My plans today (for my second day home after traveling a BUNCH for work, lately) included going to church with Dave then going to play golf with Dave then sit outside and read. Those plans have been thwarted as I began getting a sore throat on Friday that has progressed into a pretty nasty cold (complete with 101 degree fever, chills, body aches, etc. etc.). So what do I do? I took a bath and began to THINK. Sometimes, thinking is dangerous territory for me. Today was different. I started thinking about how grateful I am for all the laughs I have had over the years of being a consultant, and how much I look forward to continued work with schools, districts, teachers, school leaders, and other staff, as well.
One of my first thoughts was of my years teaching about Character Education. I taught lessons in all the classes in the elementary school where I was a guidance counselor and ultimately a principal, but I also was honored enough to teach at regional and national conferences on success stories. One such conference comes to mind---one in which I was introducing the character traits (to adults, I must caveat) I would teach to the students. Honesty was first. I loved telling the following story about telling the truth:
John and Susan had been dating pretty intimately for several years but had not bitten the bullet to get married, yet. John's mom had long suspected that John and Susan had gotten to the ultimate stage of "intimate", but she always required them to sleep in separate bedrooms when they visited ("not under my roof" was her motto). She asked John every time they visited whether he and Susan were sleeping together. John always said, "Mom, of course not. We're waiting for marriage." On one visit, John's mom decided to take matters into her own hands. At dinner one night, she casually mentioned, "Has anyone seen my antique gravy ladle? I can't seem to find it and was going to use it for our dinner tonight." John's dad, John, and Susan all looked at her quizzically and all answered variations of "Nope", "Haven't seen it", "Don't know where it could be". And then she pounced with her next statement, "John and Susan, you both have stuck to the claim that you haven't been sleeping together. But I'll tell you right now...if Susan had been sleeping in her own bed, she would have found that gravy ladle by now."
I was thinking about honesty and thinking about thinking, as well. I think my mind goes odd places when I am not feeling great. One of the things we do to help teachers experience engagement centers around United States history. Since I was going to be teaching in Canada this week, I decided to change the activity to something more "universal". I asked them to individually (and then in groups) come up with questions to which the answer would be "100". I put no parameters on the activity except the answer to the questions they created had to be "100". I have to admit I was absolutely blown away by the "questions" they created. Some of them were math questions but some were totally non-math related, which made the activity that much more engaging when each table group shared out their "questions". One participant said, "At first, I just thought about things like 'What is 50 X 2?' but once we started sharing as a group, I realized there were so many more possibilities. We then processed the activity from a teacher's perspective, and they shared ways they could use that activity in their own content area. One said, "If 'freedom' is the answer, then what is the question?" I thought about how the questions might look incredibly different, depending on what part of the world you lived in or what time frame we might be discussing. What about a simpler one: "If 'big' is the answer, what is the question?"
Then my mind really took off this morning (does Thera-Flu have that effect, perhaps?). I wondered what would happen if I had a class who was studying weather phenomena, and I put up several pictures around the room of the aftermath of several of these natural disasters. I could add the location (is it Kansas or is it in Sumatra, Indonesia), the temperature outside at the time of the phenomenon, and any other pertinent "hints". I would then ask the question: If this was the "effect", what might have been the "cause"? Students could rotate through the room in partners and trios and try to make educated guesses based on what we had learned (or were going to learn). How might this activity increase student engagement versus the typical "telling" we tend to do, sometimes.
I still have lots of thoughts in my head---about how different learners are engaged by story-telling, group work, or thinking backwards, for instance. I would love to hear some of your "think outside the box" types of activities you do to engage your young or more seasoned learners in the learning. For now, I fear that the Thera Flu is kicking in, and I am needing a nap. If "nap" is the answer, what is the question? What Shelly needs when she is sick and exhausted.