The Car Crash Classroom

You’re driving down the freeway and traffic comes to a halt. What is it? Oh, it’s a car accident. On the side of the road. Not blocking traffic at all. So, why are we all going 10 miles per hour past it? Because we are compelled to look at it.

That’s the kind of classroom I want to have. I want my class to be like a car wreck. You have to look at it. Anything else you are doing is now secondary to my class. Maybe it’s not a great analogy, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I want my students to be enthusiastic about the class and engaged with the material. In order to get there, I have some work to do.

As I have said, I want to help the kids have an ownership in their learning. I want them to be more self-directed. I want to give them options and choices. I want to try to be more of a guide to help them find their way, rather than the fount of knowledge.

I’ve been thinking a lot about technology. You know, we teachers are always talking about integrating technology into our lessons. I think that ship has sailed. We can’t integrate technology. It has to be there as part of the lesson from the beginning. Why? Because that’s the world the students live in. (I hate when I end a sentence with a preposition. Not because it’s wrong, per se, but because I just know there’s someone, of the 23 people reading this, going, “What? And you call yourself an English teacher?!”)

The International Society for Technology in Education is having their annual conference right now. I’m not a member. I had to look up what ISTE stood for. (Preposition! Dammit!) But, because I’m following a grip of teachers up on the Twitter, I keep hearing people all hash tagging ISTE11 and stuff. I followed a link to a presentation Will Richardson gave. I am not attending the conference, nor have I heard of him before, but just reading his slides got me thinking. To me, that all by itself, is pretty cool. Just clicking around, in a directed way, based on my own knowledge of technology and the internet, I found some professional development just laying around, free, on The Interwebs.

This is what I was thinking: If kids go home and they have television, cable, internet, texting, YouTube, Google, MTV, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, and then they show up to my classroom and I have a textbook that is about ten years old for them to read, how in the heck am I supposed to compete? If I am still using an overhead projector and transparencies, heck, even if I think I’m slick and I’m using a PowerPoint presentation and an LCD projector, how can I compete with the on-demand world they live in?

I can’t. I can’t compete with that. it’s like comparing the special effects in a 1950’s horror film to the CGI of today. Just this weekend we were watching :shiver: “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” in the theater (I have kids, okay? It’s an okay film but I didn’t like it. That, however, is another blog post.) and I remember being stunned because I could not tell that those were not real penguins. Honestly. Watch a scene from the movie. I know they’re not real penguins but they sure as heck looked like it! Conversely, if you look at the original “Clash of the Titans” from the 1980’s, the stop-motion looks completely and totally fake. Cool, but fake. And, that was state of the art at the time.

So, I need to compete in another way. I need to engage their passion for learning by giving them choices in how they will learn and how they will demonstrate their learning to me so I can grade them. There’s an awful lot of information out there to show that this will yield some pretty good results. If nothing else, the students will probably enjoy it more. And, one thing I have found for sure, students that enjoy the class and the lessons learn quite a bit. I think that they will, at worst, learn about the same as they would have in my traditional class setting.

But, at best, my class will be like a car accident that you can’t look away from because they have so much invested in it.


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