I have my moments when I question my decision to become a professional educator (read: teacher and administrator).
I have my moments when I love my decision to become a professional educator.
I shuttle between the two ends of the spectrum, moving fluidly on the continuum. Depending on the moment, my answer differs. Luckily, I tend to find myself on the latter half, loving my profession.
Yesterday, while riding the bus back from a school visit to Brooklyn College’s theater, I devised a quick lesson plan for my last period English class. I did not want to teach any new material, but I also knew that if I did not have a plan, those last 55 minutes, if unstructured, with the students would undoubtedly force me toward the question end of the spectrum. I decided to use some of the new knowledge I recently acquired at The Learning and the Brain conference. One of the speakers stressed to the audience the importance of creativity, especially as we, educators, prepare our students for the 21st century.
As a class, we briefly discussed what being a “21st century learner” meant, focusing on technology and communication. Then I shared with them the definitions of divergent and convergent thinking: divergent thinking allows for multiple answers, while convergent thinking only allows for one answer. 90+% of us are/were taught in convergent classrooms, which often stifle and shun creativity, which is a necessary skill.
I then attempted to introduce the concept of, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”
Fail of epic proportions!
Only a few of them knew who he is and struggled mightily to understand why he famously stated that he had worked with everyone in Hollywood. One thing about sixth graders is they get caught up on the smallest, most unimportant detail and want to have a full blown discussion about it. Disturbed by the many confused faces, I wrote “Justin Bieber” on the top of the board to a mixed response of boos and a few high pitch shrills. I then asked the students for another famous person, and one student surprisingly said, “Michael Jackson.” So I added the name at the bottom of the board, and asked the students to connect those two names using four words.
As a class we came up with Usher, LA Reid, My Super Sweet 16, MTV. The logic goes like this: Justin Bieber was discovered by Usher, who has worked with LA Reid. LA Reid’s son was once featured on My Super Sweet 16, which aired on MTV. The then music video channel showed Michael Jackson’s epic music videos, which revolutionized the music industry.
They understood the concept. Epic win!
For the next thirty five minutes or so, my classroom was loud, filled with excited and engaged students, all clamoring to share the multiple ways that they connected two randomly chosen words. There were three rounds: the first round they had to make the connection in three words; round two, they had to use two words to complete the connection; finally in round three, they could only use one word to do so. At the end of each round, we selected the most creative response. It was a motivating incentive.
The first “Separation,” which is the name we named the game, was fish and money. One of the most creative three word connections was the following (the student’s words are in capitals): FISH are ANIMALS and some animals FLY. BATS are a kind of flying animal, and bat droppings were used as MONEY.
I was blown away by this student’s creativity and knowledge of random facts. In fact, I was surprised and encouraged by all the students’ many different responses.
The second “Separation” was star and tuna. One of the most creative three word connections was the following (the student’s words are in capitals): STARS exist in SPACE. On a keyboard there is a spaceBAR. Also on the keyboard is the letter T, which is the first letter of TUNA.
One of the most creative answers during the entire game was the following (the student’s words are in capitals): STARS make up the constellation URSA MAJOR, which looks like a bear, which eat TUNA.
I left school, glowingly nestled in the love section of the spectrum.
Flash forward roughly 18 hours. After a sleepless night of partying and hanging out with friends, I lay on my couch, desperately hoping to fall asleep. I search endlessly through the television guide, and finally turn to the Disney channel to watch Phineas and Ferb, a cartoon about two brothers who during their summer vacation create amazing inventions and have outrageously fun adventures because of their imagination.
I simply think to myself, those guys are so creative; I would love to teach them.
Luckily, I already do.