Beautiful handmade butterflies hung from Ms. Maria Pirani’s classroom ceiling. A closer look at the details revealed a glimpse of a tragic time in history.
For a sixth grader, it can be hard to grasp the gravity of the Holocaust, but through the butterfly project, students have the opportunity to engage with written works from children their age who lived through this devastating time period.
Maria Pirani, a sixth grade English teacher at Lausanne, introduced the project to her classroom to help students understand the impact of the Holocaust.
The butterfly project is an extension of the project from the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Houston that created an exhibit with 1.5 million handmade butterflies to represent the children who perished during the tragedy.
“Even though the museum reached its goal, I wanted to extend the project into my classroom,” Ms. Pirani said. “This project helps our students gain a better understanding of the tragedy children faced in the Holocaust. It is especially powerful because a lot of these children were only 12 to 15 years old.” At the beginning of the school year, Ms. Pirani begins the project by having her class read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, fiction set in War World II. Toward the end of the book, students have the opportunity to design and create the butterflies.
The butterfly project is a reference to the poem, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly,” by Pavel Friedmann. Pavel was living inside the Terezin ghetto when he wrote the poem. As a class, the students analyze the poem and discuss its significance.
During the project, students are assigned different poems written by children living in the Terezin ghetto. The butterflies created by Lausanne students reflect the hopes and fears of those children, with each butterfly’s artwork echoing the emotions behind the poem they select.
After the designs are complete, the students present their butterflies and poems to the class and hang them in the classroom.
A week later, Ms. Pirani tells each student the fate of the child who wrote the poem, and students are asked to take their butterflies down if the children did not survive. It’s a powerful, moving experience.
“The students grow attached to their butterflies,” Ms. Pirani said. “It holds a significant weight with them when they realize that the children they spent time writing about and getting to know did not survive.”
Through the PYP, students are encouraged to be compassionate and empathize with others. The butterfly project helps students gain a sense of empathy and compassion for people and the world around them.
This story, which was also featured in the Fall 2018 Lausanne Magazine, gives an example of the curriculum our 6th grade students are learning in the MYP.