One Sixth-Grade History Teacher Uses a Unique Program to Teach About Ancient Civilizations as Distance Learning Continues
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Making online school fun through a pandemic is challenging, but it can—and is—being done.
A sixth-grade history teacher is using a unique program to keep students excited about learning about ancient civilizations during remote school. The program usually helps schools to put on staged theater productions but has now made a quick pivot to a Zoom production.
Jonathan Hyman’s classes at Paul Revere Charter Middle School are among the first to engage in the materials through Zoom.
Richard and Leslie Strauss, founders of the Spirit Series drama-based online learning program, appeared on KTLA about a month ago to showcase a pilot of the project that Hyman is utilizing.
“For nearly 20 years we’ve been teaching positive core values and building character with our drama-based program,” Richard said. “Students during regular school hours study, co-write, stage and perform inspiring one-act plays about some of history’s greatest heroes. We’ve taught 50,000 students, they’ve met the Spirit Series Challenge performing these plays—and they are not drama students, everybody participates. So when they are done and they’ve completed these performances in front of their parents, peers and teachers—their whole world—they feel like they’ve really climbed a mountain.”
“Those heroes become role models for things like courage, fortitude, generosity and wisdom,” Leslie added. “The kids feel like they’ve met a great challenge—and who doesn’t want to feel that right now?”
Hyman’s students have rehearsed diligently for “Buddha Walks” with a forthcoming performance in the works.
“When COVID-19 happened, families were naturally concerned about social distancing,” said Hyman, a teacher at Paul Revere for the last 15 years. “The play provides a fun atmosphere for kids to learn history. I did it in the spring on a voluntary basis. I had 15 kids who wanted to do it. Richard has written six or seven of these. It only takes three weeks (15 school days), and the kids rehearse for 10 to 11 days.”
Hyman shared that this marks the 11th year of the program. Last year, he did “Buddha Walks” in the fall and “Seeking Socrates” in the spring. He said that it’s based on a script, and students write their own couplets.
Palisadian James Marks is a sixth-grader and shared that he enjoys taking the Zoom class taught by Hyman.
“I’m no actor, but it’s really fun because I feel like they have good activities and we get to play lots of games over Zoom to practice part of a [dance] movement,” Marks said. “We have Zoom school Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday.”
Richard added that he believes the reason the Spirit Series has been so successful is that it engages kids around the most important questions in life at a time when they are ready and hungry for that.
“It’s not just a feeling of accomplishment after performing these plays, it’s also the feeling of meaning and purpose and delving into questions they don’t even know have been troubling them until we start asking them questions like, ‘What do you want out of life when you grow up?’” he said.
“Right now when we’re so siloed, to be able to work online in a project together really creates this sense of community,” Leslie added. “We pulled our team together and asked, ‘How do we bring this online?’ We decided we would use some pilots with Zoom and the results were remarkable. It turns out we could take the ‘distance’ out of distance learning.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.