The Berkeley Carroll School

8th Grade Living Wax Museum

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Imagine you had a chance to meet one of your idols from history — a great leader, an inventor, a writer, a musician, an artist, a sports hero, an actor, a rebel or a revolutionary — what would you ask him or her? What would you want to know? Now imagine that you had the opportunity to become that historical figure and share your ideas and experiences with the Berkeley Carroll community. Who would you want to be?

Each year, our eighth grade students get to answer this question as they begin to prepare for the 8th Grade Living Wax Museum. Though the Wax Museum has been part of the eighth grade experience for more than a decade, in recent years the project has evolved to become more interactive in order to better align with 21st century skills such as adapting information to a particular audience, thinking on one’s feet and developing one’s interpersonal skills.

The unit begins with each student selecting a historical figure for the project. Any historical figure is fair game so long as she or he has made a lasting and positive contribution to his or her field or to humanity in general — the goal of this project is to showcase historical figures who have made the world a better place in one way or another.

The Wax Museum is also a reading project, therefore another requirement is that a suitable book be written by or about the historical figure (a memoir, biography or autobiography).

Once students have read their Wax Museum book, the transformation process begins! Through a series of free writes and imagination exercises, students begin to capture the voice of their historical figure in writing and, through outlining, drafting, peer editing and revising, they craft a written presentation that captures the essence of the historical figure’s personality, life journey and achievements. As we shift into the rehearsal phase, students start to create costumes and gather props. This year, we added a new element to the process: using the iPad app PicCollage, students created posters of their historical figures for display throughout the building. In class, students rehearse in small groups listening to each other’s presentations, asking questions along the way, and guiding the conversation based on what they want to know.

Before we know it, the evening of the Wax Museum is upon us! The event has a “gallery walk” feel to it — the historical figures are grouped in classrooms thematically and visitors can meander through, stopping to chat with their idols or learn about historical figures who may be new to them. Young or old, everyone comes away having learned something about the historical figures, about poise under pressure and about how much our students can accomplish when we hand them the reigns of their education.

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