Pedagogical Easter Eggs

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Search “Easter Egg” on Youtube.

If you search “Easter Eggs” in youtube, you might get some videos of kids running around a field, but more likely your server will be flooded with videos of people sharing stuff that is seemingly hidden in movies. When I was a kid, I remember people going crazy about seeing ghosts mysteriously appear in a few frames of a movie. Supposedly, you weren’t intended to see this, which made it all the more creepy!

Easter eggs are different, in that they are apparently purposefully hidden by directors, illustrators, etc so that cult-like movie-watchers will find them. Could this just be an excuse for watching a well-liked film an otherwise abnormal number of times? Perhaps. And, maybe the producers of these films are aiming to foster this kind of multi-watching phenomena. 

Interestingly, the term may have come from one of the most cult-producing movies of all time: “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. According to Urban Dictionary, the guests/prisoners of an alien home participate in a completely random Easter Egg hunt. When the characters fail to find many of the hidden eggs, they appear later on throughout the movie. Viewers enjoy looking for the literal Easter Eggs, which spurred the use of the term for hidden items in films. 

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It was a “BowtieTuesday” when I taught this lesson.

Easter Eggs in Teaching

The reason all of this came to mind is that I was teaching a lesson that had Easter Eggs in it, and I thought this was a neat pedagogy to explore. What if teachers purposefully hid learning experiences inside lessons, so that students would have to go back and find them? 

My school district is working hard to introduce computer science in elementary school. We used a grant to buy some SpheroEdu kits. A team of teachers was formed. Instructors were brought in to train us in the world of coding. We brainstormed and planned how we might share this information with our district’s students. Each of the teachers on this “tech team” tried out the lessons in our own classrooms, and now we are sharing them with all of the 4th and 5th grade students of the district.

I just taught lesson 1; This is the one that had the Easter Egg. The tech team built a slideshow in the Pages app that could function as an independent or whole-group teaching tool. The “pages” (slides) walk students through some instructions on how to use Pages, what is expected, and how to complete the lesson. We chose to use the Pages app, because it forces students to learn a tool on their iPad that they may not be familiar with. Also, it has an easy to use drawing tool. 

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Students practice using Sequencing Commands

The lesson requires students to move some images, arranging them on a grid. Paired kids, sitting back to back, take turns using “Sequencing Commands” (the object of the lesson) to get their partners to draw a path on an empty grid. Once done, the two partners compare their screens. Would the path land on the squares that images are resting on? They are to take screenshots of their work and a picture of their partner’s grid. This way, they can put the two images side by side to evaluate accuracy. Part of their reflection is to analyze what could have helped them use fewer commands. Also, is there a better route for collecting the images?

Easter Egg Time

As it turned out, moving the images was not exactly easy. It works well to first tap the image, and then touching the very middle of it, you drag it onto the grid. If you don’t get the middle, you’ll enlarge it. “Undo” is our best friend!Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 7.20.34 AM.png

If kids click on the text that is near the images, it becomes “active” and covers the images. When this occurs, there is no way to get to the images to move them! Oh no!!! 

Here is your Easter Egg for the lesson: Students must “Unlock” the text box. Then they can “Arrange” the order of objects, placing the text box behind the images. Now, the image may be accessed again. Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 7.25.38 AM.png

Questions for student reflection:

  1. Why would you want to “Lock” an object or text box? 
  2. Why is it important to know how to “Arrange” the order of items on a page? 

Impressive Learning

This Easter Egg was only found because a student let go of an image too soon. He was getting ready to drag an image up to the grid, but stopped right over the text box. Oops! When he couldn’t figure out how to get to the image, he brought his iPad to me, and we worked on gaining access, again. I then showed the classroom STEM teacher whom I was partnering with on the lesson. I wanted him to know how to remedy this kind of problem if it came up again. 

Something that struck me in that moment was the idea of teachers thinking that they have to have all of the wrinkles ironed out before doing a lesson. Guess what. More often than not, you will create a new wrinkle when you carefully iron out a potential problem. Perhaps locking that text box was thought to help students grab the images and not the text box. But, it ended up covering the image and preventing us from getting to it!

I thought of a way to remedy this for future lessons: make the text part of an image, along with the grid, that is the background for the slide. Then images cannot go behind it. But, then again…

Nooooooooo! Don’t fix it at all! Leave it as is, and even show earlier finishers of the lesson this problem. Here is an Easter Egg in the lesson. See if you can figure out how to solve the problem. Then these kiddos could help anyone who comes across this problem in the future. 

I leave you with this: How can you build Easter Eggs into your lessons? How could you purposefully plan problems that students may not find, but that could give them something to chew on, enriching the learning experience? 

Happy Easter… All year round!Screen Shot 2020-01-25 at 6.21.57 AM.png

Monsters Inc SpheroEDU Lesson

If you are a teacher and you are alive, you have heard about the importance of teaching computer science to students. “Code, code, code!” is shouted from the pedagogical rooftops.

Don’t hate me, but I haven’t been excited about this concept. I tried Scratch many years ago, but between wrestling with the failing tech in my school’s computer lab and less than perfect early-in-teaching-career classroom management of 8 year olds, I was unimpressed with the outcome of learning. I scratched my Scratch plans. 

Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with integrating creative use of technology in my lessons and classroom. We make movies, video games, and are Google gurus! But, still no coding. 

Until…

Sphero rolled into my pedagogical practice. My school district is training teachers to roll out a computer science program, and I was chosen with several others to pilate some lessons. Among other things, we will be using SpheroEDU to share the coding experience with the students of East Penn. Spheros are exactly that; balls. They have mechanical parts inside of them that follow the commands that you input in an app on a device. They can roll, turn different colors, and make sounds. (Although the sounds come from the device, not the actual robot.)

When my teacher friends and I were initially introduced to the Sphero robots we were instructed to try to get it to do some tasks. We used a variety of coding methods and tried out several styles of lesson genres. It was fun, but I wasn’t completely hooked, yet. 

A recent get together of this team was assembled to begin creating lessons that would introduce and begin teaching coding to the 4th & 5th graders of East Penn. We were to come up with 3 lessons. A brainstorming session was followed by some discussion and voting. In the talk a theme emerged where we would introduce a narrative of insect study to the students. They were all going to experience the joys and difficulties of entomologists. The students would get their robots to study insects and eradicate invasive bugs: Debug. (One of our lessons is to clean up code of problems.) Notice how the targeted study focuses on a positive term for the animals: Insects, while the animals that are a problem (Spotted Lantern Flies have become a nuisance around Pennsylvania) are labeled negatively. Also, an obvious dual purpose of the storyline is to reinforce the necessity of clean coding, devoid of bugs. IMG_2721

This idea of purpose-driven instruction helped me see the coding lesson in a new light. Rather than tell my students to get the robot to make a square or go from an arbitrary point A to a pointless point B, I would be helping kids learn how to tackle real world problems. 

With new inspiration and vigor, I returned  to my third grade classroom where a case-full of unused Spheros sat in the corner. Let’s get to work, I thought, as I tore poster paper, uncapped markers, opened up bags of cups, and pulled out piles of pipecleaners. It was the day before Halloween, and an idea hit me: Monsters Inc. I would make grids with a door in one square and a kid sleeping in another. Students would dress up cups to look like monsters. These cups would float on top of a programed Sphero robot. They would need to get from the door to the bed and back to the door again. Also, the Sphero would need to create a scary sound. (This was attempted after figuring out the code for travel.)

Prior to the lesson, I got out all of the supplies. I made one more poster than I needed for 9 groups of 3 to have their own. Each poster had the door and bed in a different location. I did this incase an outstanding group had solved every coding combination for the map they were initially given. They could try a new one. (Another way of creating challenge would be to place items on the map, like wardrobes or piles of clothing, that the robot  would have to avoid.) 

To begin the lesson I placed one poster on the board to show students. I explained that they would be “playing” Monsters Inc. They were going to get monsters to go from the door to the sleeping child. Most students were familiar with the concept from the popular movie. I explained that the monster world was powered by an electricity that ran on the screams of kids. In the movie, monsters were trained and worked hard at sneaking into bedrooms and scaring children. I reminded everyone that it was important that the monster get back to the door, so that it could get back to the monster world. Otherwise it would be trapped in the human-parallel universe! “Aaaaahhh!”

IMG_6015Before leaving the carpet, I showed the students how the block-coding in the Sphero app worked. I drew the “Roll” command on the board with labels explaining/reminding what each bubble was for: Direction, speed, and duration (time).

While student groups decorated their cup/monsters with pipe cleaners, I had one kid at a time get a robot. Teams were separated around the room. The only parameter was for student groups to try to keep the robot on the paper. Needless to say, there were varying levels of success. One group figured out how to introduce changing the light of the Sphero. I didn’t bother telling them that the sleeping child (drawn on the paper) might not see the light change under the monster cup;) I was happy for the intrigue-guided discovery! 

I only had to get everyone’s attention once or twice. One time I wanted to mention only changing one variable at a time when adjusting the rolling command: Rather than changing both speed and duration, just alter one or the other. After giving the change a try, make another adjustment. Keep going until the movement is just right. After I witnessed one group make the discovery that you should “Aim” the robot before placing the cup over it, I shared that with everyone, adding that they must “practice-run” the Sphero with the cup, because the drag of the “monster” might affect its movement.

The whole experience was a smashing success. Everyone wanted to keep working on it, but recess time dragged us all outside. We put everything away, until the next day. 

The morning of Halloween, I had students get the Spheros out again. This time, I wanted to know exactly what they were coming up with. Students did not have to use a “monster”. (Because having a Sphero roll up to you, while you are sleeping and growl, was scary enough;) I put together a slideshow that I pushed out through Google classroom, much like I did recently with the Plural Noun BloxelsEDU maze video game lesson. Students were to take screenshots of their successful codes that got the Sphero from the door to the bed and back to the door. The screenshots were then imported into the slideshow for me to view. 

The room erupted in coding. 

Students nearly lost their minds when, halfway through the experience, I showed them that they could get the Sphero to say anything you typed into a speech command. From that time forward, “Hey, kid, aren’t you scared!” was heard, among other ridiculous phrases, uttered in a robotic, honestly less-than-scary voice, all over the room. It was both hilarious and exciting.

Again, recess, and then a costume parade, ruined our robotic fun:) 

The takeaway lesson for me was the creation of a narrative, giving coding a storyline, helped me present the tasks in a way that gave meaning and purpose. The plot of Monsters Inc provided the jolt of electricity that animated the previously lifeless lesson. What have you used to give life to your lessons?

via GIPHY

Assessment With Purpose

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How many assessments have this reaction?

What was the most successful lesson you ever taught? Why was it so good? How do you measure its success?

I’ve recently been reading a classic on motivation: “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” by Daniel Pink (2009). In part three Pink gets into the DNA of motivation; purpose. You can focus on intrinsic and dress up extrinsic all you want, but if your activity lacks a deep purpose, it will fall flat.

Last week I was interested in wrapping up a small unit on plural nouns. How could I close it out? There is the old-school paper method, where I plop a worksheet in front of them with a list of singular nouns the students must make plural. I could make a Google form full of questions. That would only substitute the paper. What was something I could have students do that would be more purposeful.

BloxelsEDU is an app that is free to download and use. You have to purchase an account

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Introductory Instructions

to build games. But, with one account, I can make many games that can be published to an online “Arcade” for my students to use. I have been taking a course through PD Campus, created and taught by Ken Ehrmann, where I have learned how to use this creative tool to engage my students in meaningful critical thinking.

To assess proficiency in making nouns plural in a super fun way, I decided to make a video game. I was interested in building into the game an element of reteaching. Additionally, the video game could show students some new elements of gaming design. (We have been working on crafting our own personal video games in class; I got accounts for all of my students through my PD Campus course–I highly recommend this professional development/grad-level class.)

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This student just got to the end of the maze!

The game would be a maze. The students’ purpose was to get to the end. What do you get when you get to the end of a maze? A feeling of accomplishment; I don’t have to tell you that this feeling is way better than completing and turning in a worksheet or filling in a Google form!

Here’s how I made it. I created a template frame within BloxelsEDU game builder platform that provided a few options of changing directions, so that students would be presented with having to make decisions on what way to continue traveling. I made sure that there were openings on the sides, top, and bottom that lined up with opposite sides, etc. Then I copied and pasted the template, over and over, making a huge waffle of terrain for video game characters to hop and run through. Next, I used coin blocks to select the direction that I would have the character travel. I replaced terrain blocks with yellow coin blocks in one direction choice at each stop throughout some of my maze waffle. From time to time I stopped and played the game, because some of the decision rewards came dangerously close to others. I wanted to be sure that the weaving back and forth would work and not cause a player to backtrack. 

After deciding on a place to end the maze, I went back and put red hazard blocks and purple, moving enemy blocks in the paths that would NOT be the correct decision. In other words, a student would be presented with a question that had 3 choices, one of which would immediately reward them with coins, and two that would harm the character, taking away hearts. At this point in the game development I could still view all of the different colors. 

over hereBefore disguising the blocks, I first created all of the questions and answers that would guide students through the maze. I varied the nouns and the way they were presented. Some questions had fill in the blanks, while others presented a singular noun, but asked what the plural version would be. After planting all of the questions and directions, I played the game, to make sure that the player would not have any hangups. This showed me places where I ought to spread out the path of the maze. There were places where it folded too close to itself. I didn’t want players to accidentally skip questions by stumbling into the correct channel through a mishap. 

Once the path was complete, it was time to dress up the game. I made a fake green block in the “Art Builder” of BloxelsEDU. This block was brought into my Plural Noun Maze to disguise all of the yellow coins, red hazzards, and purple enemies. I also hid some life-giving hearts with the fake green blocks. Another block that I made in Art Builder was a “transparent” block. I saved a square of nothing; containing no color at all. This I used to disguise the word blocks. I didn’t want students to see future word blocks while they were playing the game. They would assume the correct path of the maze. Additionally, I hid some hearts, enemies, and hazards with the transparent block. Come to find out, when I made them invisible, it took their power away. A player can walk right through a transparent hazard, and an invisible enemy really is a ghost. A player would never know it was there! Lastly, I wanted the end of the maze to be on a floating, invisible terrain, but when I turned the green blocks invisible, they may as well truly disappear. The player cannot stand on the transparent terrain. Oh well. 

Now that my maze was complete, it was ready to administer. Before having students play it however, I devised an ingenious plan for monitoring their work. Students would read each question, then take a screenshot of the answers. While the screenshot was still

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The screenshot would show me students’ choice of noun spelling.

available, they would “mark it” up by circling what they thought was the correct spelling of the plural noun. Then they would save the screenshot and travel in the appropriate direction. They would then find out whether they were right or wrong by immediately receiving coins or encountering hazards. I put these instructions in a visible word block at the beginning of the game, along with one that warned students that the maze’s directions were hidden inside invisible blocks. 

Students enjoyed playing the game. They couldn’t help but show me their progress. Many felt the need to point out hidden things that they found, as if I didn’t know they had been placed in the maze! Ha ha.

Finally, when everyone was done, I posted a generic, simple Google slideshow to our Google classroom, making a copy for each student. They populated their individual slideshows with all of their screenshots of the game. I was able to go into Google classroom and access each student’s slideshow to see exactly what they had circled as their answers for spelling plural nouns. I gave kids scores of 1-4 depending on how successful they were on their initial guess. It was funny, because I could see in the screen shot areas where students had accidentally or otherwise already found the coins in the correct direction! The screenshots also betrayed loss of hearts, indicating that students had checked to see where hazards may be. But, I was totally okay with this. The whole idea of the game was for it to be self-correcting. If they figured out what direction they ought to go before looking at the answers and circled the corresponding answer, more power to them. You got it right, one way or another! That’s life!

The lesson, the maze, the assessment… it was all totally awesome, but there is more. Because I shared the game to my BloxelsEDU classroom, in addition to publishing it to the “Arcade”, my students now had access to the game as something that they could alter. They opened it up as a “Remix” and were able to see all of the different tricks to the trade that I had developed. They could learn how to make their own games/mazes, but also simply change mine and put in different questions, totally change the path of the maze… The BloxelEDU world was the limit! And, now you can too! Enjoy.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

New @BloxelsEDU game: #Arcade no. 26523370 #ThePolitePirates #PluralNouns

Late Bloomers

I’ve been teaching for 9 years. This is a second career for me. To pay for college (graduated in ‘96) I painted the outside of homes. This turned into a lucrative business, and I liked working for myself. Eventually, I wanted to do something more with my life. Because I enjoyed connecting with people and communicating ideas, and because I thought investing in youth to affect the future was a noble and intelligent goal, I decided to enter the elementary education field. Boy, am I glad I did! Naturally, this story is much longer, but I wanted to just provided the basics, here. 

The past 9 years have provided plenty of professional development opportunities, but I had yet to attend many conferences. This past weekend I visited #Rewire19 and was energized and inspired by a long list of incredible presenters. 

In addition to learning, I felt like I made meaningful friendships with these mentors. Something that plagued me, though, was the idea of how much teaching many people had under their belt. There were numbers like “Teaching 20+ Years” thrown all over the place. Is it necessary to teach a long time before you share pedagogical practices with peers?

IMG_9978This question made me feel like a latecomer to a party. Wait, what’s that expression?

#FashionablyLate 

I do sport a pretty mean #Bowtie.

Beyond #Fashion, I feel like I do have something to offer to this party; a type of experience that didn’t come from teaching many decades in the classroom. And, I am not just talking about having run a successful entrepreneurial painting company, either. I am a “Late Bloomer”. 

This is one of my new *All-Time-Favorite* books: “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement” by Rich Karlgaard. I heard about this book from an interview with the author on the “Smart People Podcast”.

 

As I read the text, many things happened simultaneously. One, I felt my insecurity of seeming-career-procrastination melt away as I realized that I had gained many useful life lessons that were presently helping me be a good teacher, today. If I had gone right into teaching, straight out of college… first of all, that couldn’t have happened because I didn’t even study pedagogy! …But, if my younger-self had entered the education career field, I would have certainly burned out and failed. It is only through allowing myself to bloom later in life, that I am experiencing this wonderful world of teaching. While I may not be able to place a “20+ years” near my name when it comes to teaching, I have been preparing for this position all my life!

Secondly, the book “Late Bloomers” has caused me to view my students differently. Some students will be early bloomers. These kids are already shining in school. They are acing tests, excelling in reading and math capabilities. Everyone is excited for these students. But, what about the “Late Bloomers” who will need several decades to finally open up and realize their potential? 

IMG_9179I think every educator would do well to read this book. When we differentiate our instruction, we work hard to enrich students who need to be challenged right now, but what about the students who will eventually grow into shining stars? 

There are plants that take several years before blooming. If a gardener focused only on the early bloomers and allowed weeds to overtake the Stargazers (my favorite flower), he would miss out on quite a show, not to mention the marvelous fragrance. The gardner must make sure these July blooms are planted properly, watered and cared for appropriately, and protected from voracious sun-hogs. 

Whether you are a “Late-Blooming” teacher like me or a quick start out of the gate, make sure you are conscientious to the idea that within your walls are flowers that will take quite a while to bloom… And, that’s okay. In a world “Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and boy is it ever! …It’s our job, as educators, to power or fuel the patience everyone (parents, administrators, employers, etc.) will need to practice in order to see these blooms to their marvelous opening.

What are you doing to empower potential “Late Bloomers” in your classroom? 

The Polite Pirate Classroom Theme

Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but I have a pirate theme in my classroom. Why? Don’t I know what “pirate” means; What it stands for? I do. I also know that the commercial world adores them, their mark is everywhere, and everyone wants to be one! 

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Me, Sally Jo Saragusa, & Dave Burgess

I recently had lunch with Dave Burgess of “Teach Like a Pirate” (2012) fame. When I asked him why he had chosen the pirate theme, his answer surprisingly mirrored my own. He said that in the beginning of his career of speaking engagements he was sharing his expertise on teaching in a way students will remember content, and he felt like he needed something to tie his points together. 

[Burgess, Dave. (2012) Teach like a pirate :increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator San Diego, Calif. : Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.,]

Burgess’s (2012) book describes several key characteristics that a successful teacher will want to develop in order to make him- or herself an awesome educator. He unites the ideas with a mnemonic device: an acronym of PIRATE. The very first letter stands for passion. Well, is there anything more passionate than a pirate?

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Previous students visit their Polite Pirate captain. Video of “Pirate Talk”

The first grade that I taught was second. The kids were 6 and 7 years old. I wanted something cohesive to make every student feel like part of a team. More than anything, the pirate theme just happened. I liked the idea of the class being a crew, rather than a team. We weren’t going to compete against anyone else. Instead, we would embark on numerous adventures. There wasn’t any winning or losing; Just loving learning, and that is my main goal. 

While teaching is my job, I have a secondary wish of helping society evolve to a more courteous state. This aim, combined with a love of alliteration, caused me to add the word polite to our piraty theme, to form the “Polite Pirates”. I began writing stories involving characters from an imaginary crew of previous polite pirates (I told you I like alliteration;). These taught academic standards, as well as mannerly themes. The students enjoyed hearing and reading stories about what came to seem like their classroom mascots.

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This student not only dressed like a pirate for #TalkLikeAPirateDay, but made a treasure map for the occasion. She even had a pirate tattoo! 

The Polite Pirates are ten years old this year. I have yet to publish even one of their stories. Paradoxically, I share and even beg others to use this Polite Pirate theme. I am the pirate who gives, rather than robs. Last year I even thought of beginning a teaching hashtag of #PleasePirate to encourage others to use things that are shared freely on Twitter. Anyone who knows anything about teaching and teachers knows that we are all pirates! We find, borrow, reproduce, change, and share anything and everything we think could help our students learn better. The idea of good global or online citizenry looms above us, but in the end, we would steal to feed the curiosity and encourage inquiry in our students. 

It was this irony of pirates providing provisions for others that birthed their leader, Captain Iron Knee. He knows that it is only through giving that one’s hand can open to receive what he truly needs.

 

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More than anything, I want my students to enjoy learning! I’ll do anything to make that happen.

The idea of piracy may hold a horrible history, but letting go of the chains of literalism allows me to use its hugely commercial popularity to connect the experience of a super fun year in school to a life-long-love of learning. That is my overarching goal. 

And, with that I will leave you to stew. Perhaps you already have a theme. How do you use it? Is it just a way to decorate your room, or does it infiltrate your teaching? I encourage you to weave your theme throughout your pedagogy. Pirate ignorance. Provide knowledge. Prepare skills. And, dare I say preach politeness? #PleasePirate and share your thoughts. 

Chapter 1: “The Island”

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Students wrote comments, connecting to the text, via Google Docs

One of the most important things to establish at the beginning of a school year is comradery among pupils. Several years ago I came up with a story idea that focused on this concept. It introduces my classroom theme of #ThePolitePirates as well as giving us a shared purpose.

The story has grown over the years, as I come up with more themes and invest more time into it. I usually share it with my students in a Google Doc through Google Classroom, so each kid has his/her own copy to practice connecting with the text via leaving comments. This year, for the first time, I plan to publish the chapters in this blog, so anyone can read the story and leave comments.

Feel free to “pirate” my tale. Change and tailor the idea to fit your classroom. I usually read it out loud to the students before having them access it in Google. I try to do a chapter a day for the first week of school. There is a bit of vocab and figurative language to explain, but it is a good tool for introducing all kinds of classroom expectations and future academic tasks.

Without further adieu, are you ready to be shipwrecked?

Chapter 1: “The Island”

Once upon a time there was an island; not any old island; but a special, helpful, resourceful, maybe magical island. This island was home to many plants and animals. However, humans had never set foot upon its shores, until, one day…

There was a massive storm.  It was not a big storm, or a strong storm, or a severe storm, but all three of these adjectives rolled up into one humongous, scary, powerful, and seriously damaging storm. It began so suddenly that several ships were caught off guard.  Some sailing vessels survived the storm, but many were shipwrecked.

The storm may have started suddenly, but it did not end for days.  Wind and rain pounded the water, while sailors, passengers, and pirates bounced like buoys on the sea surface.  

That’s right.  You read that correctly: pirates!  If passengers and sailors were scared of sharks, they were petrified of pirates.

Being shipwrecked at the same time, in the same storm and sea, though, found sailors, passengers, and pirates alike thrown together into the same boat… 

…or… 

…island. 

Did the island sit there while sailors, passengers, and pirates washed up onto its shores? Or, did it, as so many of the survivors came to believe, reach out its long shallow sandbars to save the poor sailors from certain peril?  Either way, about thirty people found themselves safely sunning on silky sand when the wind and rain finally ceased. Of their ships, nothing but memories survived.

Two or three persons from each ship made it to the island, so everyone knew at least that many survivors.  At first the people who knew each other formed small, tight groups that did not talk with, help, or share with the other survivors.  But, that did not last long. 

Some will tell you that the island brought them together.  Some say the storm purposefully plucked each person from his or her ship to make up the population of the island.  Others think the beauty and elegance of the island forged a bond between the survivors. But, everyone would agree that the savory smells from the campfire of Captain Iron Knee and his small crew of pirates was the most memorable element of that first night.

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Captain Iron Knee

Perhaps it is just human nature to want to join together and work as a team. Any way you slice it, though, each small band of two to four survivors of six or seven different ships eventually came to live, eat, work, play, practice, build, and therefore survive together as a team, unit, band, group… 

And eventually

crew.

I hope you enjoyed chapter one. Tune in for chapter two, where we explore some character traits of Captain Iron Knee.

What do you think the message or theme from chapter one might have been? What was the author trying to get across? Why was it written?

A Powerplay of Spontaneity; Is It Classy?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had something like this happen to you, as a learner.

It’s my freshman year in college. I don’t remember if it was 1st or 2nd semester, but I DO remember that it was 7:30 in the morning, Monday, Wednesday, Friday! [Seriously, who was in charge of that decision: A mandatory, first-year class that early! Clearly, the college was trying to weed out the non-morning-people… with a vengeance.] It was intro to something or other, and I had to take the class as a prerequisite for future necessary courses. So, I’m stuck in this pedagogical prison with what seems to be a brilliant professor who is trying as much as he can to wake us all up with exciting anecdotes. 

The thing is, there is this one rose among us weedy, thorny freshman who has grown beyond the bramble to sing in the early morning sunlight. This student probably already had a higher education, or at the very least was well-read on the topic. I don’t know. I never conversed directly with the guy. He would raise his hand, and the rest of us would lay down our pencils and pens. The lecture was over, as far as the rest of us were concerned. This star student would ask the professor a question. I never even understood the inquiry, let alone the lengthy response the professor clearly loved providing, complete with gigantic vocabulary that drifted like cirrus above our cerebral sleepiness. 

I don’t know how I passed that class. What was I supposed to do in the moment the lecture unexpectedly derailed to plow through the wilderness? Should this naive novice to higher education raise his hand and suggest the conversation steer back toward the original topic, where the rest of us are still stuck in mental mud? …And, while you’re at it, can you use verbiage the rest of us pion-pupils can understand? Should I have left the lecture hall, to go back to the cocoon that was calling me: my bed? It WAS 7:30AM!!! Or, perhaps I should ignore the nonsense (that’s what it was to me), and read the enormous, expensive textbook that I drug around with me, but hadn’t cracked?

That really happened to me. Another thing that happened was my very own participation in derailment, back in highschool. I remember glorying in getting teachers off topic to discuss some random recent event. The class was happy to rest note-taking hands and enjoy some cognitive freetime. 

And, lastly, as a teacher, I have found it fun to discuss something off the cuff that a kid brought up, assuming that he or she was invested in this divergent topic. I’ve thought that the spontaneity of switching gears to something that mattered, personally, to my students would be engaging. It very well could be, for that one student. But, what about the rest!?

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This is a quote of Diana Hess in an Interview with Joan Richardson of Phi Delta Kappan

I’m preparing a collaborative blog post with Mountain Buddha, author of “The Write Inspiration” on the topic of controversy. I was reading an article about using political controversy (oh my!) in a Social Studies classroom, when I came across an idea that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

It may seem classy and fun to allow a spontaneously surfacing idea to infiltrate a lesson, but this can isolate, marginalize, disengage, and feed in to a powergame. 

One of my favorite books is “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene (2000). Law number 30 (page 245) states “Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless”. When a professor or teacher spontaneously expounds on an idea that wasn’t previously advertised, he or she is showing off his or her power. Unbeknownst to the pupils, the teacher has done loads of research, reading, and thinking on the topic. He is older than they and has had some life-experiences that have added to his breadth of knowledge, as well. It may seem like he is speaking off the cuff, but there is a muscular arm of mental muscle under that sleeve. By not explaining how much he prepared for this seemingly surprise question, students are left in awe of his god-like knowledge.

The goal of a classy teacher should be to empower or “put power into” students. 

What would be classier to do, when a student brings up a topic that lies outside the given lesson, is encourage the thoughtfulness by affirming the question; “What a great question. I love how much you are clearly thinking about this topic.”

You could further support her participation in discussion with, “It’s great for you to ask a question that could really further our thinking.”

And, rather than hording the power, share the keys to it by telling the class, “I have read and thought a lot about that, and would be ecstatic to share the information with you. Let’s do that early next week. Why don’t you talk to your parents and peers, and think up some questions that you might have. If you want to really participate, you might want to see if you can find something to read about the topic. Sound like a plan?”

In this way, the classy teacher will pull all of his pupils into the pedagogy, rather than marginalizing most and exclusively speaking to only one or two who share interest and/or experience/knowledge on the spontaneous subject. If there are students who choose to ignore the challenge of preparing for the future discussion, they are electing to disengage from learning. They are rejecting the power of meaningful discussion. For those who are interested, they can fill their coffers with copious particulars for engaging classroom participation. 

This could very well be a controversial subject. I always enjoyed spontaneity in my teaching. I will likely need to work at this classy practice of empowerment. Do you already do this? Do you disagree with my thoughts? Can you suggest an alternative way of handling the questioning student, tempting off-topic discussion? Please share your thoughts.

 

Works Cited: 

Greene, R., & Elffers, J. (2000). The 48 laws of power.

Richardson, J. (2017). Using controversy as a teaching tool: An interview with Diana Hess. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(4), 15-20. Retrieved November, 2017, from https://www.kappanonline.org/richardson-using-controversy-as-a-teaching-tool-an-interview-with-diana-hess/.