Are we teaching for creativity or automation? One recent classroom experience brought this issue home for me.
I stood at the open doors of my file cabinet, wishing my eyes could somehow see faster. My conference period was rapidly coming to an end. Soon I would have twenty-ish students that just finished art class and would be raring to learn about various landforms of North America. I had the next day off, my sub plans were complete, and everything the sub needed (books, manipulatives, scientific experiment stuff) was laid out on the horseshoe table, clearly labeled with that greatest of inventions, the Post-It®.
The lessons were fine. The plans were fine. The activities were fine. The Bill Nye video I picked out was better than fine. I just had this thought as I was about to leave, another way to say things that the sub would have to say. It was simple really, just a little diagram for math. Another way to say something about multiplication that I had said many times before.
Celebrating Creativity Over Automation
The idea stemmed from a comment I overheard while floating around during small group time. One student, who had struggled with place value earlier in the year, figured something out. Most likely due to previous misunderstandings, they approached math in a unique way. A way that made sense to them. A way that helped the rest of their small group.
I won’t go into detail to spare the math-phobes in the audience. It was an effective way for them to understand the concept, but it was not universal. Other students heard it and had to grab onto a desk to stop their heads from spinning. I did not want to build an entire lesson around teaching it that way. Rather, I thought it would be a nice addition to the current list of strategies; something to supplement the existing problem-solving ideas.
Which led me to the file cabinet, futilely looking for a way to add an explanation about a foreign concept without replacing what they already know. I didn’t want to create a new handout, I wanted to supplement what I already had. I wanted to add a footnote or sidebar. Unfortunately, there was no efficient way to do that.
I ended up drawing something up on a piece of paper, typed instructions in a word file, then used my world-class superimposing skills to combine them and make something resembling a professional document. It wasn’t perfect, far from it, and the students noted. They asked if I drew it, which was not a compliment.
The thing is, once I edited one document, I wanted to edit all of them – no lesson plan would be safe from my creative license. I wanted to change questions, remove questions, and add notes. Soon, if I handed out a consumable that did not include some of my own additions, the students looked at it like it was a VHS tape not hosted by Bill Nye. I’d like to think that just as no lesson plan is set in stone with a prescribed set of strategies and components, that my students would translate this into more creative allowance when parsing the lessons in front of them.
I guess that’s one of the things about teaching. What started as an off-hand idea turned into a staple of my teaching toolbox. Now, there are tools that allow us to edit and create at the click of a mouse, enabling us to teach while allowing for creativity. Just like Bill Nye would do.