana Jones exhibit with students was an incredible honor...and also a great deal of work. However, the memories that were made, the learning that occurred and the doors that were opened, made it all worthwhile.
And while this chapter in our Indiana Jones story came to a close, there were other chapters still to be written…but that’s a story for our next and final installment in this series, Further Adventures with Indiana Jones.