Actress and comedian Kate McKinnon will be the voice of the eccentric science teacher Ms. Frizzle in Netflix’s reboot of “The Magic School Bus.” But, McKinnon’s more recent role as newly confirmed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on “Saturday Night Live” had us wondering: What would the new Ms. Frizzle have to say about DeVos and modern-day education issues?
1. Ms. Frizzle’s possible advice for DeVos? “If you keep asking questions, you’ll keep getting answers!”
Some of DeVos’ answers during her confirmation hearing—particularly her confusion on the questions of proficiency versus growth and the federal law for students with disabilities—caused both senators and citizens to question whether she was fit for the position.
Ms. Frizzle would probably recommend her strategy of choice, collaborative inquiry, as a bridge between educators and the newly helmed Education Department to foster professional learning.
“I will challenge all on how and why we’ve done things a certain way, but I will listen to each of you and your ideas on how we can do better for students. You are professionals whom I respect,” DeVos said during her first address to the Education Department staff.
Working together and sharing responsibility seems to be the moral of every field trip on the “Magic School Bus.” Arguments are expected, perhaps a little name-calling, too—but giving all parties agency and allowing opposing groups to hash out their differences to find a solution seemed to work every time for Ms. Frizzle. Her students always made it back to school as a happy bunch with newly acquired knowledge.
2. “Ms. Frizzle was all about project-based learning!” Laura Johnson, a literacy consultant and former English teacher in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, wrote on Twitter.
Indeed, before project-based learning became a buzzword in education, in Ms. Frizzle’s classroom, lessons consistently came to life with out-of-this-world field trips. Getting up close and personal (literally) with students became a learning opportunity—remember when Arnold swallows the entire class and they get to explore the human body?
“In just a few moments, we’ll be landing in Arnold’s stomach. Thank you for flying Digestion Airways.” -Ms. Frizzle. (“The Magic School Bus: For Lunch,” 1994)
The class learns about the body’s vital systems by traveling up and down to each part of Arnold’s body. Our schools and teachers may have to settle for museums and space camps—but the growing popularity of student-driven learning practices like the “maker movement” where students physically make and create their learning content may refresh dated teaching philosophies.
The maker movement has become more mainstream in schools to give students a chance to invent tools and technology by tinkering and experimenting like actual scientists and engineers. As students engage with the world around them, their projects become personalized and they learn through social interactions, says Kristen Vogt, a contributing opinion blogger for Education Week.
The Every Student Succeeds Act authorized a grant program for districts interested in training teachers in STEM—the new federal K-12 law has allowed for a bit more flexibility in terms of how states and schools allocate funds for professional development.
The students adored their science teacher, as do many longtime teacher fans who bring Ms. Frizzle into their own classrooms as inspiration. In every experiment and adventure, Ms. Frizzle depicts the power of modeling in the classroom. “When teachers and others who students look up to embrace mistakes and setbacks as learning experiences, they’re helping their students learn to do the same,” says guest blogger and psychologist Mark Katz in Education Week Teacher.
In the words of Ms. Frizzle, “Take changes, make mistakes, and get messy!”
3. No homework, no tests—no problem. “The Magic School Bus” first premiered in 1994. Since then, our country’s focus on standardized tests might put Ms. Frizzle in a bit of a pickle (not literally this time.) She’s rarely, if ever, seen behind the desk grading papers; tests and homework are nowhere to be found. Under teacher evaluation systems like IMPACT in the District of Columbia, our dear Ms. Frizzle would “fizzle,” according to a Washington Post opinion column.
Her students might demonstrate extensive knowledge about asteroids, the water cycle, computer programming, and human anatomy because of her preference for experiential learning, but unfortunately, she wouldn’t be up to par under most teacher assessments for effectiveness.
Still, alternative homework assignments are making a comeback of sorts. “Not all children find it easy to sit and do paperwork. They should be playing outside, talking, creating, helping, and learning about the world around them,” wrote Samantha Hulsman for Education Week Teacher. Some teachers, like Hulsman, are foregoing traditional homework for more experimental learning.
After all, shouldn’t teachers be able to channel their inner-Frizz? “Without revisions and without recognition that sometimes great teaching doesn’t conform to a checklist, we worry that Ms. Frizzle and teachers like her may be getting thrown under the bus,” said Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.
Luckily for Ms. Frizzle, she’s coming back during the era of ESSA, which has removed some of the intense focus on testing that was found under its predecessor, No Child Left Behind. ESSA has also given states more flexibility to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher on other standards besides students’ test scores.
4. Guest stars are guest teachers. The series had its share of famous guest stars—singer Dolly Parton, for instance, played Ms. Frizzle’s cousin Murph on an episode about recycling. Who knew a trip to the recycling center could become a lesson about multiculturalism and diversity during the winter holidays?
Parents and community members can guest star in the classroom as a reading buddy or a volunteer during classroom projects. Ms. Frizzle may not have handed out permission slips, but according to the National Parent Teacher Association, bringing parents into the classroom and effectively engaging families in STEM may increase students’ access to opportunities in STEM careers.
Teaching Now recently reported about a pilot program in Boston Public Schools that has professionals, like a scientist, “parachute” into the classroom and act as a substitute teacher for a day. The goal of the program, the founder says, is to allow students to engage in authentic learning even when their teacher is away—the participating substitutes have led activities like using 3-D printers and teaching concepts of emulsion and polarity through making salad dressing.
5. Ask for help. But it’s Liz, Ms. Frizzle’s right-hand reptile that might be the nod of encouragement to teachers to actively recruit a helping hand in the classroom. The class pet is just as exceptional as the quirky science teacher.
From substitue bus driver to co-astronaut, the chameleon changes more than just colors to become a complementing partner and assistant for every role the Frizz embodies.
Liz becomes the figure of authority every time Ms. Frizzle all-knowingly wanders off, leaving the students to handle their situations together under Liz’s watchful eye. The intelligent lizard is always well-equipped—despite Ms. Frizzle’s spontaneity. Maybe they have planning sessions before class?
With increasingly diverse classrooms filled with exceptional learners, co-teachers need to be on the same page. A relationship as complementary as this frizzy and scaly duo would be a dream.
Netflix’s announcement that McKinnon would be the voice of the new Ms. Frizzle, which was coincidently shortly after her appearance as “DeVos” on SNL, also followed the curious creation of a Twitter account, @EdSecFrizzle.
The self-proclaimed Secretary Frizzle rolled out her own next steps in education in a series of Tweets last week.
-- Secretary Frizzle (@EdSecFrizzle) February 7, 2017
Secretary Frizzle says she will release an official statement about grizzlies being unthreatening and claims that her 30-plus years of teaching experience at Walkerville Elementary School seals her unconventional qualifications.
The release date for the Netflix revival has yet to be announced, but will debut sometime this year, according to CNN.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.