Can We Let Teachers Channel Miss Frizzle?

There’s no denying the truth; Miss Frizzle was my role model for teaching and learning. There wasn’t a question she wouldn’t answer. There wasn’t a field trip she wouldn’t take with that Magic School Bus. She loved her students. She had fun learning alongside her students while they thought she was merely teaching.

I adore Miss Frizzle; so much so, her motto has been hanging in my kitchen since I bought my house fifteen years ago.

Blackboard with a quote from Miss Frizzle: Take chances; Make mistakes; Get messy.
Blackboard in author’s kitchen.

Miss Frizzle guided my teaching and learning when I homeschooled my daughter. Yes, it was truly a luxury. I get it. We took adventures everywhere. We learned how cranberries are grown and harvested in New Jersey. We visited the Jersey shore before and after a hurricane. That lesson was actually based on a Magic School Bus book: The Magic School Bus Inside a Hurricane.

Roaming a portion of beach, we ran into people fishing. We watched them reel in an amazing-looking fish called a Northern Sea Robin:

Photo of Northern Sea Robin, a fish.

We learned about flukes, apparently tasty fish; but, there was a size limit, so many were tossed back into the ocean to grow larger.

Picture of three fluke, also fish.

And in between, we saw the damage from the hurricane. Streets filled with sand; erosion on the beaches, and homes in need of aftermath repair. It was quite the learning experience. We took chances; we made mistakes (well, mostly Mom made mistakes while driving!); we definitely got messy.

Yes, I had one student. Yes, the learning sky and landscape was limitless. There were no tests. (Did Miss Frizzle ever give a test?) There were no grades. We just learned. We asked questions. We searched for answers. We documented our adventures with photos, lap books, stories told around the dinner table.

Schools opened in New Jersey today. Rather, call it back to school with the New Jersey Department of Education content mandates, testing mandates, and grading mandates. The NJ DOE projects this foolish notion that by filling student heads with information, teachers create lifelong learners. We need only look at how content-driven instruction has fared as we watch the mess which has unfolded during this pandemic. People don’t even seem to understand how their local, state, and federal governments function.

So-called experts raise the specter of lost learning if school districts don’t march to department of education mandates. Really? What will really be lost is test scores. They will plummet. But should that matter? The only entities which have ever asked to see my test scores are colleges and departments of education. What does that tell us?

If department of education mandates were taken off the table during this pandemic, what might potentially happen? Would teachers channel their inner Miss Frizzle? They would teach the important subject matter like reading, writing, math, science, and social studies; but, they could teach it in inspiring ways, even with Zoom. Thanks to the internet, The Magic School Bus can now travel to anywhere in the world, inspiring learning and adventure. Thanks to platforms like Newsela, teachers can teach differentiate the reading level of stories.

And you want to talk about giving students voice??? What does Pigeon always want to do?

Why not let students drive that Magic School Bus for a lesson? Create the parameters for the adventures and let students design them. Where would students take one another given the freedom to explore? Would classmates land in a jungle? A zoo? A Porsche factory? Back in the day, we used to call this a teach-in. During my own 8th grade year, we held teach-ins as social studies assignments. The teach-ins weren’t designed for activism, but rather as a way for us to teach one another about an aspect of a topic. During a teach-in on the Civil War, three of us talked about the music of the Civil War and performed songs.

But alas, those who get paid to maintain the status quo and stifle true learning and teaching still prevail. They believe the educational frameworks they have created over decades actually prepare students for lifelong learning.

Me? I still believe Miss Frizzle has the key to lifelong learning when she challenges us to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy. She sits on my bookshelf, a little worn and tattered, but still inspiring me. During this pandemic, we need to free our teachers from content-driven teaching. Let them channel Miss Frizzle. Let them have fun teaching and learning with their students.

Photo of author's Miss Frizzle doll.
Author’s Miss Frizzle doll

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