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Steve Haberlin holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His scholarship focuses on instructional supervision of teacher candidates, teacher...
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Bombs Away!

Not sure how I did it, but one school year, I convinced my principal to let me fill up over 500 water balloons, bring the kiddies out to the P.E. field, and let them reenact the Battle of the Alamo.

The project took on a life of its own.

The next year, we filled up 1,000 balloons. The students made bandannas to mark their teams and donned goggles and other protective gear. We used PE equipment, garbage cans and other items to create an Alamo structure.

Parent served as referees, and the list of rules grew longer. Students began meeting at lunch and during recess to discuss their teams strategy.

Oh, yeah, by the way, did I mention that all of my students scored over 90 percent on the final exam (this was no accident, since I wouldnt allow students to participate in the balloon battle unless they passed the test).

The Battle of Alamo project is one of my all-time favorite lessons and one that Im sure my students will remember for a long time. In this blog, I am going to outline the steps to conduct this lesson, and hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes (and I have made my share).

First off, this project can be reworked for various history lessons, but mainly those involving a battle. I got the idea of reenacting the battle from reading a book by educator, Ron Clarks. I was so intrigued by the idea that I tried it (not so successfully) one year. However, I kept tweaking the lesson until it became the highlight of the school year.

STEP ONE:

GET PERMISSION

I cant stress enough that you need to get permission to conduct this project. Present your principal with a detailed plan outlining the learning objectives of the project as well as how the event will be organized. Make sure to point out that students will wear safety gear, and that you will have plenty of adults on hand to help out. Principals are concerned about safetyas teachers should beand the last thing they need is another accident or angry parent, so make sure you have done your homework.

STEP TWO:

GET THEM EXCITED

After obtaining permission, the next step is to get the students excited! That should come easy when you tell them water balloons are involved. I usually introduce the unit and then tell the class that we will culminate the lesson by reenacting the event with a balloon battle.

STEP THREE:

TEACH THE CURRICULUM

The next step takes several weeks and involves teaching the students what I want them to know. I provide the class with a pre-test to gauge what they know about the event then outline a series of projects and lessons that cover all the important people, dates and places. In addition, I have used online discussions and used other technology to add more depth to my lessons (for particulars, you can e-mail me at [email protected].

STEP FOUR:

SHOW WHAT YOU KNOW

After sufficiently teaching the subject, I require students to score a 90 percent of above on the final examor they cannot participate in the balloon battle. This requirement is clearly explained at the beginning of the unit, and I send a letter home explaining it to parents. Last school year, I had five out of 19 students score less than 90 percent. They were allowed one re-take, in which all of them passed. Its up to you whether you will allow students another chance. I know some teachers do not believe in re-takes, and normally, I never allow re-takes on tests. I compromised by allowing students to participate in the battle; however, I kept the grade from their original test.

STEP FIVE:

PREPARE FOR BATTLE

You will need anywhere from 500-1,000 water balloons, which you can find at a supermarket or drugstore. I ask parents to donate a package or two. I also ask parents to help referee the event as well as assist with setup and cleanup (dont try this alone. Its too much work).

I have parents come a few days early to begin filling up balloons. DO NOT wait until the day of the event to fill up the balloons. I made this mistake one year! It takes time to get 1,000 balloons ready, so plan accordingly. I place the balloons in empty garbage cans or large recycle bins. You can also ask the school custodian for a roll cart to wheel the garbage buckets or bins since they will be heavy. (side note: I also allow the students to use the buckets as protective barriers during the battle).

You also need a location for the event. I reserve the back of the P.E. field, away from other activity. You dont want other students getting hit with balloons or interrupting.

Equally important, I prep the kids by going over the rules of the event, including how they get out, and where to sit when they are out of a round. I operate the event in rounds, or days, and allow students to come back in after getting hit with a balloon. This keeps them involved in the entire event. I also use P.E. cones to mark off boundaries.

Consider how to break the class up into teams. Using the Battle of the Alamo model, I split my class into two groups, the Texans and the Mexican Army. I create a three-to-one student ratio (three Mexican soldiers for every Texan fighter) so my students get a better sense of what it must of felt like to be outnumbered.

Finally, send a letter home requiring students to bring a change of clothes (since they will get wet,) extra shoes, towels, and swimming goggles. Have a designated place where they change clothes before returning to class or home.

Using water balloons to reenact a battle is an innovative way to get students excited about learning. Not only will you improve academic performance, but you will create a lasting memory! Students will remember the Alamo as well as your classroom and dedication.

Share your thoughts on the balloon project or suggest similar ideas at the Innovative Teaching grouphttp://community.educationworld.comcontent/bombs-away-0?gid=NTEyMQ==

Take care,

Steve