My school hosts several field day events in May for the school corporation’s elementary schools. The major objective for these days is for our 7th and 8th graders to be the leaders of the stations and for the visiting students to gain some knowledge about colonial life.
Friday was our first “Living history” day of the year, which is primarily for a fourth-grade target audience. This year, I was assigned the candle dipping station.
To prepare the student leaders to be the teachers of the stations they participate three 1 hour sessions of training. The students are surveyed for their preferences of station to lead. The responsibility is to learn facts about the activity, the history, and also learn a script. There is a play on modern and colonial time periods among the student leaders. Traditional dress from the “olden time” actors is also worn to continue with the theme
In my station, 5 students do a little informational talk through the scripted skit and then lead the fourth graders kids through a structured activity where they dip their own candles. The wax is melted over an open fire that the adults manage but the students really run the station. The students supervise the dipping and hold the metal pots with the melted wax with safety gloves. They answer questions and talk with the fourth graders as they make their circle to dip their candle as many times as they can. I am there just there in case there is an issue, with the station or with a visiting elementary student that the school chaperone cannot handle.
The 8th grade students worked together well the first session. By the 8th rotation they had their system down to a science. I was proud they problem solved and took the initiative the make the station their own. They were particularly careful and observant of the fire.
The visiting students were enthusiastic and they all participated with zest. The leaders were excited so therefore the participants were excited. One teacher with their group said to me “Apparently all I need to do is light a fire in the classroom and I can get all my kids engaged!” He was really surprised as to how excited and on-task all of his kids were the entire time.
It worked because
- There was a specific reason for participating in the station – to learn about candle dipping, why it was important, and make a real candle
- The students knew throughout the whole station what was expected of them and how to show it to the leaders.
- There was a system to follow that was simple but effective.
A new addition to the stations this year was to have passports the students got stamped. They all had a full passport at the end!
This type of authentic activity is so powerful for so many reasons. The joy factor is high! There is an opportunity to have a different type of conversation with the students. There is on the spot opportunities for problem solving that is in the 8th graders hands. The moments are created and they stepped up and took responsibility. They had little people that relied on them for safety and information.
There are 3 more days of Living History and I am honored I get to work with the same 5 students. The problem solving will be different each time since we have to deal with weather elements, different groups of students, and chance!
What is one of your favorite authentic assignments? I would love to hear in teh comments.