Monday, January 17, 2011

"Just get out there." Yeah.

So I was reading my Edutopia RSS feed, when I came upon this gem:

In it, Andrew encourages teachers to just get out there and try things.  I couldn't agree more.  I seem to be repeating myself to anyone who will listen, but the art of teaching will only continue to grow and evolve if we, as a teaching community, try new things.  If we keep on doing the same thing over and over again, we will never get any better.  It seems obvious that we shouldn't teach history courses with the same material we did even 10 years ago.  Why do we insist on teaching other subjects in the same way with the same material?  Technology's changing; we should figure out how to use that.  New things are being discovered in science and math all the time.  Let's use this!

Of course, teaching does change.  Someone figures out a way to make something more teachable or in a new and engaging way, and slowly that spreads to others.  With the Web 2.0 burst a few years ago, this whole process is sped up immensely.  But still, we each have a choice: do we want to be the teacher figuring things out, or do we want to be those who change because of what others have figured out?

To me, the choice is clear: we should all be those who are trying new things!  And let's not lie to our students about it.  I have tried new things throughout the whole year with my classes.  Being my first year at this school, I suppose that's part of the territory.  But when I try new things, I'm not going to have my students think I know exactly what's going to happen.  I tell them I'm trying something new, and it might work, and it might not.  As a class, we might all fall on our faces.  Or we might do some pretty awesome things that make our classroom better.

Latest example: I gave my students a small notepad, calling it the "Book of Wonder."  In here, they are to jot down anything they wonder about throughout the day.  They're middle schoolers.  They're curious about just about everything.  When they have something they want to talk about as a class, they write it on a separate card (to not tear apart their book), and put it in the "Wonder Box of Wonders."  Then, I try to take their curiosity and work it into what we do in class.

Will this work?  I have no idea.  It's been 2 weeks and I haven't been able to incorporate anything yet.  But if I can never work anything into the curriculum, is it a failure?  No, and here's why:

For the first 3 days, my students were writing in these books constantly in my class and in their other classes.  I should have given the other teachers a heads up on this, so they would be able to manage this in their room.  Learning moment for me.

For the first 3 days, my students were writing in these books constantly.  Most of this was valid, though some certainly was just joking around or posturing for their classmates.  One student made a flipbook.  But they were thinking and writing about what they were (and are) curious about.

Within the first week, a facebook group was made.  In this group, my students are posting things they wonder about, and are answering other people's wonders.  They range from serious ("I wonder why there are holes in Swiss cheese") to less serious, but valid ("I wonder if we'll have a snowday tomorrow") to middle schoolers figuring out their emotions ("I wonder why life has to be so hard sometimes" and "I wonder why some people at our school are really mean").

Even if I am never able to use their wonders in class, I view this as a success because they're thinking and sharing with each other.  They're not afraid to be curious.

So we need to get out and try things.  What's the worst that happens: we fail but learn from it?  Teachers afraid to learn?  That sounds dangerous to me.


  1. This is SO TRUE!! I have tried things that worked, and some things that didn't work. But at least I tried them!

    I've found that as a math teacher, incorporating technology is more difficult. But thanks to a network on Twitter and numerous blogs on my Google Reader, I have found ways to bring tech into math :)

  2. Great idea - I am always trying new things and sometimes they work and sometimes they fail.

  3. Middle school children are curious about everything. They won't admit it but they are still children. Your idea about the notepad is good. Now they can write that question down instead of coming to you verbalizing that wonderful question.

  4. I just noticed this post from the comments section at Edutopia. I love what you have done with this piece. I think you define exactly what I am trying to get across when you say, "As a class, we might all fall on our faces. Or we might do some pretty awesome things that make our classroom better."

    That's it! If we never venture out and try something new, we never make progress. If history has taught us anything the greatest leaders and innovators took risks. And while technology is not the answer for every educator, we all need to constantly refresh our craft and recreate our classroom dynamic. This is the world our students live in and will be working in some day. It is our responsibility to give them the latest and the greatest.

    Great post.