Mother's Day 2018 is almost coming to a close, and in the name of my amazing wife and Mother to our four children, I am struck with the urge to use the last little bit of energy I have today to giveaway 10 copies of Spark Learning to fellow educators in her name. An incredibly talented Special Educator Teacher, my wife was instrumental in supporting and counseling me as I prepared for TED and subsequently unpackaged the TED Talk's tenants in Spark Learning.. I will mail a copy directly to the first 10 people to register by completing the form below. In reading the book you are supporting work I am extremely passionate about, and in turn, sending love out towards all of the amazing mothers and wives in the world who serve as models of intellect and wisdom for all of us.
In her lecture, The Hungry Mind: Origins of Curiosity, Susan Engel of Williams College beautifully explains the benefits of curiosity not only on student motivation, but learning. See Engel's talk below:
Corroborating Engel's conclusions, Min Jeung Kang and his team at Caltech concluded via fMRI, in an article titled The Hunger for Knowledge: Neural Correlates of Curiosity, that when an individual is curious, they are able to negotiate complexity in the content domain they are learning, as well as unrelated content domains! Perhaps it is the Biology teacher in me, however I do not think it is a reach to say that Kang's observations can be extrapolated to a Darwinian hypothesis. That is to say, increased curiosity = amplified awareness = survival fitness.
After reflecting on Engel's video and Kang's research, I slipped into a nerdy state of reflection regarding the relationship between curiosity, health, survival, etc. I have always been a very curious person (to a fault at times...), and was immediately "curious" about any direct experiences with the relationship between curiosity and "fitness" to survive. After reflecting, it was clear that my current obsession with curiosity isn't by accident. Without exaggerating, my curiosity has indeed saved my life. Below is a workflow of thoughts that emerged from this reflection. TMI warning:
Strategically leveraging clips from movies that show various phenomena (accurate or not) can be a powerful way to spark student questioning. Whether it be challenging them to point out a specific mistake that the clip embodies, or proving the accuracy of the clip, movie clips, specifically in the sciences, provide a great opportunity for engaging students. Downloading and trimming the clips locally, or using tools like Vibby or TubeChop to present portions of the clips to students online are both strategies I use often. Below are my 15 favorite clips to use as science curiosity sparks (note: most of the clips are chemistry related given that is the primary subject I teach. Apologies). All clips are taken from YouTube.
One of the most powerful ways to spark Involuntary Curiosity in students is to strategically trim a video clip to either remove content or present an unresolved representation of the content. Both of these techniques leave students with questions as to what information was missing, or what the final result will be.
Because internet speed and access to YouTube varies in schools, downloading the desired clip from YouTube, then strategically trimming the video to be played locally is a powerful technique. I often have a trimmed clip playing on repeat loop in Quicktime as students enter the room in an attempt to grab their attention and spark their curiosity immediately.
Below is a short video outlining how I download and trim video for curiosity using technology I use savefrom.net & Quicktime. In this video I am downloading a clip from the movie Fight Club in an attempt to spark student questioning around Acid-Base Chemistry.
When I reflect back on the last 16 year of teaching, I see three distinct phases:
Phase 1 was crucial. I fell in love with the profession during this phase. My gut told me I was doing the right thing. Students loved my class. I loved being with them. All was good. But were they really learning? I didn’t care. It just felt good. Teaching felt the right choice, and the positive relationships I was forming with students and colleagues felt good. The difference between job and vocation became clear.
Phase 2 was ugly. An overconfident 4 year “veteran”, my popularity as a teacher transformed my initial love for teaching, into a fear of being a “boring” teacher. Although my colleagues perhaps did not notice this side, I saw it. I could hear it. This attitude led to a form disconnect between myself and my students. A blind adoption of the latest trends in educational technology under the guise of “innovation”.
Phase 3 is transformative. I’m in the middle of phase 3.. No longer can I hide under the blanket of being a “rookie teacher”, or an “early adopter”. Deep gaps in student conceptual knowledge, painful anonymous student feedback, personal health crisis, and a myriad of other catalysts are forcing me to face a question I should have faced along time ago: What does authentic, good, REAL teaching look like?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to give a TED Talk about this journey. Anyone of us could have given that talk. I was just in the right place at the right time. As teachers we are all on a journey. A “Hero’s Journey” if you will, full of temptation, mentors, transformation and realizations that change our outlook on the career. Our outlook on ourselves. Our students. Our colleagues. We are always changing.
Spark Learning dives into this journey. My hope is that this book can provide insight into both the emotions, and the instructional mechanics of the process. A process that I find successful. For me. I have faith that in sharing this with others, it might spark a few simple insights for you. Catalyze insight into your authentic teaching self. Spark new realizations
As Parker Palmer says, “We teach from who we are.”. My greatest fear in writing a book about teaching is that I would revert to Phase 2. Appear to be a narcissistic “I gave a TED Talk listen to me…” know it all. A “look at me I wrote a TED Talk book…” snake oil salesman. Lessons I’m learning in Phase 3 remind me to have faith in the teaching community. That the Imposter Complex can be ignored. And that's OK. That I love this vocation and work REALLY HARD AT IT. That 9pm-1am for the last 7 months was on purpose and for a good reason. I have an obligation to share. To share. To share. And so do you. Tag.