This is a buzzing year at my school. You can hear a buzz of teachers trying to quickly integrate technology into their classes, under the new charge of “21st Century Education.” The students are buzzing, because their teachers are trying new approaches. In general, their feedback seems to be that learning is becoming more interesting. They seem to enjoy tackling a few more projects while enduring a smidge fewer quizzes. Technology staff buzz back and forth across campus, trying a fix here and a patch there. You can actually hear cell phones buzzing in class, now that students are frequently freed up to use technology. Buzzing and buzzwords. So far, quite a year.
The photograph above is the creation of one of my homeroom students. In a biology class, students were asked to create models of parts of a human cell. The day before, several students had landed in the ceramics studio after school, shaping slabs into mitochondria and pinching cell walls. This particular young man set his piece down on the table during homeroom. Others looked at his creation and laughed.
When I went over to take a look, his friend chuckled, “Ms. P, look. Instead of filling it up with water here at school, he put everything in place and froze it last night.”
“Yeah? What’s so funny about that? Seems pretty smart to me…”
“But… he could have just filled it up and set everything in place here at school…”
“But since he froze it at home, he didn’t have to worry about that, right?”
“I don’t know. I stand by my thought – I think it’s pretty smart.”
There are multiple right approaches to just about everything. And I guess I’ve always thought that a teacher’s responsibilities included exposing students to multiple perspectives. Maybe technology broadens our options; but I hesitate to forfeit the rich traditions of teaching, and teaching well.
This week, I’m introducing my level ones to centering. I challenged them to post online videos that explain the process – because, heck, my demos might not be the best way for them to learn. I heard a story yesterday about another teacher who is asking his middle school students to tweet interviews with the characters in Animal Farm. We all keep hearing about a math colleague who has “flipped” his classroom, completely – students watch math videos at home each night, and come into class ready to practice and ask questions. And all of this stuff is grand – exciting, buzz-worthy stuff.
But, every morning, my juniors in homeroom are hitting the books – studying vocabulary, quizzing each other, rehearsing for oral quizzes and presentations. They are enrolled in an honors class this year with a teacher whom they truly respect, and in whom they have utmost confidence. Not a single device buzzes in his room, and nothing is condensed to 140 characters. The work is hard – and very traditional – but they don’t complain. They have a sense that this teacher is steering them in the right direction – both demonstrated, by his track record and alumni feedback, and innate, because he just has that sort of presence in a classroom.
So maybe one approach tweets and buzzes and excites, while another approach practices and drills and mentors. I’m still finding my own place along this spectrum. But just like the frozen cell membrane-in-a-bowl, I think that education has room for multiple approaches. In some ways, the spectrum of approaches might be the most real-world aspect of it all. Just about every experience I’ve had in life and work has required me to adapt to multiple perspectives and approaches. One thing that has been consistent, though: I’m drawn to those with presence, to those whose genuineness and solid character inspire confidence. That sort of teacher – that sort of person – is successful in any climate, with any buzzwords flying around.
Upon reading this post, this morning, the creator of the cell explains that there are no chloroplasts in humans, and that this cell was actually a plant cell. What can I say? I teach ceramics.