There are many ways to mix things up in a classroom and inject enthusiasm. From blended learning to project-based learning to time-tested traditional methods, teachers today have nearly unlimited resources and ways of livening up a stagnant classroom.

These stagnant classrooms, indicated by boredom-induced silence, constant class disruptions, or mediocre student work examples, benefit greatly from the implementation of interactive learning structures. One such learning model that is sure to invigorate any lesson is the “Wax Museum” learning structure created in Studio 113.

It may sound a bit odd, but the main ingredients needed to jumpstart a group of uninterested students with this learning activity is a bit of wax and stillness.

Please take a look at this example, and I’ll explain.

Allow Students to View a “Wax Museum” Example

I understand the argument stating the most effective strategy for implementing this structure would be to present the students with their learning tasks before mentioning the end result, which is a symbolic and frozen pose that serves as the summation of the students’ understanding. However, since attempting our first “Wax Museum” structures in American Literature years ago, I have witnessed a profound enthusiasm from the students for any class assignment when they are shown a video example of a past class performing the learning model. Being such visual learners, they understand immediately where they are headed before determining how they will get there. Hence, a flame will be lit.

Assign the Lesson

After viewing an example of the “Wax Museum” from their peers, students should then be given the learning prompt. For the video shown above and the one immediately below, students used a Venn diagram to note similarities and differences in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” and Thomas Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence.” Working in teams of three and totally aware of the required, kinesthetic outcome, students worked for two class periods to extract the essentials from these two famous documents. It was amazing to see such intense and engaged reading. The same enthusiasm is easily generated with any prompts. Whether it is from a math, science, history, art, physical education, or band class, the only limiting aspect of the “Wax Museum” is a non-challenging prompt or learning assignment. Make no mistake about it, however, the beauty of this structure is actually not the end product. Instead, it is the collaboration and heavy-duty thinking beforehand that is so impressive.

Discuss the Parameters of the “Wax Museum”

Inform the students of the following guidelines:

  • Each team’s symbolic pose must be class appropriate.
  • Each “Wax Museum” pose must be representative of the team’s synthesized learning. Depending on the prompt, students may illustrate a theme, a direct quotation, an essential question, a real-world connection, and just about anything imaginable that demonstrates mastery of the assignment. If appropriate, allow the students to co-create the prompt. Enlisting their help allows the students to amaze you at the beginning, the middle, and the end.
  • Students may use any appropriate props that will add to the symbolism and overall, intended message. For the first two videos shown on this post, I allowed students to use any of my classroom objects and bring any appropriate props from their homes.
  • Each team will be still, as if sculpted from wax, and hold the symbolic pose for the duration of two rounds.
  • The first round requires the students to be quiet (with the exception of thematic music) while the teacher uses a video recorder to capture the learning activity. Students are made aware of the various camera angles and close-ups.
  • The second round requires the students to remain still while adding verbal comments that shed light on the overall purpose of the team’s pose. Again, examples of these comments range from a simple theme to the relationship between the prompt and a current event. The only moving parts during the “Wax Museum” structure are the students’ lips and eyelids.
  • All students will remain still until given the cue to break out of the “Wax Museum” poses.

Share Video with Students and the World

Obviously, students will be ecstatic to see the video of their creations as soon as possible. This is perfect. How fitting is it that the enthusiasm beginning with the introduction of this interactive structure carries into the viewing of the students’ own “Wax Museum” statues?

But don’t let the enthusiasm end there. In fact, share it with others via YouTube and watch the excitement cross into other schools and states. Take a look at this example from my colleague and good friend, Dave Guymon, an innovative educator in Idaho Falls.

In fact, my students were so proud of his students that we put together a congratulatory video to show our appreciation.

Asking students to move not at all for close to ten minutes sounds like a ridiculous demand, but with the right prompt and the freedom to create, these energetic learners can and will melt their understanding down to a brilliantly created, symbolic statue of wax. Just don’t be worried if their energy sparks a flame of excitement. The stillness will contain it.

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John Hardison
John Hardison is an interactive facilitator of learning and blended learning specialist at East Hall High School (Studio 113 & EPiCC) in Gainesville, Georgia. By creating a flexible class where literature creatively comes to life on a stage with students as the stars, Mr. Hardison focuses heavily on creativity, interactive structures, and student choices. In the past 18 years at East Hall High School, he has taught AP Language, American Literature, World Literature, and Applied Communications. Through original learning structures and a shared classroom concept, students are inspired to connect literature with their own talents and interests. Mr. Hardison shares his classroom concept and interactive structures by presenting at professional conferences and upon request by various schools. Look for John at ISTE and follow him on Twitter at @JohnHardison1.

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