An Inca slips past the principal through a classroom door adorned with an image of the Sun God. Across the way, Romans wave guests through a coliseum, dominating the center of what used to be a classroom. Isrealites beckon passersby through their door to Moses who guides them through the Red Sea. A Malian beats a drum, welcoming the onlookers into another classroom where more Malian's play drums around a fire pit.
Normally, students wearing school uniforms fill the halls of Archimedean Middle Conservatory. They chat about classes and talk to friends. They worry about homework and the upcoming quiz or test. But, one day out of the year, they transform their school into 12 different countries.
Six years ago, Principal Vasiliki Moysidis and a group of social studies teachers created the idea of World Day. It started as a simple presentation on a poster board. But, students and teachers turned it into a world of its own.
"World Day started with the idea of exposing our students to the world and helping them understand the concept that we are all part of a larger global community," Moysidis said. "It started as a simple project and evolved into this intricate school-wide production. I realized that the students, once they were empowered to take ownership of their learning, became excited and very involved. They are actually enthusiastically learning about their country/civilization and becoming those people for one day. "
This year World Day turned back time. The teachers assigned 12 classrooms a different ancient culture. The Han Dynasty came alive once more through students who dressed as a dragon and danced in the center of the room while a Chinese scribe demonstrated calligraphy.
"Every homeroom class transforms its room into a different world that thoroughly represents their culture in unique and creative ways. Students research, cook, create costumes and props, and design an entire set and presentation for their projects," said Anabel Lopez, a social studies teacher who took charge of the project this year and in years past.
When students contemplate the difference between a textbook lesson or a typical research project and their reconstructions of actual cultures, they overwhelmingly opt for World Day-style learning.
"I'd rather walk around in it," said Caela Gomes, a seventh grader, whose student-made jewelry helped form the Aztec marketplace.
"It's the experience of it. You feel like you're there. When you build what you read about and stand in it, it's much more important to you than just making a poster," said sixth grader Jorge Suarez. His classroom, the Isrealites, tied for first place with the Incas in the AMC World Day competition. Jorge played the part of Abraham, and showed people the Temple of Solomon and the Ark of the Covenant. Another classmate, Isabela Muino was King Saul, and explained the history of monarchies.
The students who became Incas worked through their weekend building a llama the size of a large Labrador. They arrived early every morning for two weeks to plan and create. They built Machu Picchu and the Temple of the Sun and made their own hats and clothing. They even created a spot for the three Inca laws: Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not be lazy. Beneath the laws that were posted to the wall, students sat with hands and feet wrapped in bandages that were splashed with red paint and told their stories of breaking these laws.
"When the Incas were lying with bandages and blood, they told us they stole or were lazy so they had their hands and feet cut off," said Sophia Christodoulou, a seventh grader. I thought it was so awful. I'll never forget it."
The students who became Anasazi, an ancient Native American culture, won best set for the competition. Among many of their creation they built was a Meza Verde cliff and dwellings. They also covered the room in drawings mimicking the Anasazi "rock art" or petroglyphs.
Lisa Chesser is a Language Arts teacher at Archimedean Middle Conservatory and a freelance writer. Do you also have a story to tell? Send it to us by clicking on the "Story" icon at the top of the page, next to "View or submit".