Experimenting: Not Just for Science Class

Experimenting has been a part of my teaching these last few years, and not just in the way  you’d initially imagine.  Sure, my 4th graders have experimented in science class.  We built salt dough volcanoes and observed the reaction of baking soda and vinegar.  We replicated the water cycle using plastic cups, shaving cream, and blue food coloring.  We watched butterflies to see if they preferred one color over another and built ramps to see what types allow a car to go the farthest.

But, in my experience, experimenting in teaching goes far beyond the science classroom. As I participate in more chats on Twitter and learn from my PLN on a daily basis, it has become apparent that experimenting with hooks, new strategies, and different ways to execute a lesson is a surefire way to boost student engagement and grow in the craft of teaching.  More and more I have been thinking about the beauty of our profession in respect to the fact that no harm comes from experimenting.  Certainly planning and preparation are done to ensure a lesson does not derail before it is even on the tracks, but who is hurt by trying a new hook, a new way to introduce or tease a lesson, a theatrical explanation, a room decorated to support the content being learned that day…?  No one, really.  Teaching is still done.  So is learning.  If something doesn’t work out or fit quite right, there’s always tomorrow..or even next period!  Reading Teach Like a PIRATE has motivated me to have the desire to experiment more in my classroom.  And oddly enough, the author, Dave Burgess, mentioned the need for experimentation and the very same point–that there’s no harm done–in a podcast he participated in last night with EduAllStars.  If you didn’t catch it, it is a MUST watch.  Dave mentioned that we wouldn’t want our doctors experimenting with new surgical techniques while we’re open on the table, but the great thing about teaching is that there will always be another day to do it differently, hone the delivery or the strategy, and nothing really is lost.

I judge the effectiveness of my lesson with many criteria, but mainly ask myself:

Did I accomplish the objectives I set out to teach today?

Did my students grasp the material–whether facts or a life-changing lesson (thanks, TLAP, for that moniker) in a way that is relevant and lasting?

Were they engaged and did they have fun while learning?

The list goes on, but one thing you won’t find there is: Did the lesson proceed perfectly, without hesitation, derailment, falling flat on its face?  Perfectionism has no place in the classroom.  Things don’t always have to go the right way in order to be successful.  Some of the lessons I am most proud of are ones that took on a life of their own, stemming from something I planned and growing into something completely different, but equally valuable.

Experimenting can certainly be disastrous, but it also leads to discovery–perhaps something new about ourselves as teachers, about our students, about the content we’re teaching, the dynamics of the classroom, what fits for our students.

This year, I am ready to experiment.  I will no longer teach science, but my experimenting will still be as exciting, engaging, and awe-inspiring as the baking soda-vinegar volcano or shaving cream clouds that elicit those delicious “oohs and woahs and ahhs” from my students.  My goals are to take what I have learned in TLAP and design more creative and engaging hooks for my lessons as well as incorporate more life-changing lessons into my teaching.  I also would like to experiment with Genius Hour to allow my students time to explore their passions and curiosities.

Both could end up being disasters…or daring discoveries.

I might not know which one it will be, but I can’t be afraid to find out.

Photo:  http://www.bcps.org/offices/lis/models/whychem/images/bubblebeaker.jpg

 

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