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Dublin Elementary School 5th Graders Bring a Wax Museum to Life

April 13, 2016

DSC_0740DUBLIN, CA–When one mentions the term “wax museum” what often comes to mind is the chain of successful branches throughout the world that were spawned by Marie Tussaud. Born a French citizen, she learned the art of wax modeling throughout the late 1770’s. Ms. Tassaud was incapable to return to France from the U.K. during the Napoleonic Wars. As a result, she traveled throughout Great Britain and then ultimately established her first wax museum on Baker Street in London.

However, to many fifth graders, this historic explanation is best left in history books. As we fast forward to 2016, a wonderful variation of a wax museum occurred last Friday. At Dublin Elementary School, Ms. Murrah Rodriguez and her fifth grade teaching colleagues led a rousing event in the Multi-purpose room that had most of the school buzzing. Ms. Rodriguez explained that she had been exposed to a Notable American Wax Museum assembly while employed in a different school district. Upon her arrival to Dublin Unified School District three years ago, she introduced this concept on a smaller scale within her own fifth grade class. Subsequently, she successfully rallied to make this a grade level project.


Upon observation, the assembly resembled an event very close to a science fair. Students were often grouped together if their museum subjects were identical or very similar. Further, each student wore a small red sticker on their costume. Once the button was pushed, the historical figure would then launch into a short summary of what their project represented. The MPR was also filled with various third and fourth grades students. Their charge was to select a variety of individuals that they would subsequently report upon.

To learn a bit more, had the opportunity to view this assembly. Further, we visited with Ms. Rodriguez and she helped us to understand the significance of this project and what it means to the school site.  had mentioned that the students have been working on their profiles for about two months.  Do you place any limitations on who they may profile and why?

DSC_0764Murrah Rodriguez: “We want each student to choose a notable American. We use the word notable instead of famous to guide students towards people who have changed our history, vs. celebrities and athletes. There are a few athletes, actors, singers, etc, that also fit the category of notable American, such as Jackie Robinson and Wilma Rudolph. But, for the most part, students are limited in these categories. It is amazing that every year we see new Americans represented, and the students, families and teachers are able to learn more about our history. We see every category from notable pioneers, explorers, founding fathers, women’s right and civil rights activist, photographers, current day presidents, business entrepreneurs and inventors. The only other limit we enforce is there can only be one of each character per class. For example, there can only be one Helen Keller per class making a total of four if each class had one. That way, there is a more diverse range of Americans represented.” Please speak to the experience that the 3rd and 4th graders have.  What is their assignment and how do they achieve it?

DSC_0773Rodriguez: “The 3rd and 4th graders visiting the museum are provided with a clipboard, pencil and handout. They are expected to visit different notable Americans, gently push their button, listen to their speech and then look at/read their visual. They then needed to choose three notable Americans, record their name, their dates of life and three interested facts about them. They were encouraged to find a range of historical figures from different time periods. All of the notable Americans are organized by their birthdate from earliest to present day and the tables where they are located are labeled with their time period. Having an assignment helps the students to use their time wisely and it holds them accountable to visit multiple “statues”. The 3rd and 4th graders often have very positive feedback and leave the Wax Museum already discussing which character they will choose when they are ultimately in the 5th grade.” For you and your fifth grade team, what are trying to accomplish for your students through this exercise?

Rodriguez: “There are multiple parts to this project which is why the work is spread out over a two month long period. Students are provided a timeline with weekly deadlines to help them with time management. Their first task is to choose a character and provide sources of information they used to find their character such as websites and books. They are then asked to research their character and fill out an outline, which is a list of questions. Using those questions, they write a rough draft biography on their character. After in class guidance and peer edit/revisions, the students write their final biography. The paper is the most labor intensive portion of the project. The students’ next task is to create a visual for their American, write and memorize a one minute speech in the 1st person, and choose a costume to represent their American. After weeks of practice, they are ready for the museum.

“One writing standard for 5th grade is ‘informational writing’, so writing the biography gives students another chance to learn about information writing and the writing process. The visual, speech, and overall presentation piece is connected to the students’ ‘speaking and listening’ standards. It gives the students another opportunity to practice speaking loud and clear in front of others, making eye contact, pronunciation, and overall connection to their audience. When standards are taught in a more holistic way, such as integrated into a thematic project, kids tend to absorb and retain more information and skills.

“The last thing I always want my students to achieve through the Wax Museum experience is confidence. There are many students that come into the project saying, I will never be able to memorize a speech, or I hate talking in front of people. Communication and presentation skills are a huge part of 21st century learning, and I think we need to encourage our students to practice and grow this skill as they would multiplication or spelling. By the end of the museum, you can see the students’ beaming with pride over what they have done. At recess and for days to come you hear them sharing with their friends about how many people pushed their button at the museum or the compliment their received from a visitor about their speech. It is amazing how a project such as this can really build students up and I think it is because they are very invested from day one about their character. Students are also more likely to become intrinsically motivated when they know there is an end celebration/presentation which is why having an audience come to visit them is so important.” While we won’t try to single anyone out, what were some of the more inventive profiles/costumes that you observed on that day?

Rodriguez: “We give the students bare minimum requirements for their visuals, speeches, and costumes, but most students try to find a way to go above and beyond. We talk to the kids about “marketing” themselves and what would make a museum visitor come to them and push their button over the 90 other notable Americans. Kids will come up with things such as colorful visual, large clear pictures, a funny or interesting costume piece or adding props to their statue pose, etc. After these conversations, you can see their wheels turning and the kids really come up with some creative options. Each year we are blown away with the different ideas. This year we had Hamilton and Burr who decided to team up for their presentation. Although they had separate speeches, they included each other in the very end of their speech with a small ‘battle’. There was also Walt Disney who decided to add sound and lighting to her poster. Larry Page, the inventor of google, created multiple homemade props and made his visual a computer screen. There were also countless students who were very creative with their posters, costumes or had very charismatic speeches.”

DSC_0766  Anything else that you would like to add?

Rodriguez: “Although this project is a lot of work for the students, the feedback we receive is always very positive. In June, we always reflect on our year together and when I ask the students what was the most memorable events, the most common answers are 5th grade camp and the Wax Museum. I will hear students talk about their experience for the rest of the school year, here and there, and I hope they can take the skills and confidence with them and apply it to future endeavors.

“We also hear great feedback from the visitors. The teachers, students, and families that visit the museum are respectful and enthusiastic. They don’t just come to see their child or their friends, they wonder the museum and listen to multiple notable Americans. They often find one of the 5th grade teachers before they leave to compliment the kids on their hard work and share how impressed they are with the end products. I, too, and blown away each year by the 5th graders’ commitment and joy when it comes to the Wax Museum.”

We will also add that the fifth grade team does not receive any supplemental monetary support for this program. However, in a true collegial spirit, all students were encouraged to donate any costume items that they might have already had at home. Clearly, the objective was not to create the fanciest board or the most elaborate costume. So, it was truly fitting that would create a grade-wide effort to support each other – both for current fifth graders, but for those that will someday follow them in this endeavor. would like to thank the staff at Dublin Elementary – notably teacher Murrah Rodriguez and Principal Lauren McGovern for their guidance on this profile. Somehow, we are left to believe that Madame Tussaud is smiling.


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