Guest Post via @gm8585: It’s Time for a Shift

The first couple days of school are sometimes full of rules and dictation. Old movies used to take an hour to get to the action and excitement (I think they used to call it “developing the plot” or “building the story”). Does anybody else see a parallel here?

Students are growing up in an era of immediate and personalized EVERYTHING. Schools need to follow suit. I walked through the halls the first couple of days after spring break last year to find lights dimmed and PowerPoints going in too many classes. That experience forever changed me. This year, to start the school year, I designed an ice breaker type lesson that had students up, walking around, and working together to solve riddles and eventually diffuse a virtual reality bomb using Samsung Gear VR. It was as fun for me (and extremely intriguing) as it was for the students. HERE is a detailed reflection on the day.

Last night I watched the movie The Giver on Netflix. It’s based on the only fictional book I have ever completely read (I’m a science teacher, give me a break). Now I truly understand what people mean by, “It’s not as good as the book.” However, the plot is quite relative: the members of the community are confined by so many rules and regulations, that they are basically brainwashed into boredom and being dull. The main character receives memories of the past that run the gamut of emotions from fun and exciting to horrible and painful. I couldn’t help but relate that to our students who have probably experienced a similar summer emotional gamut only to return to a place where everything is dictated and boring, comparatively speaking, of course.

My challenge for every teacher, whether you cover classroom rules on the first day or (hopefully) not, is to engage students at a level that is rarely tapped into in our schools. If school already started and you already broke the rules by going over the rules, that’s OK because you always have time to reflect on the present and make changes immediately.

A transition is needed for the first few days of school, but why does it have to stop there? Why can’t an English teacher do a really fun science demonstration in October to get kids writing? Why can’t a Social Studies teacher have kids travel to distant lands  after winter break with Google Earth, or better yet, virtual reality and report on their experience? Why can’t a math teacher virtually take students to a place where they can see “how this stuff will ever be useful.” So many of us fall back to what’s easy and comfortable for us while we often continue to make school difficult and uncomfortable for so many of our students.

It’s time for a shift. There are so many awesome tools available to teachers. Today, I walked into a social studies classroom where the teacher had been working with some free tools I showed her. She said, “I’m doing so much cool ‘stuff’ here” and proceeded to show me how she was changing her lecture-based lessons to be way more engaging. If we continue to waste time developing the plot and building the story, we are going to lose their interest and effective learning will not occur. For those of you that are shifting, please spread the word and connect with me so we can continue shifting together.

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