Sensory Overload!

Welcome to my classroom.

Over the last several years, I have gradually made modifications to my classroom to enhance my students’ experience. It all stems from a teaching concept called Multiple Intelligences and Learning Modalities. These bits of jargon basically state that students learn different things in different ways. Some by writing, some by saying, some by associating with music.


The design of my classroom allows me to control the mood and even the environment for learning to suit the lesson.


Poke around, take a tour and see how I subject my students to SENSORY OVERLOAD!

Creation of Classroom Weather
(Click the images for a more detailed view)
Liability note: At the beginning of the year, I assign a permission slip to be filled out and handed back explaining that I will be using flashing lights (epilepsy hazard), theatrical fog (respiratory problems), water, and loud sudden noises throughout the year. They usually all come back with OK on them. On the rare occasion that I get a NO for a particular effect, I simply don't use it. Since the students don't really expect any particular thing, they don't miss it when it doesn't happen. To see the permission slip click here. The way it all comes together:
A DVD/VCR combo is connected to the digital projector. It connects just as if it is being connected to a TV set. For the Big Storm, we watch Night Of The Twisters. I feel that it is one of the best tornado movies made because of the weather details when the boy's house is destroyed (Showed often on Fax Family Channel.)
A digital video projector is connected to the classroom computer as well as the video seen above. Videos shown in class are projected onto the movie screen making a 9 foot (diagonal) TV! With the lights off and all the other effects going on (keep reading!) the edges of the screen disappear and we are brought into the movie.
The sound system: a cheap boom box. The speakers are detached and placed on opposite walls. The Boom box can play primitive tapes. It also has a "CD/Line in" jack which I use to amplify the sounds from the computer (along with it's CD player) as well as the DVD/VCR.
The box acts as the center of the sound system and allows me control of the volume as well as improving the quality over the projector's speaker.
Speakers mounted on the walls give a true stereo sound. Wires are simply run above the drop ceiling back to the Boom box.
The stereo speakers dissolve the "point source" to the sound and surround the class with the action.
Here you can see how easy it is to connect the computer to the boom box. This headphone extension wire goes into the line-in jack.  
A pair of box fans mounted in opposite corners to produce wind. The fans and many of the other effects in class are controlled from a central control panel I made. Switches and buttons- oh my!

As the on-screen storm approaches, the fans turn on.

This fan has a wind chime hanging in front of it to give an incoming storm just the right sound.

To add a little chaos, the wind chimes randomly tinkle in the back of the room.

A few strobe lights around the room for lightning and explosion effects.

The cinema storm gets closer. The students forget by now that it is the fans that are pushing around the air. The distant storm starts flashing on the screen and the strobe lights come on blinking at their slowest setting.

A fog machine. I bought this one from K-Mart the day after Halloween. It's an $80 machine but I got it for a $20 clearance.
As the storm roars closer and things start to get intense, the room fills with fog. The wind-blown fog, mixed with the chimes, strobes, thunder and storm noise from the speakers pulls the class into the center of the action. (We're just getting warmed up!)
The water system for making rain. The system is a "bubbler" system that I bought at Home Depot. It is a regular garden hose connected to a distribution hub (blue plastic) which branches off to as many as 10 small tubes. The hose is connected to the sink by hand when needed. The entire assembly disappears into the drop-ceiling when not in use (note the half-moved ceiling panel).
Tornadoes come from thunder storms, and what's a thunder storm without rain? So here it comes!
Three of the rain emmiters. These heads produce a misting rain similar to what you'd see in the produce section in a supermarket. The head are placed randomly and away from any sensitive or electrical equipment.
It rains all over the classroom. Students shreik and wonder how this is happening. Things are being destroyed on screen, kids are screaming- it's bedlam! (Students in dry spots actually get up and find some rain!)
A tornado box is wheeled through the class. Click here for details on making your own tornado box.

(Click for a larger animation)
As the tornado rips up the town in the movie, a real tornado makes an appearance in the middle of the class! (Complete with flying cow!)


Other Effects Used in Class
3-Dimensional Projections
Note the white square hanging from the ceiling. It is a mirror with its back painted white to camouflage it against the ceiling.
The mirror is secured with caribeeners to allow quick and easy up and down.
When lowered, the mirror hangs in front of the projector and reflects the light back at the class.
Using PowerPoint, images such as white lines and circles on a black background are projected onto the mirror. When the room is filled with fog. The effect is startling. I use this to show the plane of Earth's orbit- so that it is easier to demonstrate tilt of Earh with respect to its orbit.

A white line makes a plane floating in the classroom.
Other cool effects such as tunnels can be used with a little imagination. I also take us under the sea with a wavy line that slowly wiggles back and forth.

A circle creates a tunnel.
A Hoberman Sphere- standard fare in a Science Room. Stimulates imagination but it does have its uses in Earth Science. I use it to show the expansion of the Universe after the Big Bang and how each part moves away from every other part. Note the white beads and then read on.
A black light. This is used to talk about the electromagnetic spectrum. I also use this with the Hoberman Sphere to model the expansion of the Universe. The white beads (12mm plastic beads from the bead drop!) glow a brilliant blue in the black light. When the overhead lights are turned off all you can see are the "stars" in the Universe expanding away from each other.
I have several laser pointers hanging from the ceiling. They are wired to a control panel so that I can turn them on and off at will. They are strategically pointed at different points around the room to represent, say, the North Star or to point at a place on a chart.
I also have a couple of the pointers aimed at a small mirror ball. This is a neat effect and makes cool streaks in a fogged-up room.
A lava lamp shows convection very well.
A dinosaur breaking through the wall just to say "Hello."
Speaking of dinosaurs, I've got several hanging from the ceiling doing what dinsoaurs do. (Velociraptor eating Pinky's face)
Permanent Residents of the Room
Kung-Fu Hampster sings his favorite lyrics: "Ho-ho-ho-ho" while twirling his chucks.
Valentine Bear dances and sing "What I Like About You" There are two other animatronics in the classroom for the sharp observers to spot.
Everyone is welcomed in the High Tech Classroom as long as you are willing to learn. (Note the pencil eagerly poised in her hand.)


The heart-and-soul of a good PowerPoint based lesson: a remote controlled mouse. It points, left- and right-clicks as well as many other presentation functions.
Everyone laughs at first but stops after it sinks in. A cheap rear-view mirror from an auto store keeps the class on their toes while your back is turned.
A WeatherBug weather data display. A great aide for discussing weather.
The suspended ceiling is labeled with coordinates. This helps with mapping activities.
Objects to challenge students' observation and reasoning skills. (This Saturn floats in the middle of the cage with no attachments at all.)
A Galileo Thermometer (plastic version) for discussions of temperature and density.
These globes represent everything else. I keep most of my props within hand's reach of both myself and my students. It makes teachable moments and ad-libbed explanations connect if you don't have to say, "I'll get back to you when I get the equipment out."

When you go to a store or see a show or a movie with something that strikes you as WOW! Get it or remember it. With a little imagination you can find a way to work it into a lesson that will then WOW your students.

Point in case: I saw the Little Mermaid Show in Disney. They had this really cool effect with lasers and fog that made is seem as if we were beneath a wavey sea. I had to make that happen in class (I forgot to watch the rest of the show). I fiddled with lasers and line lasers but it wasn't so dramatic with the weak pointers I had. Then I saw the way the projector cast a beam in the foggy room one day- Ah-ha!

It was all coming together but I needed an educationally sound way to use it. One day, while explaining that "the Earth is tilted 22.5 degrees from the perpendicular of it's orbital plane" and using the stick Earth above and the edge of a desk the epiphany hit.

Fifteen years of
Medina On-Line