Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crash Course: Chapter 2 Creating Magic

If you have never had the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, you truly are missing out on a magical experience.  Every where you look, you experience truly sensational and stimulating experiences that engage all of your senses.  From the Red Button in Ron's math class to the full size Volkswagen Beetle in Kim's Language Arts room to Alice's legs hanging out of the ceiling in Hope's room - there's is always something interesting to rest your eyes upon.  But, the teachers at RCA not only have rooms that are magical, they create magical experiences for their students.

Students never know what is coming so they are always sitting in great anticipation of what is behind the door - kind of like Let's Make a Deal! Walking into Kim's class one day, it could be set up like a Chinese restaurant or Hope's could be a spy lab.

In Crash Course, Kim shares how important it is to create magical experiences for our students.  Magical can be over the top and require hours redecorating your room or it could be turning a boring worksheet into an interactive game that addresses the content, but requires students to move, dance, sing, and get out of their seats.

Over the last 6-7 years of my career, I've been blessed to work with partners who believed in creating the magic.  From costumes to simulations to souvenirs, we worked to make the learning memorable and rigorous for our students.  There were a few ways that we did that below that I hope are helpful to you.

1.  Start with your content - Regardless of your magical experience, content should be the driving force behind what you are doing.  Don't compromise rigor for experience.  They go hand in hand.  When we were planning our Ellis Island Immigration Day, we started with the standards students needed to know and then planned around them.  For example, each teacher took a role and addressed a piece of the standards through a character.  I became Addie, a young lady immigrating from Ireland due to famine.  I researched her story, created a dialogue, and then embraced her as myself for the entire day.  Everything I did was through Addie's eyes.

2.  Give Students a Role - When students are engaged in the experience, the learning becomes more concrete.  It's one thing to become a character and give a monologue in your class, but it's a completely different level to have your students put your character in the Hot Seat and ask questions that were developed in a previous lesson with the expectation that there would be a real special guest.    For our Hooverville simulation, students dressed in hobo costumes and brought a vegetable to contribute to the community soup pot.  Each student created a back story to share with partners as they hopped trains to the city :)

3. Build in Assessments - They don't have to be traditional!  Really listen to student conversations, use stop and jots, have students tweet a reflection, take a selfie and caption it based on the lesson, create a video reflection.

4. Reflect! - Have students reflect on their learning through the experience. I like to use a summary journal for this piece, especially if I am in costume and character.  I usually have my students write me a letter about the special guest since I wasn't there.  The day following the experience, I completely play dumb about the "guest in the classroom. My kids get a kick out of it and so do I.

I modified a lesson I did with 2nd grade after visiting the Ron Clark Academy and we conducted surgery on passages based on skills we had learned previously.

When studying the Roaring 20s, I was a visiting flapper, Claire.  We learned the Charleston, redesigned women's fashions, and created poetry based on jazz music rhythms.

Susan B. Anthony came to teach for the day and taught about the Women's Suffrage Movement.  My students said she was mean :)

Rosie the Riveter stopped in for a few days and encouraged everyone to work.  Groups created war propaganda posters to encourage different groups to become involved in the war effort.

When studying the Space Race, a NASA astronaut joined us and taught about space engineering on satellites.  Students were then tasked to design a better satellite.

When your classroom becomes a magical place, there's no way students can keep from learning.  Even the most difficult students get involved.  When I was conducting the Emergency Room simulation, I had one student who wanted to become a behavior problem.  But, in character, an isolation operating room was created so he could practice his skills independently before joining a team of surgeons.  He mastered them very quickly :)

What magic are you bringing into your classroom this year?


  1. Wow, between your posts and Elementary Shenanigans' this summer, I'm really getting inspired! I've never been a role-playing teacher but I can see that kids really would love it if I were, so I'm determined to step out of the comfort zone this year! I'm starting to plan some simulations for the social studies topics we're studying---explorers, American Revolution, etc. The one thing we always do have Mad Science Day (science projects all day) a few times a year. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Shauna, you seriously made my day with this comment! I absolutely love Hope and I've seen her in action at RCA. She is amazing! Thank you for reading! Keep me posted on your plans. I taught 4th grade a few years ago and covered many of those same topics.


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