I grew up in an era where the highlight of a Friday evening was heading to the local video store to select a few VHS movies to watch over the weekend. We had to make sure to get there early enough before the favorites were gone. As a kid, the Disney movies were my go to. I loved them. Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Herbie Goes Bananas...they were all fantastic. But, the one that surpassed all others was Mary Poppins. I had the songs memorized. I could say and spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious with ease. I loved every song and every scene, though the chalk drawing scene is one that mesmerized me beyond any other.
In this scene, Bert draws a series of chalk drawings on the sidewalk as he shares with the Banks children all of the magical unexpected adventures Mary Poppins can take them on. Intrigued by the thought of adventure, Jane and Michael urge Bert to use a little magic to send them into the English countryside he just drew. After a few failed attempts, a perturbed Mary Poppins arrives on the scene. Grabbing Michael's hand, she rhetorically asks Bert, “Why do you always complicate things that are really quite simple?" and takes a leap right into the chalk drawing. In a puff of chalk dust, the four find themselves in a completely animated world where animals talk, colors are vibrant, and anything is possible.
As a kid, I loved this scene because the magical blend of animation and real life fascinated me. I loved Bed Knobs and Broomsticks for the same reason. I was mesmerized by the seamless blend of the two. Bert and Mary danced their way through the brightly animated landscape as birds and farm animals sang along in unison. The orchestration between real life and animation was seamless and quite magical. Quite extraordinary, really, especially for the cinematic era. In fact, Insider article, "How the Original Mary Poppins Transformed the Way That Movies are Made Today", states that this scene is perhaps one of the most important and influential sequences in the history of cinema. In fact it was not only awarded an Oscar for Best Visual Effects, but the Chroma Key technology that was invented for this scene by engineer and inventor, Petro Vlahos, later became the basis for the modern green screen.
As I think of the schools across the nation and world that are creating blended and hybrid learning models to maintain necessary CDC guidelines, it reminds me of this Mary Poppins chalkboard scene bursting with a beautiful blend of real life and animated color, creativity, and innovation. How can we similarly blend our in-person and anywhere learning so that it is also full of color, creativity, and innovation? How can we entice our students to want to jump into a “chalkboard adventure” full of vibrant learning experiences in the classroom and carry them out in their anywhere learning environment? How are we creating an intentional rhythm and relevance to the curriculum and content being taught so the real life adventures blend seamlessly with anywhere learning and students see that it’s all connected?
Walt Disney took a huge gamble when he hired Petro Vlahos to do the impossible and blend real life with animation. It had never been done before, but he believed it could be. He dared to dream. We have all been challenged to do something that has never been done before. In our lifetime we have not had to enter schools while remaining 6 feet apart, wear masks, or have our temperature checked upon entry. Yet, we know in order to bring our kids back we have no choice. We can’t remain status quo. It’s not an option. As I work with teachers everyday in my district and beyond, I’m absolutely in awe of the incredible lengths teachers are going to make learning happen for kids. It’s truly extraordinary. You all are the definition of magical. As you jump into whatever blended or hybrid learning model your district adopts, remember the words of Mary Poppins as she jumped into the chalk drawing, “Don’t overcomplicate things that are really quite simple”. Don’t get tangled over the many complexities and remember to keep things simple. You are a part of history in the making and like Mary Poppins, you also have the magic to create your own chalkboard adventures.
Mary Poppins Chalk Drawing Scene
How the Original Mary Poppins
Tech Integration Specialist in Southern Oregon and author of Make Learning Magical. I'm passionate about finding innovative ways to transform teaching and create unforgettable experiences in the classroom.