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History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us Part 2 May 1, 2012

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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When I wrote History Wax Museum – Till Death Do Us PartI ended by saying that I would NEVER do this project again. Not with 28 students. Well, as my mother always said, “Never say never,” or as I like to say, “Crow is best eaten while warm.”

Fast forward a year. I now have 31 third graders and History Wax Museum is HAPPENING! Why? Two teachers are new to 3rd grade, so they don’t have any lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from last year. And those of us who are veterans? Well, what can I say? I’d like having a baby. Once you pop the little booger out, you tend to forget all that came before.

It also helps that History Wax Museum is performed at Open House. For teachers this means no Dog and Pony Show (my dog has been dead for years and the pony is out to pasture). No attempts to out-cutesy the teacher next door and NO cleaning the classroom. Can you say bliss?

This year a parent suggested that students should be able to explain just what a history wax museum is to the uninitiated. Okay, here’s what you need to know. NO WAX is harmed in the making of  the History Wax Museum. The students stand frozen in a pose in front of their tri-fold board. There is a button on the floor (okay, it’s a fake button – a red paper circle actually) that visitors step on to activate the character. The student then “comes to life” and tells their story.

Last year, I found myself doing a lot of things that weren’t covered in my teacher credentialing program like throwing together costumes for kids whose parents couldn’t pull it together. Galileo showed up with a piece of a white t-shirt to wear as a beard. It looked a bit like a do-rag. Really? That’s the best you could do?

I sprinted to the local Out of the Closet and found a woman’s frilly shirt. It was supposed to be for Florence Nightingale, but she pulled a costume together at the last minute. Florence (The “Lady with the Lamp”) Nightingale even had a lantern thanks to my neighbors. Galileo ended up wearing the frilly shirt. He did manage to drag in a HUGE telescope for visitors to trip over.

I also helped Abe Lincoln, who was portrayed by a girl, make a stove pipe hat from a paper plate and some black paper. It turned out way better than I ever imaged. Abe’s mom found a “beard” at Michael’s. The girl looked like she had a furry hamster clinging to her face!

This year, I’ve got a new group of kids who are doing a lot of different people. I’m thinking I might sandwich George Carlin between Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi. LOVE IT!

Both Picasso and Gandhi are being played by girls. Gandhi has nixed wearing a skull cap. She asked me for advice on her costume. Another teacher suggested, “How about a diaper?” Okay, that is SO not happening. A lovely parent from last year from India stopped by for a costume consultation. All I know is it involves bedsheets. With another kid’s John Lennon glasses, I believe we have lift off for Gandhi!

I couldn’t resist taking the photo of the Secret Lives of Great Artists. Last year’s Frido Kahlo (I  have Frida “dos” this year.) was surprised to learn that she’d had affairs with women as well as men. I have learned to deftly handle these delicate questions. I’ve found that, “Whatever floats your boat” accompanied by a wink explains so much about the human condition. And to be honest, my Frida was more distressed that Diego was so fat.

Queen Elizabeth I took me aside the other day to let me know that her father Henry VIII was behaving very inappropriately with her – something about spanking and tickling. I suggested she just skip to the beheading of her mother, Anne Boleyn. Nudity – no. Violence – yes. That said, what about Annie Oakley? How can you be a sharpshooter without a gun? Annie made one out of paper, but it looked like a Saturday night special. Now if we can just get a 2×4 and get carving…

Photo Credit: Jan Marshall

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?