“Ms. Day, my legs are so sore from all that running yesterday!” exclaimed one of my 6th graders breathlessly as she entered my classroom at the end of class. That’s not a sentence you normally hear in a history class, but it’s one I hear every year when my students participate in “Ms. Day’s Amazing Race.”
I have always been a fan of the hit CBS reality show, The Amazing Race. My family even auditioned for the family edition when I was in 9th grade. I still cringe when I think about the matching “twin shirts” that my twin sister and I wore to the open casting call because my mom thought they might make us stand out to the producers. As it turns out, the producers did not find our clever t-shirts memorable. Instead I was left to dream of traveling the world, and to make my own “scavenger hunts” for kids I babysat over the years.
When I began teaching at Episcopal, the idea of doing an Amazing Race was passed on to me by James McCrary, who taught 6th grade social studies before me. As he showed me the details of his version of the Amazing Race, my mind began to spin as I thought of what my version would look like.
Over the past four years, 6th graders have followed a trail of 8 clues about Alexander the Great. The clues are hidden all over campus and students work with a partner to find the locations using their knowledge of Alexander the Great, ancient Greece, and a handful of map skills. When they find a clue, it has one of two task cards inside- a Detour or a Roadblock. Detours give students a choice between two tasks, one of which they must complete in order to move forward. Roadblocks are a series of questions that must be answered before moving on. There is also a Fast Forward card, which challenges students with a question related to Episcopal’s history.
The first year that I did the race, I thought it would be a fun way for the students to review the material before the test. Over the years though, I have noticed that they learn more from it. In addition to mastering the content, students learn practical skills, such as teamwork, critical thinking, and problem solving.
For example, during the race, a clue told students to go north. This prompted one student to ask, “Ms. Day, which way is north?” As I shrugged my shoulders and told them to try and figure it out, his race partner suddenly whispered, “Ohhh I know how we can find it- the sun! Ok, that way is east because the sun rises in the east!” I then watched as the two boys started mapping out the direction they needed to go based on the position of the sun. Directions are hard for 6th graders and I spend a good part of each school year trying to reinforce to students that north is not “up”. To see students apply knowledge from class to solve a practical problem was extremely cool! There are countless other examples of students working together to figure out clues, problem solve, and think outside the box. It’s incredibly fun to watch and listen as they work to put the pieces together!
Each year one team in the 6th grade wins the grand prize of an ice cold Sprite, a box of sour patch kids, and of course, eternal glory. This year’s grand prize winners were Katie C. and Teagan A.
Virginia Day, a 2008 graduate of Episcopal High School, returned to her alma mater in 2014 as a sixth grade World History teacher. She received her undergraduate degree in history with a minor in French from Louisiana State University in May of 2012. Before joining Episcopal, Virginia began her teaching career in West Baton Rouge Parish.