Finding a work that is inspiring creates a snowball effect, which is especially welcome in the middle of a hot summer. It leads me to dream big about my classes. I begin to envision the classroom as a place of excitement, innovation, and learning, a place buzzing with ideas. Most of all I am open to seeing the possibilities with a “we can figure it out” attitude.
This summer the book that has brought me out of my doldrums and jump-started my imagination again is Now You See It by Cathy Davidson. Here are a few of my takeaways.
For my core courses in US and World History, plans in the works include using gaming as an inspiration for project based learning, incorporating mastery on different levels and individual pacing. Foremost in my mind will be keeping the work challenging enough to keep kids trying, but not so hard that they want to give up. I had already been working on some of these ideas, but now I have added energy and momentum for the task.
My senior elective on Modern Asia is focused on understanding the region today, especially China and India. For the most part we focus on the history from 1945 forward. I truly believe that the students should understand other countries and cultures, but Davidson’s book gave me a concrete rationale. Many of my students may very well be working with people from around the world in the future, with technology erasing geographic barriers. Having knowledge of other cultures is essential.
With this in mind, I am planning to have the class create a single class project – a publication online that is designed to educate their peers who did not take the course about the recent history and current situations of the major Asian countries. I see the students working in fluid groups, throughout the semester. Along the way, each will conduct research, and they will do some common readings to create a base of knowledge. They will work together to hash out the planning of the publication. Some classes will consist of shared experiences, like videos or discussions, while other classes will be devoted to independent or small group work. We will have a class Symbaloo where links can be collected. There will be a class blog, but there may also be students who wish to create individual blogs as well. All will be linked to the Symbaloo.
My greatest moments last year were when students brought in their personal research to shed some light on the work someone else was doing, or when a student would ask an intriguing question that would set us on a collective search for an answer. That was when we lost track of time, and the bell was an unwelcome interruption. A key lesson I learned from last year’s senior class was that both autonomy and timely feedback are necessary. It is better if they set their individual goals and deadlines, and it is important that I ask them to reflect on how they are doing. I also need to be in regular conversation with each student about his or her work.
I was struck by Davidson’s discussion about the blurring between work and home, work and play, with fewer boundaries in place thanks to our wired world. It seems to me that has been true of teachers and students forever. The rest of the world is now working more like we do. To me that does not justify endless amounts of homework, but it does indicate that in the “real world” our students are just as likely to take work home or even work from home as not. Homework does need to be meaningful and should be engaging, as much as possible, though, as we would hope our students’ careers will be. Instilling the work ethic necessary to be self-directed seems more important than ever.
While I am not really sure if there is a direct connection with the book, the result of my renewed energy has been to buy more comfortable furniture for my classroom, and continue to make that space over to be a more inviting and friendly space where students will do the meaningful and engaging work I envision. I am prepared that the reality may not live up to my imagination, but who knows. It just might.