If you want your students to learn something, you might have them read an article, watch a video, or view a powerpoint. All three of those things get the job done, more or less. The information is being passed from teacher to student. But, if you really want your students to learn something, you need to make it an experience. It is through life experiences and meaningful moments that trigger the brain to retain information. Recently, in my 6th grade social studies class, we tackled the topic of mummification in ancient Egypt. It is a rather significant topic in ancient Egyptian culture, so we placed a high value on understanding why they mummified and how they did it. In the past, I took my students through a powerpoint presentation explaining the why, the where, and the how. I included grizzly pictures showing the various steps of mummification to try to get them to “stick” in their minds. It was just okay, but I’m not satisfied with “just ok.” The powerpoint informed them on the topic, but “just ok” doesn’t create an experience for my students. I wanted to give them more than “just ok” so I set out to create an experience that would teach them mummification in a way that they would never forget. The question was “What can I do that will teach them mummification in a way they will not forget?” The answer came quite quickly and was in the simplest of manners: Show them.
I decided I would show them mummification by mummifying a dead body right in front of them in my classroom. So, I set out to gather my supplies. The key piece to this experience was, of course, the dead body. After much perseverance at the mall, Old Navy came through in a huge way by donating a full form male mannequin to my project. Unfortunately, the mannequin didn’t have a head. I solved that problem by buying a foam head from hobby lobby. It worked out great because since the mannequin and the foam head were both white, it looked fairly natural when I duck taped the head to the mannequin with white duck tape. I had my dead body, so I was ready to set things up and turn this mannequin into an interactive dead Pharaoh to show the steps of mummification. During the mummification process, the brain is removed through the nose with a wire hook. I took a hanger and bent it to make my wire hook. I then sawed off the top of the foam head, carved out some foam to make a cavity, and then filled it with a long piece of gray rope-like cloth material that I cut from a pair of sweatpants. I stuffed the “brain” into the cavity, and put the skull back on with velcro. Another step of mummification I needed to show was the removal of the internal organs through a hole cut in the stomach. For this step, I cut a hole in the stomach with a jig saw, then placed white duck tape over the hole so it appeared to be closed. The two pieces of duck tape were side by side so I could stick my hand through the hole after it was supposedly cut by the “slitter” (student volunteer). The organs inside (liver, stomach, lungs, and intestines) were from an anatomy kit. I poured a bunch of fake blood (karo syrup, red food coloring, and water) in inside the mannequin for effect. When the big day arrived and it was time for the show, I stood by my door and invited my students in to witness the mummification of the Pharaoh Khufu. The walked in, with the lights out, but a lamp hanging from the ceiling, providing a eerie glow over the dead pharaoh concealed by a white blanket. They were wide eyed, excited, motivated to see what was going to happen. They continued to be ultra engaged as I pulled the brain out the nose with a wire hook, reached in and retrieved the organs, as blood dripped from the organs, and my hand as I placed them in the canopic jars. I stuffed the body cavity with rags as the Egyptians did. I then covered a Ken barbie (mini Khufu) with salt for the drying out process. With the help of more student volunteers, we wrapped the body with white strips of linen (toilet paper), placing golden amulets between the layers to protect the body. Finally, the mummification was complete. The experience had.
When our students come to school, they should be put in a position to experience something they’ve never seen before. They should enter our classrooms eagerly trying to see what is going to happen next. I don’t view it as going above and beyond. I view it as doing our jobs as professional educators. Creating memorable experiences is what education should be. Education in our classrooms and schools should be something kids run to, not away from. Be willing to put forth the effort needed to provide those experiences. Be willing to sit down and think. Create something new, something different. Read the book “Teach Like a Pirate.” Subscribe to Edbean. Join Twitter and find one of the many great educational twitter chats out there. Be willing to take a risk and make a difference. While preparing, someone asked me, “Why go to all this work for one lesson?” I pondered it for a moment and replied, “Because I want my students to experience my class. Not just sit through it.”