Thursday, October 24, 2013

What Does the Fox Say About Teaching Like a Pirate?

I have an eight year old son and a nine year old daughter.

I will apologize in advance for subjecting you to their favorite song and video for the purposes of our discussion...



... and good luck getting that out of your head now for the rest of the day. Or year.  Or life.

To say that I hate this song would not do it justice. I despise it. From what I understand from some students in my advisory, the song was intended by the musicians to be the worst song of all time. I am not sure how successful they were, but they certainly gave it a good go.

And yet... day after day, hour after hour, I can't get it out of my head.  I find myself humming or singing it to myself (Federal law prohibits me from singing in public) all day in my office, in the hallways, at meetings...  and I have listened to it all of three times in my life.

So when we think about engagement and learning, I wonder how something that is the opposite of what we would think of as engaging to me can be so ever present in my consciousness?

Let's be honest, I typically can't remember what I talked about with someone three hours ago, but this stupid song sticks with me day after day after day?  How can it be? And what can we learn from this experience as educators?


In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath, describes the conditions required to make something "stick," for it to be useful and lasting:

The best way to get someone's attention is to break a pattern.  Consistent stimulation makes people tune out. We become aware of things only when something changes. 

Your brain hosts loops of information.  This song has several very catchy loops and variations in the beat and melody that draw in your attention and stick in your head because of the contrasting styles.

Also, there is an interesting question posed... one that I never considered before this song...

What does a fox say?

And while watching that crazy video, I kept wondering: "What are they going to say/do next?"


As a teacher, what can we learn from that? How can it be applied?  


Here's some ideas:
  • Identify the idea or theme that you want to communicate to your students
  • Find what's counterintuitive or unexpected about the idea.
  • Communicate that in a way that confuses your student's highly developed guessing systems. The systems that make them successful in everyone else's class- at least the teachers who don't utilize good questioning strategies...
  • Then help to refine that guessing "interface" and develop new learning and understanding.
  • Create suspense. The "AHA!" moment is so much more powerful when it is preceded by the "HUH?" moment of creating a mystery that you all can solve together. Allowing students to share ideas, counterpoint and work it out in groups makes it much more engaging and a true learning experience.
  • Create curiosity gaps : Tell student only enough for them to realize that there's a piece missing from their knowledge, then ask them to find it.  Together.
  • Curiosity is the intellectual need to answer questions and close open patterns. Develop curiosity by doing the opposite : Pose questions and open new situations for students to solve.
  • Create a Turning Point : Develop a hook, a curiosity, What happens next?  How will this turn out?
Bottom line: It's important to open new gaps before we close them.  

Most teacher's tendency is to tell students the facts first, but that's a mistake if you want to engage them and have them learn, because first they must realize why they need these facts.  But how can you accomplish this?  
  • Highlight specific knowledge that they're missing. 
  • Pose a question or puzzle that confronts students with that gap in their knowledge. 
  • Challenge them to predict an outcome- this creates two knowledge gaps : "What will happen?" and "Was my guess right?" (The news does this before commercials, they tease you with something that you don't know yet, and didn't care about at all until you found out that you didn't know it.)

Instead of thinking, "What content do I need to cover today?", reframe it as, "What questions do I want my students to ask me today?" and maybe your class will be running through your students heads for days and weeks at a time too.  

Free your inner Ylvis.

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