Comix Azteca Volume One: Mother Coatlicue

Looking for an engaging way to teach mythology in your classroom?  Go beyond Greece and Rome, and introduce your students the folklore of ancient Mexico with Comix Azteca Volume One:

Old Mother Coatlicue gives birth to Huitzilopochtli, the iridescent god of war and sun – scandalizing her adult children and setting off a war that will change the world forever.

Adapted from the tradition Nahuatl folk tale and retold for modern audiences with glorious pop art from cartoonist Phil Skaggs and a script by historian and founder Thomas Kenning. This edition contains a supplemental essay and selected artwork from the original Mexica sources.

Electronic copies now on sale for the teacher-friendly price of just $1.99.  Physical copies available (in black and white) at discounted rates.  Inquire here.

Check out this preview:


Upcoming Research Expeditions is pleased to announce that Thomas Kenning, founder and chief creative officer, will be undertaking several research expeditions in the coming months, all with the aim of producing new content and resources for this site.

In May, Mr. Kenning will be traveling to Moscow to participate in the annual Victory Day celebration. While there, he will be gathering information for further lessons in our proposed open source Russia textbook.

In June, Mr. Kenning will be in residence in the Philippines, developing a new curriculum unit on this fascinating syncretic culture.

Also in June, Mr. Kenning has scheduled a working trip to Tokyo with the aim of realizing long gestating plans for several lessons on the history and culture of Japan.

Finally, in July, Mr. Kenning returns to Cuba to complete work on new lessons documenting that nation’s colonial past.

Summer is traditionally the season that sees the most research and development at, and this is turning out to be one of our most exciting seasons yet!



Ideas for Teaching about the Ancient Maya

Openendedsocialstudies has just launched a brand new unit for teaching middle or high school classrooms about the ancient Maya.  Find free readings, guided questions, and lesson plan ideas on the following subjects:

  • The Basics of Ancient Maya Civilization – Who were the Maya?  Where did they live and when?
  • The Ancient Maya in Time and Space – How did the Maya interact with their environment?  How did the Maya conceive of themselves and the universe around them?  In European influenced societies, geography, ecology, time, and spirituality are all relatively distinct spheres – not so for the ancient Maya, whose since of time, space, and religion were closely linked.
  • Ancient Maya Society – How was the ancient Maya society structured?  How did they govern and feed themselves?
  • The Maya City – The most durable testament to the grandeur of the ancient Maya are their grand construction projects.  How were these cities made, and what makes them so awe-inspiring?
  • The Written Language of the Maya – Language shapes thoughts, knowledge, and feelings as well as human imagination, so it permeates all aspects of culture – the complexity of the Mayan language is key for understanding the richness of this people.

One great way for students to develop a deeper understanding of a concept is to have them teach others.

  1. Choose any section from this unit and develop a lesson – in the form of a presentation, a storybook, or a worksheet – that teaches younger students about the Maya.  Make sure the material is age appropriate in content and approach, and create some simple questions to check your audience’s understanding.

Find more free lessons on the Maya at  

There are also plenty of free lessons featuring other peoples from world history.

You and Your Family Are History, Too.

This isn’t your father’s family tree.

Captain James Parker arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634.  Before I discovered that he was my ancestor, I assumed that my family had been in the United States no longer than a century or so.

History isn’t only what you read in books or see on YouTube.  It’s not just big men, and they’re not all from Europe, even if mine were… 

History isn’t just famous people.  It’s your family, too.  In that spirit, this assignment asks you to document your own family history – what kind of interesting stories lie back a generation or more in your family tree?  

Often times, young people don’t ask because they assume their elders are boring – that’s just dad, just grandma, and they’ve never done anything interesting.  And their elders don’t share out of modesty, or because they assume that young people aren’t interested anyway.

When my own grandfather died, it was with tons of stories – of his young years as an orphan, as one of the first Americans into Nagasaki after the bomb, as a police officer during the 1960s in the racially divided and restive city of Gary, Indiana…  And now I think of all of the tragic hours that we spent sitting in the same room, some football game that didn’t really matter blasting, drowning out any potential for conversation…  When I was young, I didn’t think to ask, he didn’t think to share – and now that he is gone, all I know of any of this is the barest of sketches.

The goal here is to give you a reason to document your family before it is too late…  To put it in the form of a book or something else (not an over-sized poster destined for the recycling bin) that can be tucked into a drawer or a closet – until you’re old enough to care yourself…

Your family history book will include three key components: 

Family Tree – stretching back in history as far as you can go, including birth and death dates.  This information should be presented graphically.  Along one axis of your page, include a timeline marking out key events in US history as they roughly align with your family’s.  That will look something like this.

Biographical Summary – Compose a brief biographical blurb for each person including information like: profession, military service, interesting facts, etc.  These can be as short as a few complete sentences.  Include pictures (or your own drawings) if available.

Biography – Choose someone other than a member of your nuclear family on which to write a more detailed biography, preferably a few pages in length.  (12 point font, double spaced, Times New Roman)


Sources for this project can include:

  • Family members (duh)
  • -Documents and artifacts held in your family’s possession
  • (This costs money, but with your parents’ help you can sign up for a free trial.  Just make sure you cancel your membership before the end of the trial or you’ll be charged.)

You should include a works cited page in your book.

Alternatively, you may create a website that meets all of the criteria outlined above.  This need not be publicly searchable on the web.

Suggested questions if you’re having trouble interviewing someone and can’t quite get started…  You should listen more than you speak, but here are some questions to get the ball rolling…  Be authentic and natural, and the stories will come:  

  • Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
  • What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
  • Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
  • What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
  • What is your earliest memory?
  • What is your favorite memory of me?
  • Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
  • Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
  • What are you proudest of?
  • When in life have you felt most alone?
  • If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
  • How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
  • How would you like to be remembered?
  • Do you have any regrets?
  • What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
  • If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me?
  • For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
  • Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?

unedited thoughts on our culture of violence. (on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, but sadly evergreen)

As a teacher, I wrestle with the fact that my place of work – an American grade school, ostensibly a place for nurturing and shaping the minds of young people – has become a focal point for the kind of violence that would likely be called a crime against humanity, an atrocity, a war crime, if anyone had bothered to declare a war.  I’ve reflected on it, and decided that if a shooter walked into my classroom, I am resigned to die if I can in any way save the students in my care.  How messed up is it that nearly two decades after Columbine a teacher in “the greatest country on Earth” has to mentally prep that way before a day of work?

I have a pretty vivid memory of writing the following piece during my lunch break as a preschool teacher, as news of the Sandy Hook shooting (five years ago today) spilled out.  Sadly, it stands unedited and evergreen today.   

when i see the four-year-olds at the preschool where i teach playing with a batman action figure or looking at a spider-man book and talking about how they kill bad guys, i feel really uncomfortable.  even when i correct them and tell them that spider-man and batman don’t kill people, it feels pretty lame.  i’m splitting hairs here, because it’s still a whole culture that from a very early age glorifies violence, desensitizing us to the real effects.  it makes me even more squeamish, because i know i was exactly like them at that age.


i guess that should give me hope that they won’t grow up completely complicit and complacent in our violent society – but i feel like i am also a minority.  americans – and american men especially – are not meant to be sensitive and reflective.  we are not made to turn the other cheek, unless it’s to wind up for the next punch.  we are not meant to be peace-loving,


so then i try to pinpoint the pivotal moments in my own evolution, the moments and influences and realizations that turned me.  i want to say it was 9-11, but i remember getting shouted down by my teacher and classmates that day when i said that i hoped the US would respond thoughtfully and reasonably to the attacks – that we might reflect on how our own violence and aggression in pursuit of our self-interest had lead us to this juncture.  i was told that sometimes we were confronted with a situation that left us with no alternative – we had no choice, we just had to kick some ass and show the world we were tough.


or self-destructive.


so already, at 9-11, there was something in me primed.  i know watching the war in iraq fanned those flames of outrage in me.  and i think, it’s burned more intensely in me as i’ve grown older.


there’s a part of me that wants to read the ultraviolent films of tarantino as a burlesque commentary of the rest of our society.  with all the blood and shocking cartoonishness of that violence, i want to think that he is asking his audience to be disturbed.  because we are so used to seeing characters on screen shot or blown up.  it has become a casual violence, and we think nothing of seeing the hero take a bullet in the leg and keep on running.  this is absurd, whereas tarantino’s absurd violence jars us as if the blood spurting out of his bullet wounds was actually splashing us in our faces.  but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.  maybe it’s just simple exploitation, and not an effort to truly disturb us – to ask us to really reflect on what we so unthinkingly consume in our pop culture junk food diet.


i’ve been reading a three volume history of the third reich.  the nazis cared a lot about culture and propaganda.  they called politics the art of shaping a formless mass into a people whose culture and values were focused around a singular set of societal goals, the same way an artist arranges raw materials into a finished statement.  and one of their aims was to restructure german society toward aggression, to constrain the very possibilities of action, so that conflict and struggle seemed to be the only reasonable framework through which to view the world.  coexistence and peace were not even alternatives, because they would literally never occur to people, any more than a light bulb or an automobile would occur to people a thousand years ago.  and they attempted this shift on so many fronts, right down to the language they used in press releases, speeches, and news articles – everything was a struggle overcome, a brutal challenge, a triumph of will. in that case it was deliberately conceived, deigned from the top. our situation seems to be a case of social one-up-manship, where we’re all trying to bluster our way to cool detachment in the face of the the truly alarming world we find ourselves living in.


i know that one reason i became a teacher is because i want to provide young people with a vocabulary that includes other words, like communicate, cooperate, compromise, coexist.


all those supposedly weak words we are taught to cringe at, at least subconsciously.


someone has to use those dirty words.  and it doesn’t take superpowers.

Write a Poem in Ancient Mayan

Here’s an idea to get your social studies students going — have them write a poem using the glyphic script of the ancient Maya. 

Background on the language can be found with this free Openendedsocialstudies lesson plan, The Written Language of the Ancient Maya.  Then, your students can use this dictionary to write a short poem in the Maya script, using at least a dozen glyphs. 

Have students share their poems with the class and reflect — does composing in Mayan effect the experience of writing and reading?

Chocolate beverages were popular among the ancient Mayas, who used special recipients to serve it. They often consumed it cold, hot, or spiced with chili, annatto, or vanilla. The inscription on this vessel records its function for drinking a specific type of cacao, and the name and place of residence of its owner, Tzakal u K’ahk’ Hutal Ek’, lord of Acanceh.

Find more free lessons on the Maya at  

There are also plenty of free lessons featuring other peoples from world history.

Documentary Short — The Maya: Collapse at Ek’ Balam

What happened to the ancient Maya?  How did their great cities come to ruin?  Check out this new Openendedsocialstudies documentary short, shot on location in Ek’ Balam, a Maya ruin in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.  This tour of the city is a great primer on the latest theories of Maya collapse and can be enjoyed by the casual viewer, or in the classroom, in conjunction with our brand new unit on the ancient Maya.