Many people who read The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson are drawn into the storyline of the titular ‘Devil.’ The novel is a tale of a serial killer finding prey in the many that flock to the 1893 World’s Fair (or The White City). The latter is what kept me flipping the pages however. As a former theme park employee, I have an affinity for all things theme-park-adjacent: Fairs, Circuses, Butter Sculpture Expos et al.
Jackson Park would host the 1893 World’s Fair along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. The fair’s architect, Daniel Burnham, has a vivid image for the fair that he brings to fruition. He describes the need for expansive flat land as well as hillsides. He demanded curving paths, and angular plots. He wanted tall blooming trees and short sparse bushes. The water on the lake needed boats cruising through it and his vision for the fair forced the invention of The Ferris Wheel. All of these elements were for the eyes of the visitors. Of course, these elements had secondary purposes. But for Burnham, The Ferris Wheel was there so pedestrians had a dynamic skyline, and the patterned flower beds were so people atop the wheel could look down at biological artwork.
If you come to my classroom, you will be welcomed with an image of the plague that Walt Disney placed at the entrance of Disneyland: Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy. I aim to diversify and add variety to my classroom and my content constantly. I want my students to be in awe of my class the way people were in awe of the world’s first Ferris Wheel. You may think its impossible, and you’re probably right. But, I assure you Walt Disney was also told his permanent fair idea was impossible as well. So, let me dream a little, okay?
In my class, there’s something for everyone. Maybe today they are bored when we have to examine the agriculture exhibit, but the next day, their jaws are on the ground when we stop at the acrobat tent. Students afraid of water don’t need to come into the boat to appreciate how the boat enhances their view from the river bank. Or: today they are bored with grammar, but tomorrow their jaws on their ground when there’s a sudden death in Shakespeare. Students who hate writing may love reading poetry or vice versa.
Think back to a theme park or a fair. If any attraction was by itself it would hold a fraction of its ability to attract a crowd. It is the unity of the spectacle that creates an enriching environment. My graphic novel unit enhances my drama unit, and To Kill A Mockingbird comes to life only after some kids read “Strange Fruit.” The use of visual imagery, poetry, prose, articles, drama, grammar, and film swirl together over the course of the school year to leave a student satisfied.
Look, I know its a tall order to suggest that everyone leave my class in May as if they spent a day at Disneyland: big smiles, and wishing they didn’t have to leave. But, I bet, with the wide array of resources I provide and activities I guide them through, there’s are at least a handful of days every year that each student really enjoys. And when dealing with jaded freshmen, the fact that I have seen this fantasy materialize in front of me is just as spectacular as a firework show.
With this insight and comparison, I have enhanced my instructions and taken stress and pressure off of individual lessons or units. They’ll get it all before park closes, and I can utilize every minute of the school year to entice, entertain, and educate them.
How do you leverage the length of the school year to better your lessons and plans?
What elements do you plan that may compliment one another inside your classroom? Leave a comment below!
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