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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?


1. Tim Bradley - May 17, 2011

I hope your Henry the VIII student sings the Hermans’ Hermits song, though that would be going WAY back (47 years or so).

Everyone always mentions this song, though I’ve come to realize it’s about someone who’s married eight lads who are all named Henry. It’s a loose interpretation at best. Jan


2. Tina - May 17, 2011

I don’t have an ostrich feather but I’ve loads of the dyed craft sort and some lovely peacock feathers if your Henry wants to come by and “shop” in B4.

My students will be guiding their families around the classroom at Open House with a check-list of items to look at together and discuss. This leaves me free to meet with all of the incoming parents who are test-driving the classroom for next year.

Thanks for the offer though I have some of THOSE feathers in my class too. But since Henry VIII was a slave to fashion (oh, the things I’ve learned!) maybe a peacock feather would do. I’ll spare you by not sending Galileo over. Before the HWM, I always had a self-guided tour printed out that students took their parents on. That’s definitely the way to go. For a second I confused test-driving with test-driven. >wink< Jan


Jackie - May 18, 2011

I want to go on record, again, I did not want to do this project. I knew it would be a pain in the ass. And it is. Especially, because I do not have the “GATE” class. I have the “Other” class. Two weeks till showtime. Let’s see what will happen. I know my team teacher and I will be doing lots of drinking after our Wax Museum. Each drink will be dedicated to our wonderful little “famous dead” people.
p.s. The directions did not say they had to be dead. So here’s to Yoko.

I had that “Other” class for the last four years. I only have a GATE cluster, but that’s most likely 50 percent more than you have. I’m happy to drink to Yoko don’t feel the need to wait until AFTER the Wax Museum is over. By the end of this misadventure, I could be dead and therefore a candidate for the wax museum myself. I can only hope. Jan


3. Catherine Sherman - May 21, 2011

I remember seeing Henry VIII’s codpiece in a museum in England. Several codpieces, in fact. As Henry aged, each suit of armor got larger and larger. At least your student didn’t ask for his own codpiece! I can’t wait to read a follow-up on this Wax Museum. It sounds like a lot of work and fun, and I can see how you might not want to do it again!

Turns out there’s a boy in another class who is also Henry VIII. His teacher said he hadn’t written a thing, so she sent him down to interview MY Henry VIII. My Henry took one look at this scrawny little kid and said, while patting his stomach, “You’re going to need a pillow.” It was priceless!
BTW, I’ve now basically finished researching, writing, and typing 21 of the speeches.(Three kids are still floundering, and fortunately four parents helped their children write their speeches. Whew!) Jan


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