The Super Mario Challenge in the Classroom

Are you ready to jump into the world of Super Mario....I mean the classroom of Super Mario? Come along for a super engaging lesson that will be sure to captivate your students' complete attention as they work to save Princess Peach!

Just a little note before we get started. I am posting a full video below - It's a long one...I am a talker! If you know know THAT! The essentials are in this post, but if you'd rather see it live, scroll down to the bottom. But first...grab a cup of coffee or an entire bag of Oreos. Heck, maybe even grab a gallon of ice cream and a pizza as well. Now let's get rolling...

I always get two main questions when I post any type of room transformation that I do in the classroom. I am going to devote an entire post to that next week, but for now I will address the top two questions that I always receive in response to this type of instruction: 

1) How do you come up with the ideas? 

Truthfully, I don't. These are not my ideas. What's a teachers motto? Beg, borrow, steal? Yep! That's my philosophy, too! Toy companies, game designers, musicians, and popular food brands make this happen for me. How? They are the brilliant minds creating all of the many things that kids are interested in these days. They are the ones spending hours upon hours upon hours designing things that kids enjoy. They are spending the hours that I don't, and won't ever have. I figure if the kids already love it in the real world - I will piggy back, steal their concept, and morph it into the academic world. It's as simple as it sounds. I spend a lot of time with my kids at lunch, in the hallways, and during carpool finding out what they enjoy. Then I make a note of those things in my mind. Whenever I have boring or difficult content that I know is essential to my academic goals, or I want to spice up my instruction a bit, I will use one of those concepts to drive my transformation. Because let's be honest - we can tie content to just about anything. ANY.THING! So I decide the concept first, and then I add whatever content we are working on. 

2) The million dollar question - Where do you get the money?

I will link some of the materials down below if you would like to purchase the Mario products that I found and loved. Now, let's get to the nitty gritty. It's all about planning ahead. People often use money as a road block to not being able to do these types of lessons. Now call me crazy, but I refuse to let something like money determine how I am going to teach. Here are a few ways to take a little detour and not stop the journey of a room transformation altogether.

Don't take the toll road - find a cheaper route! 

We all like a good toll road. Generally it's faster. But this isn't always the cheapest way to reach our final destination. I will find beautiful decorations for birthday parties (here I searched Mario Birthday Parties on Pinterest). They were gorgeous but would cost a fortune. Rather than purchasing everything on the spot, I will think of places that I can find or recreate the decor super cheap. Enter the Dollar Tree, thrift stores, IKEA, etc. I call this concept...making it happen. I will ask around, find a way to raise the funds, borrow materials, etc. until I get the job done. 

Only make essential stops to reach your final destination...  

Of course there are things that I purchase, but if I am going to purchase something expensive, I ensure that I will be able to use it for other transformations. Example: The turf for the floor is expensive. However, I use it for 4-5 other transformations throughout the year, so the investment is worth it. 

Let's bring my honesty out to play for a second: Half of the stuff that you see in pictures (mine included) is not even needed. Turf - not needed. Mario hats - have them make paper hats instead. Wall decals - use a projector and trace/color your own wall decals. Or better yet, find an artist friend and ask them to do that for you! You'll be surprised that many will be all in for helping you create magic for kids. 

 I assure you the kids do not notice the imperfections nor do they deem anything as lacking. You will never hear a kid say, "This room would be so much better if...." My beginning room transformations sure didn't start out like this at all. You'll hear about that in the next concept.  The decor only enhances the instruction. It makes the lesson unpredictable. It doesn't have to be perfect. Perfection is the thief of joy. Don't let the idea of the perfect decor steal your excitement. Do what you can. Do something different. THAT'S what kids will notice. 

Don't try to conquer the journey over night! It's a marathon not a sprint! 

Another point to note is that I have been doing these transformations for 10 years. I have built up resources over the years. Start small. I run. The hardest part of each run is getting started. So just rip the bandaid off. Get started. Start somewhere. Do something! It will get easier and even better with time. 

Here's a peek at a few of my beginning transformations. Not nearly as detailed, but the excitement of my students was equally matched. 

Folks, it's green table cloths and a hand painted sign. I am super proud of it! The kids could not have been more excited for this lesson. Why? It was different. Be different!


How about when I recreated the Land of Chewandswallow for our weather unit? My mom and I used butcher paper to create gigantic foods. Nowadays, people use those great giant blow up foods. Are they awesome? 100%  Are they essential to get the same excitement out of your students? Not hardly! 

I get this whole money question often, and honestly this is the only way that I know to answer it! No, my school does not fund my materials for room transformations. Actually, I don't even ask them to do so. Don't limit yourself. Accept the challenge. Keep an open mind. Find a way to make the impossible...possible! I promise you will be so happy you did!  

Decor tips and ideas:

The decor looks complicated, but it was actually pretty simple. I hung blue painter's drop cloths around my room (it was $15 to cover my entire room) and added some decals to give the "being stuck inside the game" feel. Then for coins I used gold plates from the Dollar Tree that I glued to fishing wire. Then I suspended them from the ceiling. Finally, I wrapped large boxes with yellow poster board and painted white question marks on them. Below is a broader look into the room. 

Once I decide the concept and the decor, finally I figure out how I am going to break down the content that I want the kids to learn or practice during the lesson. During the Super Mario Challenge, the kids were reviewing all of our reading skills that were taught during a nonfiction unit of study. I thought Mario would be perfect for this because I had taught close reading, and it's just like the levels of the game - each level gets a little harder...each read goes a little deeper. I used this lesson for reading. It could easily be adjusted to math skills, science concepts, social studies themes, etc. Just choose a different skill that you want them to practice for each level. 

Here's a look at some of the different levels: 

Level one: The students were given a passage. They had to complete the first read and interpret each sentence to identify the key idea. 

Level two: The students were practicing identifying the key idea in shorter passages. Here's a fun little twist: the students selected their tunnel (1, 2, or 3). Each tunnel had a different number of passages. If they were lucky, they chose the tunnel that only had three passages. However, they could have selected the tunnel with 8 causing the level to take a little longer to complete. 

Level three: Mario Kart

Here the students were practicing identifying text structures in a passage to help them organize the most important details. The students would roll their partner down to the end of the path, collect a short passage (there were 6), roll them back, decide the text structure, and repeat until the level was complete. 

Level four: All the prize boxes

The first team to the level busted the large box. There were mini question boxes inside. They would collect one mini box that contained 10 different short passages that had them identifying the meaning of unknown words. Once they identified the meaning of each word, they would move on to the next level. 

Level 5: The students had to summarize passages. They would race down to a tunnel which they had to crawl through to collect a short passage. Then they would race back, summarize, and repeat. 

The students worked through each level at their own pace. Once the challenge of a level was complete, they moved on. They had to complete all six levels to rescue the princess and capture the flag. I created the flag with poster board and PVC pipe.

Thankfully, Princess Peach was successfully rescued by her teams of Mario and Luigi! 

This was so much fun and the kids absolutely loved every second. But you better believe when I say each level was a challenge - it was just that! I made sure that the content was super challenging because we all know rescuing the Princess isn't a walk in the park! (Don't act like you didn't play the game...and throw the controller as a kid! lol!)

Well, I guess that's that! I hope that you will challenge yourself to do something different in your classroom. It may not be a room transformation. That may not be your style. But do the unexpected. Give your kids a reason to anticipate school the same way that they anticipate the newest release of their favorite toy or game. Standards won't make that happen. Worksheets won't make that happen. WE make that happen! 

Here is the promised (LONG) video of the details: 

FYI: The video is upside down for the first minute. Then it corrects. Sorry about that! 

Check out these resources online: 

I will be back with a Room Transformations 101 post to answer your questions about room transformations. Post your questions below, and I will be happy to break them down in my next post! 

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