As teachers, we are in a very competitive battle for a child’s attention. Outside of our walls, kids are immersed in engagement at the highest levels. Phones have addicting games and apps that completely hijack a kid’s attention. Video games are designed to occupy kids for hours, if not days. Movies are produced at a cinematic quality that is more engaging than ever. If that’s their life outside of school, how can we expect to hold their attention all day with worksheets and boring tasks?
The outside world has spoiled our students and we need to keep up! If we don’t recreate that engaging environment in the way we teach, we will become more and more disconnected with kids. The WOW philosophy is about trying to match or surpass the engagement that works so well outside of school.
When I was on the Kelly and Michael show as a finalist for America’s Top Teacher, Michael Strahan called me the human iPad. It was the ultimate compliment because it directly reflects my WOW philosophy. That is exactly what I try to be everyday – the thing in the room that hijacks my students’ attention and keeps them enthralled all day long.
The standards that we teach dictates what our kids MUST learn.
HOW we teach them is completely up to us!
HOW can we engage them in a way that inspires them?
HOW can we match the engagement they’re so used to outside of school?
HOW can we, as educators, become HUMAN iPADs?
One of the things I love to do more than anything in education is create WOW moments. A WOW moment is exactly what it sounds like. A moment where a kid stops in his/her tracks and the word WOW seeps out of their mouth. WOW moments come in many different forms. They can range from tiny 3 second events all the way up to major classroom transformations. Today I will focus on the BIG moments and in the future I’ll share some of my small and medium level WOWs. It’s all about stimulating the brain and engaging the student. Keeping kids excited and energized about learning is paramount in my classroom. When kids wake up eager to come to school and excited about what lies ahead, the ceiling of potential skyrockets. Rigor becomes a welcoming hurdle.
Let’s start BIG.
Room transformations or immersions are the most extreme WOW moments. This entails completely transforming your room to replicate an experience. It sets the stage for a truly authentic, valuable learning opportunity. The sights, sounds, smells, and feels of a room transformation give the students a sense of immersion into a completely different place! It’s like a field trip within the walls of your classroom. They are not easy transformations, but the payoff is huge. Kids become so enthralled with the experience. They dive in and work harder than ever. They learn to be grateful for the moment and strive to take full advantage of the opportunity. Experiences become authentic and how they apply content becomes relevant.
Here are just a few examples:
UFO Crash Site
The class became the “E.T. Data Squad” for the day. The focus was on applying measurement and geometry to a crime scene and how math is applied to the real and unreal world. Students dressed in hazmat suits and entered the crash site to investigate the data and solve mysteries about the event. The looks on their faces were of pure shock, excitement and disbelief! Their engagement and effort while immersed in this scenario were at the highest of levels. This was my most recent room transformation, and maybe my most epic so far. There will be a detailed post about this one coming out real soon!
Life-Sized Chutes and Ladders
I noticed my kids had been playing Chutes and Ladders during indoor recess for weeks and were captivated by it.
When I see that type of passion towards anything I try and make it a WOW moment. So I made a life-sized replica of the game.
Teams were given tasks that involved applying the Balance of Powers.
Correctly navigating the government guidelines allowed for a spin of the wheel and to move spaces on the life-sized game board.
The kids were engaged, they were having a blast, and they were applying and practicing their knowledge of government concepts in a way that won’t be forgotten!
For this WOW moment I asked students to come to school dressed up in explorer/hiker gear.
They were brought into the transformed room that replicated a cave experience.
Kids crawled into the dark cave wearing headlamps and explored the room for tasks.
The goal was to dive into rounding and its application.
The room was pumped with cool air and there were sounds of bats and dripping water playing.
Rounding numbers has never been so fun!
Rain Forest Immersion
What better way to learn about habitats than to actually immerse yourself in the environment? Transforming a room into a rain forest was a blast and took a team effort. As students explored the characteristics of the rain forest, they experienced the environment with all their senses. Humidifiers and heaters made the room hot and sticky. Sounds of birds and frogs chirping and waterfalls rushing filled the air. The room had a canopy and a giant waterfall and stuffed animals that represented the wildlife of the habitat. (Click on the images above to get a better look.) Feeling, seeing, and hearing the environment made its details and characteristics come to life. Students will remember that experience for many years, but more importantly, they will have an understanding of what life in a rain forest might be like because this WOW moment allowed them to experience it.
Blazing the Trail
When teaching westward expansion, we could sit and look at a power point display to study the Oregon Trail or we could make it a WOW moment and actually experience it. So we made faux leather journals. We had covered wagons for journaling and reflecting.
The kids left the school for a full day field trip where the community became the trail. All day the students were presented with obstacles where they had to make a decision on how to best handle the situation. A neighborhood street became the Kansas River.
“Where should we cross?”
“How do we cross?”
Hiking in the woods required navigating the respectful balance of communication with Native American territories.
Broken axles, sickness, and extreme weather were all part of the experience. The trip was long and the kids were whooped when it was over and they only completed one day! They truly understood how monumental that task would have been on a much LONGER trail.
The Lasting Effect of WOW
The most common feedback I receive while a WOW moment is happening is, “They will never forget this experience!” That’s the whole point! Shouldn’t school be memorable? Shouldn’t we tap into that magical and creative fascination that children possess and use it to inspire and motivate them? Shouldn’t we create experiences that bring joy to kids as well as ourselves?
These moments require planning and effort. There are a lot of details and behind-the-scenes work, but it really doesn’t matter how much time and energy I pour into these moments.
When I see the WOW look on my students’ faces; it pays off.
When my classroom family grows closer as kids make memories together; it pays off.
When I can actually SEE the love of learning grow and blossom right in front of me; it pays off.
When the kids leave and it’s just me in that classroom later that evening, I find myself reflecting on the experience. You know what I say?