Friday, 21 August 2015

The Litmus Test

In my last post Sharing our Passions with Students I weighed the Pros and Cons of a teacher bringing his or her interests or “passions” into the classroom - be it a Maple Leafs poster on the wall, a viewing of The Princess Bride or an integrated lesson using the music of The Beatles. After some musing, I settled on the following list of guidelines.

1. There must be clear curriculum connections.
2. It can’t be self-indulgent or, worse still, lazy.
3. It can not alienate a group of students (seen or unseen) in your classroom.
4. Is must be appropriate to share - given the sensitivities of the greater school community.
5. Older passions can be misremembered. They should always be revisited and reevaluated.
6. It should be fun.

So, do they work? Let me put them to the test by evaluating a few of the lessons from my passions that I have started to line up for this year.  

Thinking One Step Ahead - Like a carpenter building stairs.

Like many colleagues, my planning for a new school term always seems to begin during the previous year. As each unit ends, I can’t help but reflect on it and consider new ways to approach each lesson. This school year was no exception. However, my planning began in earnest last spring when I decided to move to a different grade. (I was teaching Grade 4 and was offered the opportunity to move to Grade 5/6). A new grade meant a new curriculum. I was sad to retire many wonderful units (Ancient Civilizations, Rocks & Minerals, Light & Sound) but; I was excited to explore new subject matter (Canadian Government, First Nations & Space to name a few).

As I thought about the work I was doing to prepare for the upcoming year. I realized that I am already peppering my lessons with flavours drawn from my interests and passions? Let’s look at a few to see how they would be graded my self-imposed list of guidelines.

Rush - “The Trees”

I am considering the use of the song “The Trees” by Rush to help introduce the ideas of Socialism and Capitalism to my Grade 5’s for our Social Studies unit on “People and Environments: The Role of Government and Responsible Citizenship”. By extension, this connects to literacy, the environment and even the Grade 6 unit on Canada’s interaction with the global community. 

I grew up loving this Canadian Rock Trio and was engaged and challenged by their thoughtful and intelligent lyrics. I recently saw them play live and revisiting them reignited my memories of the sense of wonder and imagination that they inspired in me when I was in elementary school. They were, far more than some of my teachers at the time, the impetus for my desire to learn and think. Using a song or two from them this year is a little indulgent (but I think it is easily outweighed by the clear curriculum connections I can make.) Additionally, a metaphorical song about overbearing oaks and union-minded maples is timely, appropriate, engaging and fun.

Grade B+     

A Baseball Unit

The current success of the Blue Jays (fingers crossed - no jinx - no jinx) is making me consider adjusting my Phys. Ed. units. Soccer could be shifted to the spring with the kickball / slo-pitch unit in October to coincide with the playoffs. I might also do a quick lesson to introduce the sport of baseball to my class. Baseball scoring lends itself well to data management and other statistics, like averages, are easily demonstrated in a real life context.

“Ahmed and Sarah play baseball for the school’s co-ed team. Ahmed goes to the plate 100 times and hits to get on base safely 35 times. Sarah goes to the plate 75 times and hits to get on base safely 25 times. Ahmed thinks Sarah is a better hitter. Is he right? If you were the coach, who would you bat first - Why?”

Cross curricular extensions could be made by showing the Who’s on First routine (Grammar and Drama), reading Ernest Thayer’s Casey at the Bat (Literacy, Shared Reading, Reader's Theatre) or even Canadian,Wilson MacDonald’s De Stop-Heem-Short. The latter poem, which highlights the challenges a new Canadian faces when trying to understand Baseball, naturally lends itself to my many ESL students. This, in turn, can launch a candid discussion about “learning new things” and “differences in culture”. I have many students whose families are new Canadians. I think it is important that we welcome them to our country by sharing and celebrating as many cultural touchstones as possible. If, fingers crossed, the Jays make the playoffs, we could even watch part of an afternoon game on television and discuss the use of advertising or score a few of the innings.

Abbot and Costello - "Who's on First"

"Casey at the Bat" - read by James Earl Jones

Casey at the Bat is a perfect example of the importance of why #5 is important.  Check out this version of the poem as a cartoon clearly informed by the time.    

Grade A-

The Time Travelling Marty McFly

This is the 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future and October 21st of this year is the date that Marty traveled to from 1985. My teaching partner and I are debating a way to incorporate that into our classes. This one is a tougher one and is going to require some serious consideration. Curriculum connections can be made and it can be wonderfully engaging. I often have my students write letters to their future selves on the week of their graduation from Grade 8. I keep the letters and deliver them each June. The graduating students are always delighted to receive these long-forgotten messages from their past. However, I don’t need to show BTTF in order to provide this opportunity. I haven’t screened it since leaving Grade 6 many years ago. Additionally, there is some "spicy" language that needs to be addressed. I have always maintained that a discussion of inappropriate language and its utility, or lack of utility, is something that students as young as 9 are prepared to engage. I think it is empowering for students to engage in a deeper understanding of the fluidity of language. However, that is a discussion for another post.

If we do investigate it - these are some resources to guide us further.

This great activity requires that only clips from the film be shown - that could be a solution that raises the grade of this lesson.

Grade C-

Use The Force Luke

A few colleagues and I are investigating a private screening of the new Star Wars film The Force Awakens on December 18 (The Friday it is released coincides with the last day of school - so it will be a tough hustle). We also need to get more information about the film to see if it is age appropriate. We remain confident that the curriculum connections will be easy to make. A colleague uses Star Wars references in his classroom gamification. Students that meet expectations can earn “The Force” which provides them extra lives in classroom games and Phys. Ed. activities. Each year, as the number of “new” Canadian students in his classroom increase, he finds that fewer and fewer are familiar with the Star Wars canon. This does not, necessarily, justify a screening of the original film. However, it has been his experience that it can be used to inspire a new generation of fans and ignite their imaginations. They are keen to read books, create art and explore the science behind everything from X-Wing fighters to Landspeeders to Lightsabers.

There is also this wonderful resource waiting for educators too.

Grade B-

And then there is my annual Football Pool...but, that is my topic for the next post.

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