How do you keep elementary school students interested in an all-day Zoom class? At South Ridge Elementary School, third grade teacher Kristen Potter thought outside the box, wearing costumes to bring her lessons to life. Now students look forward to fun with her alter egos, Detective Context Clue and Marta the Mathematician.
The inspiration came from a TikTok video, with a high school teacher playing a character to teach her class. “I thought if it worked for high school students, it would definitely work for third graders,” Potter explained. “I knew they would love it. So, I tried it, and it was fun for all of us!”
By recording an asynchronous video, Potter introduces the characters seamlessly into her lessons. Detective Context Clue shows up to teach the English Language Arts (ELA) class instead of Potter. The Detective helps students find clues to the meanings of challenging words in the context of their reading.
After one lesson led by Detective Context Clue, a clever student said, “Mrs. Potter, you’re Detective Context Clue!”
Potter denied it. “No, I’m not! He had a mustache!”
“You drew that on!” the student accused.
Potter shrugged. “No, I didn’t!” Even if the students suspect their teacher is the detective, they’re still enjoying the lesson.
Marta the Mathematician is another character. Marta is a math professor at Hogwarts. Distantly related to Harry Potter, she helps explain challenging concepts like commutative and distributive properties in multiplication.
Detective Context Clue helps Kristen Potter's third grade class find the meanings of words by using context clues.
Marta the Mathematician is another guest teacher in Potter's class, leaving her math class at Hogwarts to teach properties of multiplication.
The students had so much fun with Detective Context Clue and Marta the Mathematician, they started creating characters too—completely on their own. When they had assignments to make short videos for class, some of the students surprised Potter by showing up with fun filters and props. She has students who have become news reporters, jungle explorers, and even a cheetah.
Potter has also added a little fun to the class by having guest speakers—say, a stuffed pigeon doll or her own dog. “I have two monitors,” she explained, “So I can see the kids on one monitor but they can’t see me.” Then she just focuses the camera on the guest speaker and teaches the lesson in the character’s voice.
Student Noah Marvin became an explorer in the Math Jungle, using his bamboo pen to solve math problems.
She’s not done creating characters yet, with plans for a construction worker to teach students how to calculate the area of rooms and buildings, and a baker who can help them learn about fractions. “When I’m starting to teach a more challenging concept, it gets their attention,” Potter said. “And it makes everybody laugh.”
Remote learning can be a challenge for teachers and students, but Potter’s characters are keeping everyone engaged. And she is having a great time too, creating and performing new characters. With so many different “teachers” to help, Potter’s students are sure to remember their online lessons for many years to come.