Students engage in learning through fictitious world of Harry PotterSep 11, 2023 12:40PM ● By Julie Slama
South Jordan Elementary fifth graders make golden snitches as part of their Harry Potter STEM Day. (Julie Slama/City Journals)
Sixth-grader Adilyn Summit knows the anticipation of what this year’s fifth graders in Diane Witt-Roper’s class may be experiencing — waiting for the Harry Potter STEM Day at the end of the school year.
“I have been looking forward to this day since my sister was in fifth grade two years ago because she said it was really fun,” Adilyn Summit said last spring after she sat on a stool and was sorted into the House of Ravenclaw. “It’s been great. Ms. Witt-Roper puts a lot of time into it. We’ve built dragons, done science experiments, made our own wands. It’s been fun dressing up; I like Luna Lovegood because she doesn’t care when people judge her.”
While this school year has barely begun, most South Jordan Elementary fifth graders in Diane Witt-Roper’s class know at the end of the school year they can fly across the gym, mix up some potions and have their own book of spells.
The South Jordan Elementary teacher said her students are “10, turning 11, so it’s a very good time to go to Hogwarts.”
Before the students enter the magical world, their foundation of Harry Potter is set.
“During the year we read the first four books and do a lot of language arts activities – comprehension, character trait study and writing activities,” the 16-year veteran teacher said.
This past year, students were able to listen to Harry Potter by the readings of Jim Dale, who created 200 different voices for the characters.
“It’s a fun way for them to enjoy a different way of learning the story. I show them a YouTube video in the beginning of the year of how he created the voices to read these stories. Many of them have seen the movies so they know what the characters look like, but when he reads them, it’s described for them, so we stop the recording and talk about that and what’s happening in the book in that moment,” Witt-Roper said. “We also talk about writing, so they understand it’s more than just a story, it’s an example of wonderful writing.”
Students can read along while they listen, and they’re encouraged to read the rest of the series.
That was student Addie Jensen’s plan.
“I have the first book, but I plan to get the rest of them from the library to read,” she said. “I’ve watched all the movies, but they cut out some of the parts, so I like the books better. My favorite character is Harry Potter, because he’s actually a wizard, but I dressed up as Hedwig because I love owls.”
Her classmate, Atticus Thackeray, agrees.
“The books are better; I’ve read them five times,” he said. “I like the storyline. Harry Potter is cool. It would be fun to do magic, fly on a broomstick and protect people and the school by doing those quests.”
During the year, Witt-Roper has the students watch movie snippets to do a compare-and-contrast activity to the novels.
“We talk about why they’ve made changes from book to script and the kids learn about a different style of writing, editing and even about careers,” she said.
The Harry Potter STEM Day is the culminating activity after a year-long curriculum of language arts and technology activities focused on the books.
“The students are invested in the story and characters so now they’re immersed in it and it’s more interactive and engaging while they learned STEM activities,” Witt-Roper said. “We’ve done a lot of science activities that tie into fifth-grade science, we’ve done technology, we did engineering when they put together their own dragon eggs and they’ll get more engineering toys when they go to Weasley Wizard Shop and we’ve done math activities.”
While there were several science experiments, Atticus liked learning about surface tension with Polyjuice when they added food coloring and Dawn dish soap to milk.
“That was really cool to see it spread, almost magically,” he said, adding that he’s excited to see his Mandrake grow now after each student planted one and added a silver potion to it.
Atticus also sampled Sprite-based “Unicorn Blood” and played Quidditch.
“The first time it was like baseball, we had to hit it into the hula hoop and the second time, we carried the golden snitch on a spoon, and we had to make it into the hoop,” he said. “It was fun.”
He and others had just finished completing their golden egg tasks, which combined recalling Harry Potter literary characters and stories with several physical activities.
“We make it a fun day while they’re still learning. It’s a more immersive, engaging day with experiments and activities,” Witt-Roper said.
Near the end of the day, before the students received their Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry mastery certificates, students went through rotations, getting quill pens and visiting Honey Dukes. They also looked at their swag bags.
As a fifth grader, Crae Baker looked through the bag filled with items he bought with pretend galleons.
“I got a Pygmy Puff, the magical creatures the Weasleys had, and this sponge that turns into an animal; mine is a raptor,” Crae said.
Even during the COVIDpandemic, when the Harry Potter STEM Day wasn’t held, Witt-Roper, who has taught fifth graders for 10 years, didn’t want to disappoint her students.
“When the kids came at the end of the year to pick up all their supplies, I gave them swag bags with a very special potion – hand sanitizer. It was the year you couldn’t buy hand sanitizer, but I’d already bought it,” she said. “That was truly magical.” λ