Last week the parent of a former student connected with me on Twitter. It brought back a flood of incredible memories from that class, including (but not limited to) eye-opening social issues book clubs, a very wide range of math abilities which pushed the quantitative part of my brain to it's limits, some of the best debaters I have met, winning our school's tug-of-war championship, an unbreakable bond of community and...writing and performing a pop opera.
Our Revolutionary Pop Opera was maybe the best academic project I have ever had the honor of being part of. Let me set the scene. In late 2012, when Taylor Swift was having a moment (although when ISN'T Taylor Swift having a moment) we were getting ready to learn about the Revolutionary War. The crazy thing about elementary social studies curriculum is that we skip hundreds of years at a time. We had just learned about the early European explorers, moving towards Roanoke, Jamestown, the colonies and the American Revolution. That specific group of students was very musical, exceptionally witty and huge risk-takers. One day I made a joke with a colleague comparing Swift's "We are never getting back together" to how the Patriots might have felt about England and the rest was history.
I re-wrote that song with lyrics that supported the perspective of the Patriots during the Revolution. I presented it to the class and they took over. They chose songs to rewrite and perspectives to take. Groups of students rewrote "Home" by Phillip Phillips from the perspective of the Loyalists. "Price Tag" from the perspective of King George. "So What" from the perspective of the Patriots (before the Boston Tea Party). And "Taking Care of Business" from the perspective of King George. The finale was our Taylor Swift song.
To say that my students were engaged and motivated would be an understatement - this was a project that they were responsible for creating and they were reflecting every step of the way. They had sleepovers planning how we could share this with students and parents. We ended up having a performance inviting our parents and fifth grade peers. There was a short opening act (some very Revolutionary comedians) a brief introduction and dialogue between each song. I learned, peers learned, parents learned and most importantly my students learned. And they grew.
While I am normally a huge proponent of process before content, this was one of those magical moments where content came first. We had an idea and as that idea developed I made sure to add mini-lessons addressing specific reading, writing and social studies standards. Almost all of the listening and speaking standards were met and students were practicing the levels of ownership daily. The process of creating and performing the pop opera was one of my proudest moments as a teacher. The joy and ownership that these students were experiencing - about learning (and learning challenging content at that) was visible. I have the performance recorded and saved in my iTunes account, in the same album as Taylor Swift herself. Each time I listen, I am grateful for that experience with that group of students. #longlivemerediTHUNDER
What unforgettable learning experiences have you had with your students?