Monday, April 27, 2009

"Wax museum" learning

Do read this wonderful story of students acting out a "wax museum" of historical figures at Shepherdsville Elementary. I value this part the most:
The museum, April 9, was the culmination of months of hard work as each fifth-grader was challenged to choose a historical figure and become a mini-expert on him or her.

Before they even worried about costumes, students had to write a poem, a feature article, a monologue and a PowerPoint presentation on their historical figure.

The best part of the project, however, was when they became their historical figures.

April Shattuck crouched in front of her daughter Storm McLeod, 10, and "pushed" the red paper circle or "button" on the floor.

Storm unfroze and began telling her mother about how Pocahontas helped the English settlers at Jamestown.
It's easy to say kids will remember what they learned because it was fun. That's true, but there's much more there.

First, look at the writing and the presentations. The articles made them organize and clarify what they read. The PowerPoint work required choices about main points and supporting details. Both steps expected students to work out how the story fit together, building a deeper, more lasting understanding.

Second, notice the arts in action. The students created poems and costumes and planned dramatic performances for a live audience. That work will last in their memories in a way that little else will.

Third, expect dividends from that work in their future reading. Fifth-grade Sacagawea will pay extra attention to high school maps of exploration and settlement. The Einstein beside her will be the one who can summarize relativity in physics class. The Elvises will pick up details of the 50s and 60s faster. And many of them will also gain from what they watched one another do. This early learning gives them useful content, and that same content will help them understand textbook information in future classes.

Finally, notice that the students chose their own characters. Those choices almost certainly reflected what each one enjoyed learning even earlier, whether from primary classes or independent reading or television and movies. In that step, they were already bringing early content study to later content engagement.

Great instruction sees writing and arts as paths into science and social studies, and it sees early science and history as paths to success in later reading and study--and this was great instruction.

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