When I was teaching first grade, I often got bogged down by the repetitiveness of the scripted curriculum and the seemingly endless assessments. One morning, one of my students slowly dragged up to our classroom door, which was a little out of character, so I asked if everything was okay. He grumpily replied that school was boring and he just wanted to stay at home. As someone who looks back on my elementary days fondly, I was heartbroken thinking of this 6-year-old student begrudgingly struggling through the next 11 years of school ahead of him. I knew I had to do something different. I began looking for a way to improve my teaching to make school exciting and engaging, a place my students wanted to be. In my search for creative teaching strategies, I stumbled across the incredible classroom transformations of Hope King and Chris Pombonyo and one of my new favorite books, The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King. It was all about being the teacher who isn’t afraid to put in the work to make school incredible for your students and a focus on student engagement.
I attempted to scrape together the basics for my first classroom transformation. A generous parent donated gloves, masks, and scrubs, I bought ace bandage, Dollar Tree shower curtains, and kids doctor playsets, and I swiped the light blue sheets off the bed in our guest room to cover the desks. I found resources on Teachers Pay Teachers that sparked my creative thinking to plan medical-themed centers for all of the standards we were covering according to my district pacing guide. Now instead of suffering through phonics, writing, and math blocks that day my students walked into the room and dropped their jaws with wonder and excitement. As I greeted them at the door calling each of them by Dr. and their last names, they curiously inquired what in the world was going on and what we were going to be doing that day! Rather than pulling out the measurement workbook page from our curriculum, I printed x-rays off and drew lines on each for my miniature doctors to measure and add together to heal their patients. Rather than making them monotonously practice skip counting as a group sitting on the carpet, they paired up and listened to a partner count by two’s with a stethoscope. We used our school research database, PebbleGo to research body systems and publish their research in our classroom medical journal. Throughout the week we continued with sentence surgery and punctuation prescriptions as the heart monitor beeped ambiently in the background. They shared their surgical tools passing their pencil and gluestick pack and forth saying “scalpel” and “bandage”. We neared the end of the day Friday after a week of code red emergency math facts and building skeletons out of q-tips, and they looked up at me with their bright eyes and said, “What are we doing next week??” They were all in, and I didn’t want to lose that enthusiasm!
I knew I wanted them to be this excited for school every day, but it was going to be costly and require a lot of time and energy to plan these creative, engaging lessons. My teacher budget cringed as I ordered construction themed costumes and decorations to be delivered in two days (thank you Amazon Prime) for the next week. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family who purchased a T-shirt from my fundraiser, we finished the year with themes including “around the world”, fairytales, and a camping theme. I loved teaching this way as much as they loved earning this way and I wanted other teachers to be able to have the opportunity to teach this way without the financial burden. I packaged everything a teacher would need to transform their classroom into a storage tub, added themed books, and all of the resources I had spent time creating, and told the teachers in my school it was available for anyone interested. My teammates used the doctors kit and had so much fun!
Since then things have grown and I have started renting the kits to teachers in surrounding school districts at no cost. Absolutely free to teachers with lesson planning coaching available. Like a resource library, teachers are able to check out the kits for as long as they need and bring the adventure to their classrooms! I hope to continue adding more themes, creating a network of support. and growing my organization to reach more teachers and increase the impact on student learning. I want to spark a love for lifelong learning and empower other teachers to increase student engagement in their classrooms. This is Operation Engagement.
Check out this video for a peek into our week as doctors! Quik_2019-05-09_18-49-12