I usually spend my Sundays watching marginal sports programming. It’s a habit I’ve retained since college. Today, it’s NCAA championship women’s bowling.
Humanity has a quality to it that is completely ineffable, but I know that it’s seen in part during sport. You know, getting something done–anything–despite cultural valuation on whether it should be done, where does that live? How do you riff on that?
Serendipitously, I went bowling this weekend, too. We didn’t take it seriously, and I scored an 88. You’re worthy, you’re worthy, get up, it’s ok.
The ESPN announcer just said that a steely-eyed girl was “first team all-american.” My mind is being blown.
Think about that for a second. Such a set exists and is finite.
If a tenacity for bowling, replete with the inherent subtleties of technique and panache (a girl just threw for a spare and walked away before it was halfway down the lane, consider her shoulder brushed), can exist, it makes me wonder why that feeling doesn’t normally exist in the classroom.
I’m not saying it never exists, I’m just saying that the normal American classroom has a feel that is quite opposite that of the NCAA women’s championship bowling match. Am I now envious of bowlers? Yup.
For me, the crux seems to be time. Student after student have presented fantastic ideas to me that I hope to help guide to fruition. My heart sings when students want to embark on projects that are new to them and me. However most of these projects die the slow death of day-to-day tedium.
“I just don’t think I’ll get my homework done, Mr. C.” or some iteration of this-project-would-be-cool-if-I-didn’t-have-grades-and-homework-to-worry-about.
The kids aren’t dumb, they’re grades really do matter, but at what point are we going to agree that buy-in teaches deeper lessons than, oh, anything?
My classroom is no different. My students have until the end of May to become proficient in 18 biology standards. I’ve given them the freedom to approach these however they want, but a few are choosing the easiest route they can find, despite it not being successful at demonstrating any kind of proficiency.
The last part truly amazes me. The only students who are moving efficiently through the curriculum are those that are doing the crazy projects; the students who are running experiments or spending their time asking me questions instead of the other way around are the ones who are excelling. Not all of them are typical ‘A’ students either.
What does this mean? It means we have a timing problem folks.
We are now entering week 3 of my biology experiment, and things are interesting. Here’s a quick recap:
Students have been given the standards list and free reign over how they become proficient. Some are using me as a content delivery device and some are choosing only to come to me for assessment (read: feedback), most are some mixture of the two. Students are graded on a binary scale, with the currency being feedback. The students only get a “yes” if we both agree that they can identify and use their knowledge outside of classroom.
The rub has been getting students to show proficiency in ways that are not boring. A large minority paradoxically love PowerPoint. I don’t know how this happened, considering that they all claim to hate it when teachers use ppt. Even more paradoxically, students who choose to create powerpoints to show proficiency rarely if ever do so on the first or second go round. Paraparadoxically, people who choose Keynote always assess well the first time and generally more likeable (I joke, I joke).
My talks (given and recorded about twice a week) have gotten more surgical. They began as vaguely interconnected TED-style bits about things I like (bacon). Students have begun requesting topics, or even playing a fun game of whose-line-is-it-anyway-style requests. For instance, today was penguins and chromosomes. I’m more than happy to oblige.
I can’t help but think about the hours those NCAA bowlers must spend on the lanes doing something that most people do as a semi-bored lark.
I also can’t help but think about some of the powerpoints I’m about to lambaste tomorrow, and how they share little to nothing with those (athletes’?) athletes’ mentality on getting something learned.
Either way, the experiments continue, and I become a modicum better at teaching.
Party on, Wayne.