Motivating Ourselves to a More Epic Classroom

Trevor Muir crafts his classroom around a story. He uses the “hero’s journey” to make his classroom more epic. His students make books to celebrate local heroes. The goal is to make his classroom more epic and I think he has succeeded!

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guest bios and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down. 


Enhanced Transcript

Create an Epic Classroom

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tip #1 Start by Crafting Your Classroom into a Powerful Story

Vicki: Today we’re motivating ourselves to a more epic classroom. We’ve got Trevor Muir @trevormuir with us. Trevor, how can we have a more epic classroom?

Trevor: You know, it just all starts with engaging our students. I think there’ just too many kids that are disengaged and not interested in being in school, and as a by-product, not interested in being in our classrooms. So we’ve just got to find ways to make it more engaging, and what I love to think about and practice in my own classroom is, “How do you do that with the power of story?”

I think we all love to hear great stories. We love to tell stories. We like to watch stories. They move us. They shape us. We remember them. So I really like to practice, “How do I tie those elements of story into my classroom in a way that I know my kids will really connect with?”

Vicki: Yeah, and stories are so powerful. I mean, if you think about it, kids often I have found remember the stories you tell more than they remember, you know, when you’re just repeating a review of vocab or something.

Trevor: Absolutely. And you know, so part of it is telling stories, but I like to take it even a step further and really try to craft my classroom into a story. That’s why I call it the Epic Classroom. So I think of my unit and my curriculum as a plot, and we always have real authentic conflict that the characters – my students – have to solve in some way while they’re working on content. But you know, really tying in authenticity to whatever we’re doing in the classroom, kind of sending my kids on that hero’s journey every time they come into the classroom. That’s really what story is about in my room.

An example of what a story-based classroom looks like

Vicki: So your crafting your classroom into a story. Give me an example.

Trevor: Yeah, you know, for instance… Kind of as the exposition to the story for one project we did in my room, I brought in a refugee who shared her whole experience of coming to America from Rwanda, experiencing all the technological difficulties of adjusting here. And she just shared that with my students. Then for the next month, they embarked on this adventure where they created tools to help refugees be better at that to America. And the climax of the story was where they presented these tools to an actual social work agency that’s now using them in their actual practice. While they did all this, my students were also learning about history and the Industrial Revolution and all about technological growth, and tying it into the story that they had – that they were a part of – into what they were going to do anyway with Common Core.

So it’s really about being creative and tying these things together to engage kids.

Vicki: So now all the teachers are going to head to the Shownotes, so let’s save them some time. What ages are you working with?

Trevor: I work with ninth graders through twelfth graders, so all high school.

Vicki: OK, so are you teaching history?

Trevor: I teach history, but I also teach English. I like to teach them both at the same time – both content areas.

Vicki: Oh that’s fantastic. So how can all of us teachers out here craft our classroom more into a story? How do we think differently about… You know, we’re sitting there, we’re looking at those boxes. We’re planning our lessons.

Unleash story-based learning in your classroom

Trevor: Yeah!

Vicki: How can we think differently, because you know a lot of us think project based learning…

Trevor: Yep.

Vicki: But you’re almost really thinking story-based learning, aren’t you?

Trevor: Absolutely! I think any great story has to have conflict to it, right? I mean, it wouldn’t make sense if there wasn’t some type of problem. I think that’s what often happens in school. We’ve got all this great content and great material, but kids don’t really see the purpose in it. You know what I mean?

Vicki: Yeah.

Trevor: The kids don’t know why they’re having to do the work that they’re doing. And so if you can find conflict to tie into the work that they’re doing, give them an actual problem that they need to solve that actually applies to the real world, to outside of the walls of your classroom – that gets them engaged into whatever it is you want them to learn. I would say to any teacher, “The best place to start is to try to find some piece of authenticity that you can have your kids working toward. Then just start crafting your lesson as, you know, a ‘rising action’ that moves to that climax, to where they solve whatever the conflict is.

Mistakes Trevor has made with story-based learning

Vicki: Have you ever made a mistake with this approach of use of stories to learn?

Trevor: No, I don’t make any mistakes in my classroom.

Vicki: (laughs)

Trevor: (laughs)

Vicki: (laughs) Sarcasm for Mondays…

Trevor: Hopefully you can read that. Of course, I make plenty of mistakes. Sometimes I try to go too big. Sometimes I mistake “epic” where I’m thinking epic story, and I try to think “epic as in the biggest, grandest thing I can do – which definitely has merit in the classroom. I mean, it’s really special to kids when they do these big projects. But sometimes you get too big, and you lose sight of what the story is actually about – which is character development, seeing kids have these huge breakthroughs as they kind of make their way through your classroom, through this plot.

Sometimes I just have to make myself keep it small and make the story about character development and them having these personal breakthroughs. Other times it’s really about doing these big, grand things with refugees or World War II veterans or printing children’s books. Whatever it is.

Vicki: There’s so much that you can do. Could you give us an example – I guess you just named one with printing children’s books, but – an example from the English hat that you wear?

Trevor: Absolutely. One of the things I wanted my students to realize is that there are heroes in their own community. We read a bunch of short stories that had this ‘hero’ in the center of it, and we tried to analyze, “What makes up a great hero? What are the traits of a hero?”

Then I said, “OK, now go into our community and find somebody who matches those traits.”

So they went and found people who matched their description of a hero. They did interviews of them. They wrote their whole stories. We printed them. We went to the local library and had these big presentations set up, and we actually published a book with all of their biographies and short stories with the heroes in them. We had this big “Hometown Heroes” event where people could come and see and be introduced to the heroes living in our own community.

So again, you’ve got this whole story going on, but you’re also learning how to write, and you’re learning how to read, and you’re learning how to proofread. Grammar fits in because you want to make sure that whatever we’re publishing is good and acceptable to be out in public. Again, you’re still tying in the content, but you’re making it engaging and unforgettable.

30-Second pep talk to make our classrooms more epic

Vicki: OK. So it’s Monday Motivation. We need a Monday pep talk about how to make our classrooms more epic. So beyond what you’ve shared, what is your message to us about how we can start this today in a way that is – I’m not going to say, “bite sized” – but how can they interject story and this epic adventure hero’s journey today?

Trevor: Yeah. Absolutely. I think whether you teach elementary, whether you teach high school, or even higher ed – I think it’s all about the kids in your classroom and making it engaging for them and realizing the potential that they have. So if you can just start there and realize that every kid in your classroom has the potential for greatness, then you can begin to write that story. Or at least you can help plot out what that story might look like, and then sending them on it. But it all starts with your characters, and realizing that every classroom has amazing characters who are just waiting to be developed

Vicki: Oh, they do. When we look at students as amazing and remarkable because they are…

Trevor: (agrees)

Vicki: That just changes everything.

Trevor: Yes!

Vicki: So we’re going to do a giveaway of your book, The Epic Classroom. Tell us briefly about it.

Trevor: You know, The Epic Classroom is all about laying out this idea of story in the classroom. It gives some really great examples from my classroom, but also from other teachers’ classrooms, whether elementary and middle school and high school. So it gives some great examples, but it also gives the process of how to actually do this, how to put it into action – from planning the projects to seeing them all the way through the climax, and even resolution.

So it’s a little bit of a how-to guide, a little bit of inspiration, and just showing how to make your classroom epic.

Vicki: So Trevor also has a podcast called Stories from School because you tell – this whole idea, I love this term – every podcast episode pulls something out of our amazing guests. This one is “story based learning.”

I love this concept. I love this idea. I’m actually sitting here, recording this during the summer, writing notes about how it’s going to change what I do the first week of school. This whole idea – I’ve taught with the hero’s journey because I teach digital film – but this whole idea of intertwining the hero’s journey into everything really adds meaning to the classroom.

So let’s get out there and let’s be heroes. Let’s find the heroes in our classrooms, and let’s be remarkable.

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford

Bio as submitted

Trevor is a teacher, author, speaker, and project based learning expert.

He is the author ofThe Epic Classroom, a book about using the power of story to make learning engaging and unforgettable.

He is the host and creator for the We Are Teachers show, Teacher Helpline Live, and his writing has been featured in the Huffington Post and EdWeek. He also gave a TEDx Talk titled, “School Should Take Place in the Real World,” at TEDxSanAntonio. Trevor works with and speaks to educators across the country about bringing project based and epic learning into their schools. His Facebook page, The Epic Classroom, is home to his videos, writing, and online community.


Twitter: @trevormuir

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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