Harry in the Classroom

While reading some other blogs today, I found a great article from Britain’s Daily Mail today about a school in the UK that has experienced a significant turnaround in the academic performance of their students after introducing a Harry Potter curriculum this year. Apparently, the Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school was in the bottom quarter of schools in Britain. After introducing a student-designed curriculum, they are now in the top 5% of schools in the country!

At Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery school, students are immersed in Harry Potter.

Year classes have been named Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin, after the school houses at Hogwarts, the wizards’ school attended by Harry in the novels and hit movies.

Example lessons from the “Harry Potter curriculum”

•Maths: subtraction is seen as a “spell” which has been created by Harry Potter. Children have to say the magic words “numerus subtracticus” when they give an answer eg “58 minus 14 – numerus subtracticus – equals 44″.

•English: to learn about dramatisation, pupils create their own scripts for plays based on the text from chapter two of J K Rowling’s debut novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

•Art: imagine what Harry Potter would do if he painted a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece The Starry Night. The Potter-inspired versions featured witches, dragons and other beasties.

•History: the history of flight, starting with a discussion of Harry Potter’s broomstick, then discussing if that is real and tracing the real development of aviation, including the Wright brothers.

•Geography: comparing the children’s home town of Arnold, Nottinghamshire, with Goathland, North Yorkshire, where the scenes of Hogsmead Station were shot for the Potter films.

•Computers: take a virtual tour of Harry’s fictional school Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on the internet, then create a map of Robert Mellors Primary and Nursery School using similar information.

•Science: put a stick of celery in a beaker of blue dye and see how it takes in the fluid, turning the celery from green to blue. Discuss whether Harry Potter could use this to turn one of his foes a different colour.

•Music: learn how to create a mood by performing a piece of music relating to the theme “Hogwarts at night”. Using percussion instruments, the children made appropriately spooky sounds.

•PE: balance and co-ordination is taught by getting the pupils to pretend they are Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger getting on and off their broomsticks (pupils used imaginary broomsticks).source

Wow! What a great idea on the part of the school! While some of this may sound silly to adult ears, I can picture primary students eating it up. How fun would it be to treat math as a magic spell, when so many students dread math? Or to treat science as a Potions class, coming up with magic experiments. And the music class sounds amazing. I’m a grown woman and I would have so much fun playing a piece of music that is related to the mood of the Harry Potter film music.

Part of me thinks that the whole “dressing the part, playing the part” aspect of a Harry Potter curriculum might become obnoxious. However, the students are only immersed in Harry Potter for the present term. Right now, the student body votes on a school-wide curriculum theme for each term. Past themes have included the Titanic, Africa, Princesses and Princes. According to the school head, choosing their own themes has had a dramatic “impact on their[students'] enthusiasm and motivation.” Well, of course it has! I see that on a much smaller scale in my own classroom. Whenever my students have the option of designing their own project or assessment they do much better. This is why the workshop format works so well, also. Student-directed learning is always the best choice.

I wish something like this would jump across the pond. The project-based learning taking hold around here has a lot in common with the topic learning seen in Britain. We haven’t yet made the leap to devoting our entire curriculum to a single theme or idea, but I would love to see some variation take hold here. I know it’s a big step and a huge jump away from NCLB, but it would serve students so much more than teaching to a test every year. Even if we only devoted one semester or marking period each year to a theme, it would be great. I know it would force more teachers to co-plan and work together to set up the term, but it would benefit students to much! Definitely some food for thought.

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