07 November 2007

You Never Can Tell

Although the content of this post will contain no surprises for any veteran teacher, it may dishearten a few noobs out there. I was reminded today that you can't always tell which way a lesson will go. Over the last umpteen years, I've seen the most carefully crafted lessons go completely sideways...then kicked myself afterwards for spending so much time and energy in planning them. And there have been other lessons that I spent five minutes (or less!) on went over like gangbusters. (Does the word "gangbusters" show my age?) But there is another kind of lesson---one that you have a feeling is good, but think the kids will hate anyway. It's always a shock when they actually love it as much as you do.

If you're a non-teacher reading this---or a newbie teacher---you may wonder how random this seems. Shouldn't all lessons which are thoughtful be appreciated? Maybe in the Utopic classroom. In the real ones filled with real kids and daily changes in dynamics, outcomes are not always as predictable as a teacher might like.

I have long been a Problem Based Learning enthusiast. I like the idea of giving kids a decision-making role, a purpose for asking more questions and doing some investigations, and having them think about real world applications. Yes, I know that this is the ultimate goal of all learning, but let's face it---sometimes there is material that you just have to dig in and do. I gave one of my classes a problem about red tide today. This is not a particularly with it group, and they actually ate it up. When I walked into class this morning, I was feeling a bit down. I love this particular set-up and haven't done it for a few years. I wasn't looking forward to handing it over and having a bunch of teens tell me how much this sucked. But they liked it! Hey, Mikey!

Meanwhile, I was doing a lab with my bio kids. It's a really cool lab, in my opinion. I modeled off of this lab on using yeast to investigate how different factors affect cell membranes. We boil, we centrifuge, we use different bases to look at pH. The first and only time I did this lab prior to today, kids were ho-hum about things. But I pulled out this old chestnut for one more try, and what do you know? The kids thought it was the coolest lab ever.

I suppose that if everything was predictable about the classroom, it would be dull. Maybe I should be glad that most days, you never can tell what's going to make sparks fly.

1 comment:

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Good teachers thrive on chaos. (That may be an overgeneralization, but I think it's close enough to base a career on -- if you like taking risks!) :)

Fun post, and I don't think it's a bit discouraging to enjoy some wisdom passed along.

I used to listen to Gangbusters -- a police drama -- on the radio as a kid growing up in Brooklyn. Even Spiderman 3 can't compete with the thrills that were generated in my imagination by the breathless narration, staccato dialogue, and way loud ("Turn that radio down!") sound effects. A golden age. Glad I was there. :)