Transform your Classroom, Transform Learning

Amber Ernst with students dressed as surgeons

Crawling into your classroom cave, donning a white coat to perform surgery, or jumping into a retro video game are just a few of the ways I love to engage students. I began seeing classroom transformations across social media and knew this was the answer!

I researched ideas long before production and specifically tailored them to my current class. I knew one particular student loved a specific video game, so I created our whole non-fiction assessment based on “levels” you had to pass while showing you mastered the content.

Once I had an idea to change my room, I connected it to curriculum. Sometimes it involved all the subjects and lasted an entire day or sometimes just one or two content areas. I worked to use what I already had to keep costs low. I would leave little notes or signs as we were getting close to excite the students about what was coming up. For our video game day, we had the gold “???” box from the game hanging up for a week before, and they kept eyeing it and wondering when we would get to use it!

I would get to school early on the day of a transformation, and I would be in character. You could see the students’ eyes light up as they entered the room. They had the biggest smiles. To not “be” in class for a day – they were thrilled! Little did they realize all the learning they would still be doing the whole day.

Amber Ernst in tent with students and classworkOn Cave Day, I greeted students as their “spelunking guide,” and we crawled under a tunnel made of desks into our dark room with cave sounds (you can find anything on YouTube) in the background. On Grammar Surgery day, students came to the carpet for an opening white coat ceremony complete with an oath to do no harm and work hard to save their patient.

Any way I “transform” our classroom just means some extra decoration, maybe a costume, and a big change from our routine. Every single part of the day is directly aligned to content. For Grammar Surgery, we had nine surgeries each student completed in groups that focused on major skills we learned throughout the year. It was a great day to review, and students loved their actual masks and gowns donated by a local physician. On Cave Day, we read stories about cave explorers and used text evidence to show our answers. We used our Missouri map and plotted caves and rivers. We explored caves virtually with Nearpod and we even had cave “impasse” where the class stopped and solved problems together on the board before getting back to work. Really, the only special items that were made were our headlights, which were touch lights glued to headbands.

You should see the level of work completed by students on these days! Their engagement and excitement for this “break” (I hesitate to call it that) from school is through the roof. They tell everyone they pass – friends, parents. You see it even bubble over in the hallway when they say, “I have to get back to surgery.”  They treasure their “Dr.” badge – made easily from the internet – and they are motivated to learn!  A couple of other ideas were a Test Prep Campout and Amazing Race: Classroom Edition. For the campout, we put some tents on our stage, made a fake fire from bulletin board paper, worked by flashlight, and completed all heavy-hitting stations based on Missouri Learning Standards!  The Amazing Race had teams of two (with matching bandanas donated from parents) working around the room to complete puzzles in different content areas. Road Blocks and Detours were included as well. After a puzzle was complete, the students had specific exercises they had to accomplish before moving on to incorporate the “race” aspect. They won different amount of “100 grand” candy bars for their prize. I thought one bag of candy for the whole class was a small price to pay for the tremendous work they put in.

Combining content with an experience for students was phenomenal for my classroom. We didn’t travel, and we didn’t spend a lot of money, but the students got so much out of it. I did big transformations four times a year at most. I wanted them frequent enough to get excited about, but I also needed time in between for all the planning involved. Knowing my students were learning all the while makes it worth the effort as an educator. My teacher heart lives for those days when the content jumps off the page. Being able to make that happen for students is beyond awesome.