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History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part May 17, 2011

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Last Friday, I found myself having a chat with Henry VIII about annulment vs. divorce, while JFK, Frida Kahlo, and Emiliano Zapata waited impatiently to talk to me. Yes, the History Wax Museum project is consuming my life.

This year, all four third grade classes at my school are doing this project which requires students to research a famous person’s life, then write a narrative speech in the first person which they must memorize and perform at Open House. The finished History Wax Museum is quite impressive. Students stand frozen in their costumes with a tri-fold board serving as a backdrop. There’s a red paper “button” on the floor that visitors step on to activate the character. To my knowledge, only one performer has thrown up in three years – and it was not on a visitor. That’s what I’d call Good Odds.

I’m afraid I’m a Johnny Come Lately to the GATE scene. (For you civilians that’s Gifted and Talented Education.) Yes, this year for the first time I have a cluster of GATE students. And this year for the first time, I’m expected to shepherd my students through this godawful project. I suppose when there were 20 students to a class, this project was doable, but with 28 warm bodies wall-to-wall in my classroom, it’s become unmanagable.

Students were to pick someone dead. Michael Jackson is a no no as all students want to do is wear a glove and do the Thriller dance.  But some teachers caved, so this year Yoko Ono will be making an appearance. Another teacher asked, “What’s she famous for?  Breaking up the Beatles?” I’m still wondering how a third grader in 2011 knows about Yoko Ono.

Students were to find two to three resources and do their research at home. They’re to do the writing at school to make sure good ole Mom and Dad don’t stick their finger in the pudding.

Last week, I waded through reams of paper that students had downloaded off the Internet, most of which was written for adults. One of the the questions was, “Where was your character born?” One girl answered, “A hospital.” I should have recognized that answer for what it was – the canary in the coal mine that had fallen from its perch. It’s been only downhill from there.

I have to remind myself that it’s not my students’ fault. Most were born in 2001. They have no concept of history. When I met with a student today, she’d written that her character, who was active in the Mexican Revolution was arrested and sent to a convenience store. “That would be a convent,” I reminded her. Even then, she didn’t have a clue.

Galileo is stressing about his costume, though he has yet to put a word on paper for his speech. “You know,” he said with utmost sincerity, “I wanted to be a monk, but my father didn’t want me to go to monk school.” I couldn’t help but laugh. Alien abduction makes more sense to these kids than half of the stuff they’re reading off of Wikipedia.

Which brings me to Henry VIII. One of my big Hispanic boys chose this character to research. As I skimmed over how Henry was “licentious,” I had to paraphrase for my student. “Wow, you were a real ladies man!” I said. He cracked a smile. He now has the “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived” ditty down. Today he was bragging to another boy about all of his wives. I felt the need to take the wind out of his sails, so I reminded him that in his later years he had an oozing sore that didn’t heal and that was a real turn off for the ladies. Boy, that did the trick!

My Henry, unlike the real Henry VIII, comes from a family of meager means. When I asked how he planned to pull of this costume, he looked downright stricken. So in a moment of weakness, I ordered a black velveteen Tudor flat cap off the Internet. I know I’ll be able to use it again someday. The boy mentioned he’d need a feather for the hat. I think we need to scout the area outside the lunchroom where the pigeons roost.

Last Friday a teacher new to third grade announced History Wax Museum would be off her radar next year. I asked what she planned to do instead. “I have one word,” she said wiggling her hips, “Zoomba!”  I don’t even know what Zoomba is, but I’m in. But, can I wear my Tudor flat cap?

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