Channeling your inner Walt Disney for the betterment of student learning
Photo by Jill O’Connor
Have you ever been to Disney World and spent time on the Jungle Cruise? I’ve been a smiling passenger on those steamers nearly a dozen times. I love the effort Jungle Cruise guides put into their craft each time I board. Though they probably have a pretty reliable, rehearsed script, I imagine they add to their performance with new energy and ideas pretty regularly so each “first time” is just as awesome as my 12th time. In fact, Walt Disney himself referred to the adding-on experience as “plussing”. He valued an ever-improving model in his parks. Though he probably did not have teachers in mind when he was thinking about improvement, his goals and values really resonate with me as I reflect on my practice.
Photo by Jill O’Connor
I have been on the same field trip to Plimoth Plantation thirteen times. I have taught fractions over a dozen times. I have brought students down the road to the American Revolution ten times. On one hand, I became an expert in these and other similar topics. On the other, I must find ways to add to my practice so students continue to be engaged in learning.
So, with hats off to Walt Disney, here are some ways you might plus your practice for you and your students to keep it fresh for learning:
Play Dress Up. Yes, I’m serious. Whether you make some crazy food chain hat or you create a 50-state superhero cape, it doesn’t matter. However, I can guarantee your students will enjoy AND remember it! Dressing as (and becoming) “Queen Suzy” each year to teach Taxation Without Representation was a powerful way for students to better understand and appreciate the plight of the colonists.
Photo by Jane Gould
Sing A Song. Yes, I know you think you don’t sing – but I bet you will! Chances are, someone has already produced a catchy tune to teach what your students are learning. Spend some time on iTunes searching for songs related to your learning outcomes. I have had students sing along as they learned about perimeters, the Scientific Method and even similes!
View A Video. According to YouTube statistics, 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute, with more than a billion users watching hundreds of millions of hours of video EVERY day!! Like it or not, our students are already online, watching videos. Why not make it a point to find videos to engage students in their lessons?!!? And now with tools like EdPuzzle and eduCanon, teachers can customize videos to more closely target learning goals. I am a HUGE fan of multiple video views. We have a short, general interest Video of the Week in our classroom, which is watched once a day. Each time we watch, students have a different purpose for viewing. In specific subject areas, we choose short videos to watch 3 times in a row to have students Engage, Examine and Extend their thinking and learning. (This is my latest fave.)
Invite an Expert. You have been teaching the rock cycle, or fractions,or economics, or immigration for 14 years. Plussing your practice should definitely include a virtual visit from an expert. Local, regional and national professionals can lend genuine value to lessons. Employees from all industries are more than willing to chat with students via Skype or other videoconferencing tools. We’ve connected with scientists on a ship off the coast of South America and at a conference in Alaska. We’ve chatted with geologists and actresses; authors and musicians. Each chat lends more to our lessons than I can provide on my own as a teacher.
Virtual Voyage. Over the years, we have seen a decline in actual field trips. Buses and entrance fees add up! Think outside of the bus and look for places online to visit virtually while enhancing lessons and learning. Students will enjoy exploring sites to learn more about World War II, the Arctic or the White House. Or, explore sites designed to bring the world into your classroom like Field Trip Zoom or EducateVia360. Bring your camera!
Games Galore. Have you considered creating a new game using content from those age-old lessons? Whether you are reading Tuck Everlasting for the 10th time, or debating the cause of the Civil War, creating game-based previews, lessons, reviews and assessments makes learning engaging and interactive for students. There are many web-based games allowing teachers to collect data while the students have fun. Any teacher who has seen a room full of students playing Kahoot certainly know this to be true. (Seriously, I could tell students we were going to play a Kahoot all about doorknobs and they’d cheer!) Turning your topic into a Scoot game or a QR-code scavenger hunt is a great way to get students up and moving while playing along. Ultimately, our students will win.
As you prepare to welcome your students aboard your “steamer” and lead them to that familiar destination, be sure to channel your inner Walt Disney and consider ways to raise the bar. With continuous improvement towards better and better practices, our students will only benefit. That’s a plus!!