5th grade students learn history through musical theater

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Fifth grade teacher Jeff Lantos creates original musicals to help his students better learn history. He's the subject of a new documentary and nominated for a Tony Award. (KABC)

A Pacific Palisades teacher helps children learn history with the help of musical theater.

For Jeff Lantos, has always been able to remember things through song. He grew up with two loves: history and musical theater.

He would study history at Brown University and later work producing musicals on Broadway. When he started teaching history to fifth graders more than 20 years ago, he was having trouble connecting.

The traditional model of simply teaching out of textbooks wasn't working.

So, he decided to put that material to music. He composed original musicals and cast his students as the stars of history.

"The kids are living the parts of these people. I think when you do that, you really absorb the material and you retain it," he said.

Every fifth-grade student at Marquez Charter School in Pacific Palisades is required to be a part of three of Lantos' musicals every year.

The shows focus on the Constitutional Convention, Louisiana Purchase and Industrial Revolution. Several of his students said the shows have changed the way they think about history.

"It's helped me throughout tests, and I can wow my parents!" fifth-grader Mark Lew said.

Josiah Christopher said he's learned the material so well, he often helps his mom grade her 11th-grade students' history papers.

UCLA conducted a study of the Marquez students and their ability to retain that historical knowledge. Researchers compared Lantos' students to other students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

The finding? Lantos' students did extraordinarily well and far outclassed their competition.

Jeanette Mills was a Lantos student 20 years ago and now is a choreographer at UCLA. She goes back to her alma mater to help teach the Lantos students dance routines.

She said many of her colleagues have chosen professions in the performing arts after their experience with Lantos.

Lantos is nominated for a 2015 Tony Award for K-12 education. His story is now featured as part of a documentary series produced by the California Lottery. The documentaries look at Californians with big dreams.

Lantos' dream is that his model will be replicated by other schools.

Related Topics:
educationcharter schoolmusicmusicalhistoryPacific PalisadesLos Angeles County
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