“Was it a lot of work?”
“Was it worth it?”
“Will you do it again?”
These were the questions teachers asked the day after my team partner and I transformed our classrooms into the geographical regions of California. We designed an Amazing Race-style classroom transformation that our students enjoyed and still talk about today.
A ton of work.
So worth it.
Absolutely doing it again.
As fans of the show “The Amazing Race,” our goal was for students to venture through the four regions of California whilst playing “The Amazing Race: 4th Grade Edition.” Each region contained two “pit stops” to assess either reading, math, geography, STEM, listening and speaking, visual arts, and technology standards. Teams worked together to complete each pit stop before earning access to proceed to the next one. It was a total surprise that lasted the entire day, and the kids loved it.
Our theme was “The Amazing Race,” but your theme will likely be something completely different! Want to give your students a great learning experience they’ll talk about for days? If you are up for an adventure, here’s a “packing list”of 10 considerations that might help create a successful trip!
Do what excites YOU
I’ve always secretly wanted to be on The Amazing Race, so using the format of the game was familiar and super fun for me. Use personal hobbies, books, movies, or anything else that inspire you. If you are excited about it, students will be too. I wouldn’t attempt to replicate a fad or something I don’t know much about just because my students like it. Although well intended, this would result in more work for me to research and accurately design and create.
Organization is everything!
I love me some checklists. Use Google Keep or a shared document if working with a partner to keep a running list of complete and incomplete tasks and needed materials for each pit stop. Prioritize items to maximize efficiency. Use separate bins to keep materials for each pit stop together.
Classroom transformations sometimes get associated with fluff. Be intentional with the work you have the students complete. It’s going to be a fun day and the kids won’t even realize you are gathering information from them, so might as well make it worthwhile by collecting and assessing their work.
Maintain the element of surprise
Transform the room after school or the night before. The students had NO idea it was coming and freaked out when saw flags and team photos covering the outside of our classroom windows. You could build suspense by reminding them not to be absent because something “big” might happen during the week. I recommend recording their reactions and taking tons of pictures to share with families.
Mix it up.
The physical transformation of the room itself will not maintain student engagement. It’s important to provide different activities so that they aren’t simply filling out worksheets in a new setting. Include a wide range of activities that require them to cut, glue, record, create, write, speak, listen, draw, and work as a team.
There are fun ways to utilize technology to allow students to be creative or to just make access to resources easier. Students can submit a pit stop task via Google Classroom or Seesaw. If they have to view, read, or listen to any sources, create a Wakelet collection to curate them all in one place for easy access. We used Flipgrid to create a breakout pit stop. Students were given a math problem on a locked grid and had to enter the correct answer in order to gain access and move to the next pit stop. I recommend using apps and websites the students already have had experience with to avoid this becoming a lesson during the game.
Encourage teamwork and perseverance
Choose or design tasks that require teamwork. Students may sometimes struggle with this, but I believe it’s great practice for them to see through productive struggle together. We organized our rotations in a way that the teams could not advance until the next pit stop was clear, so they were allowed to help the team in front of them in order for them to be able to start.
Students’ families were so willing to help knowing I was planning a special secret experience for their kids. Many parents and older siblings were available the evening evening to help decorate and set up the night before. Those that were available during the daytime helped monitor pit stops by checking that a task was complete before granting them access to the next clue box. Doing it alone is possible, but having extra sets of eyes and hands is helpful!
Use reusable materials
Rightfully so, one of the major concerns with classroom transformations is cost. I would recommend purchasing anything that you are able to use again. Search for items early so that you can find the most affordable price. We saved pretty much everything from our transformation and brought a lot of items from home such as beach towels, tents, umbrellas, and toys for decor.
Have extra activities available
When teams finish early or are waiting for a pit stop to clear before they can take a turn, it’s useful to have extra activities students can do in the meantime. This will help avoid students disturbing or visiting other teams. We created large team posters with blank flags for each pit stop for students to draw/decorate each time they completed a stop. They created a team name and enjoyed working on their poster in between pit stops.
When I think back to my own memories of school I find it much easier to recall events rather than actual lessons. I encourage you to create positive experiences that your students will remember. And most importantly, have fun!