Drill and Kill at its Finest

So at some point in that secretive, allusive  “teacher school” we all attended, they dress the males in ABC ties and the females in jumpers and make us chant: Drill and Kill is Bad, Drill and Kill is Bad, Outdoor Recess Duty is Fun, Drill and Kill is bad…

Okay, so maybe your experience wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the idea.  Our professors uncovered the unyielding power of the meaningful, experiential education world, filled with self-discovery and connections to relevant material.  This leaves little educational value for the repetition of massive amounts of similar problems in an effort to work toward mastery.  Essentially, those math worksheets of 200 addition or multipcation problems make Piaget and Vygotsky turn in their graves.

Or does it?  Are there some things that can be mastered through rote experiences?

My district’s adoption of a “Balanced Literacy Framework” outlines a “Word Study” component that is based on a classroom “Word Wall” made up of high-frequency (often ruleless) words.  During a recent unit, I came across the challenge of teaching the word “beautiful.”  As the lesson-planning wheels started cranking in my head, out came Jim Carey’s “B-e-a-utiful” line from Bruce Almighty.  The more I ran “beautiful” through my mind, the more I thought about Taylor Mali’s popular video On What Teachers Make. Assuming you’ve seen it (or just clicked on it), you’ll remember his repetitive approach to spelling the phrase, “definitely beautiful.”

And so launched my Fifth Grade Definitely Beautiful Challenge.

Over the next few weeks, my students spent every “free” moment writing “definitely beautiful” on any small slip of paper they could find, adding their initials and homeroom on the back.

100_1593Basically, there were two parts to the challenge.  First, the individual challenge:  At the end of the competition, four slips would be drawn from the container (for which I had to eat 7.2 million cheeseballs) and the winners would all be invited to a Definitely Beautiful Pizza Party with a friend.  Putting it in fifth grader language: the more slips you fill out, the better your chances are to get pizza! For the group challenge, if my 69 kids were able to produce a total of 5,000 “definitely beautifuls,” their oh-so-masculine teacher (that’d be me) would dawn a pink tutu for a full day of school.  Over the next two weeks, the following transpired:

– notes from parents asking if they could participate!

– students choosing to sit in the autidorium part of our gym during indoor recess to definitely beautiful (yes, it became a verb)!

– contacts from parents saying that this contest should be extended because their student ceased fighting with a sibling while she definitely beautifuled (apparently a past-tense verb as well!) each evening!

– students writing “definitely beautiful” all over every paper they submitted, in an effort to show off their mad spelling skills!

– 5,815 definitely beautifuls (look, a noun!) appeared in the contest tub.100_1604

So alas, two colleagues drew the pizza party-winning names (much to the disappointment of some sore-handed non-winners).  And as promised, there I taught with my pink tutu, magical fly swatter wand, and my homemade Definitely Beautiful t-shirt.  I even busted out the tiara from my costume drawer in my curricularium at home.100_1598

Funny what things make it to YouTube, as well.

Well?  Have my students mastered the spellings of definitely and beautiful?  Ask them to find out.  Are there appropriate uses of drill and kill?  Ask them to find out.

Professional Organizations Update: I Caved

Last summer, I wrote about “Professional Organizations: Friends or Fees”.  Well, I caved.  During the fall, I took a one-hour graduate class about educational readings.  When the time came to find professional articles to read, I, admidingly, went to my principal and asked for copies of her professional journals.  And before I knew it, I was stretched out on my couch with a stack of ASCD’sEducational Leadership” magazines.

So when the time came to write my letter to Santa, I added “ASCD membership” to the list.  I figured it was easy for the elves to make in the workshop.  Low and behold, I was a good boy, and my girlfriend purchased a membership on my behalf.

February is a fairly edtechy month for me, as it brings Ohio’s eTech Conference.  Even better, my first Educational Leadership magazine (of my own!) is titled “Teaching Screenagers” and focuses on edtech issues!

Okay, so there is some value in professional organizations.  I certainly won’t let it replace my PLN on Twitter, but it definitely makes a lovely compliment to it.

Our Spinning World

Behold, a quick tip for helping students with geography.

In seventh grade social studies in Ohio, there is a significant amount of curricular energy spent helping students wrap their geographically self-centered minds around foreign lands.  Since a lot of what I did with geography was based on different activities with Google Earth, my students were accustomed to manipulating the controls to pan and zoom into different locations.

Inverted globeI began each lesson, however, with a little trick.  Before class, I zoomed out to a world-view level and gave the globe a slow spin.  It was always a cool effect for when I finally pulled the Google Earth application to the front.  It gave it that national-nightly-news-corner-graphic-kind-of-feel.

Then, before I walked away and let the kids teach themselves, I’d give the “earth” a quick spin.  From a cognitive analysis, there is a lot of thinking that goes on for a student to bring a flying globe to a sudden stop, then to rotate, pan, and zoom to a perspective she or he is familiar with.  I loved watching the Social Studies Synapses firing in their brains or listening to the, “No, that’s the southern tip of the Persian Gulf!” heckles coming from the analyzing 12-year-old audience.

Sure, it’s nothing fancy.  But it is a step over Miss Bliss pulling down the wall maps and having Jessie point to Greece.

Click here to see what students see: Spinning Earth

Textbooks? Oh bother.

If you’re a loyal follower (or my mother), you’ll remember that I spent two years teaching seventh grade social studies.  During that time, I was given a ten-year-old textbook and supplemental materials to pass out to my students.  Not exactly knowing how the year was going to unfold, I mistakenly passed the books out to the students.  At the end of the year, I collected them – unused all year long.

They were old, boring, and full of boring stuff like…words.  <Insert snoring sounds here>  Seventh grade social studies in Ohio is all about world history.  The kids didn’t want to read words about them.  They wanted experiences.  Anyhow.

For Christmas, my parents gave me a copy of Time magazine’s “100 Events that Changed the World.” If you’re in a position where you’re charged with getting 21st century minds to wrap around ancient world history, PICK UP A COPY!  This paperback, glossy-covered, 122-page Time magazine on steroids is more than enough to guide learning  for all ancient civilizations.  It starts with “Man’s Prehistoric Breakthroughs”, moves through Minoans and Greeks, hits the Roman Empire, discusses The Renaissance and gets its Enlightenment on!  And that’s all before the “Modern Times” section!

So much of world history isn’t “What they did,” as much as it is “What they influenced.”  This magazine demonstrates outstanding segues from one civilization to another, touching on why it came to be and what we got from it.  Your lesson plans are done (kind of)!

We each have our own teaching styles.  We each balance printed and digital resources with our mind’s knowledge and past experiences.  If your repertoire is lacking some of the former, I’d at least check out a copy of this valuable tool.