Teaching TARDIS

Visitors to my classroom always comment on the giant TARDIS in the room-usually with much puzzlement. i.e. “Why do you have a giant, British police box in your room.” Assuming  my guest possesses evidence of a sense of humor, I explain my spaceship cum writing center. (If they react like the grown ups in The Little Prince, you know, “Why would you cover a cabinet with duct tape?” thus revealing the total atrophy of their sense of humor, then I just say, “Why not?” and move on.

However, I do have a fantastic story behind the mysterious entity, so if you still have your sense of humor intact, read on.

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, a show about an alien who travels through time and space in a TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, solving universal crisis through the power of his intellect and the generosity and love in his two hearts. This show stresses compassion, forgiveness, acceptance of those different from you, and above all, the fact that one person, no matter how pedestrian your curriculum vitae, (Yep, I’m feeling all Latin-y today) one person can change the fate of the universe, usually through selflessness.

I also love The Doctor-the show’s protagonist, because he provides a great role-model for young men. Try to find a television or movie hero who fights with his mind and heart(s), abhors guns, and is far from the “oily variety bo-hunk” that wins by muscle or superior firepower. The Doctor, in contrast, is cute, in a funny, quirky, sometimes downright goofy way.  Oh, and his spaceship is in the form of a 1950’s British police box on the outside, while inside, it’s much bigger.

The program appeals to young people due to creative plots featuring a plethora of aliens, new planets, and even Vincent van Gogh, Shakespeare and Queen Victoria.  I love to use this program as a springboard for a scriptwriting project based on this well crafted and intellectually stimulating lesson plan, The Doctor Who Script-to-Screenwriting Contest, designed for British school children. Americans cannot enter the contest, but I run my own, with the screenplay judged by adult, life-long fans of the show.

So-my TARDIS story (finally).  

If you know or were a middle school student, you realize what an emotionally and socially turbulent time it is, even in the best of circumstances. You also know that some kids had it harder. Family illness, poverty, learning challenges, emerging lifestyle issues, and more can alienate and injure adolescents.  I remind myself often that my students carry burdens of which I know nothing. So, I wanted to come up with a fun project which would bring the kids together and help them to bond-not a “class project” or a “graded project,” which would emphasize achievement, and not a “service project.” We do a ton of those projects, but I wanted the focus of this activity to be the project itself.

Enter the world’s ugliest supply cabinet. Enough said there. The students were already fired up about Doctor Who from participating in the screenwriting contest. I asked them if they would like to turn the cabinet into a TARDIS, and I passed around a paper for them to sign up. I figured I’d get about five kids, but by the time the paper made its rounds, it was covered, both sides, with signatures.

Armed with duct tape (LOTS) and Sharpies, the students came in during their recreational time and worked on the project, and we decided to make the inside into a writing center, since, like the TARDIS, stories are bigger on the inside.

So-lessons I learned:

1.) Fun is a great motivator.

2.) Kids need neither a carrot nor a stick to do a great job.

3.) When we put the TARDIS in the school art show, the kids dragged their parents across the gym to see it, to be photographed with it, displaying pride and ownership.

5.) A disparate group of adolescents worked, laughed, and created together, forming a family that has remained solid.

A year after our project, the students still love the Police Box in my room. Now, I need to find a new enterprise. I have an old, ugly cracked table I salvaged. Duct tape, anyone?

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