As a first year teacher, you’ll eventually realize that you have the capability to impact your students lives for the better, thus making them lifelong learners and teaching them life applicable skills that will help them today, and after they leave your classroom. Unfortunately, you also have to teach to your state’s mandated test…whatever that might be.
There will be days when you think, “All I do is teach to a test…this has nothing to do with what I learned in college.” And to a certain extent, you’ll be correct. But, as you grow as a teacher, you begin to see windows of opportunities where you can impart wisdom that exceeds what is needed on state tests. Yes…”most” of the information we are teaching our students, which are required by state standards, is essential and should be covered. But by teaching various concepts and testing strategies we are attempting to guarantee that our students will succeed…and they may very well do that…they may (and hopefully will) succeed at passing a test…but what about life.
How do we teach them to be successful at life? We introduce them to curiosity. We teach them to ask questions, research answers, and think outside the box.
“Curiosity Killed The Cat!”
If That is true, then we need more dead cats in the classroom! Curiosity is a beautiful thing. From it,we discover things we never new. We attempt things that have never been attempted. And we knowledge we gain from being curious…inquisitive…creative…is exponential.
I fear that the restraints of state mandated testing have left the classroom with students who utilize very little curiosity. They are used to being given the processes and formulas they need to get through annual testing, but because those test are so high stake, the teachers find very little time to teach critical thinking and encourage commons sense skills.
When I was in school, Shop Class, Agriculture, even Home Economics gave students avenues to create something from nothing. We were encouraged to research, design, and build anything we could conceptualize. I made a 1/4 scale bowling alley (that barely fit in my truck to take home at the end of the year), others made flower pots, Baseball bats, coffee tables, and the like. It was awesome!
Over in Home Economics, they were making the most delicious cookies, cakes, breads, and Italian pasta. The Ag classes were welding feed troughs, fences, and ornamental gates. We were allowed to express out creativity. Our curiosity allowed us to think outside the box and design really awesome products. Today’s students really don’t get that opportunity any longer. Those schools that offer such classes are becoming fewer and fewer. So Sad.
There is good news though. Lately, I’ve been noticing more and more teachers trying to find unique ways to introduce critical thinking skill building activities in their lesson plans. Games and activities are being developed by teachers that encourage students to be curious and tap into their creativeness. Math teachers, Social Studies teachers, Science teachers, ELA teachers, Music teachers, Physical Education teachers, and even Electives teachers are finding ways to introduce critical thinking exercise within the curriculum.
Some of the ideas they are trying are pretty cool. Teachers are having students create board games based off of classroom concepts. Some middle and high school teachers are allowing their students to create curriculum based off of their current lesson and then teaching an age appropriate lesson to elementary students. Now that…is C-O-O-L!
One way I’ve been trying to encourage my students to think outside the box and jump start their curiosity is through brief activities designed to encourage creativity. I call them “Thinking Outside The Box Drills.” I know…original right?
The concept is simple. I project three items on the classroom screen, and the students must create something useful out of the three items. For example, I’ll put a slide up that has a plastic cup, 6 Popsicle sticks, and 2 rubber bands. The students might then draw (either on paper or in Illustrator, Photoshop, PowerPoint, Paint, or whatever) a bird feeder with the cup being the part that holds the seed (with holes cut in the bottom to allow access to the food) the popsicle sticks glued to the bottom for the birds to sit on while they eat, and the rubber bands tied to the top so that the feeder can be hung from a tree.
Whatever they design, it must be beneficial to society in some way. They can create mechanisms and machines that make life better. They can design toys for under privilege children. An on occasion, they can make “art”. I only allow art on occasion because if I don’t, those students who do the minimum and then “are done” will create “works of art” in about 1 minute and quit.
However we do it, we need to encourage individual creativity in our students.
Students need to have ways to initiate their curiosity. They need to hone their outside the box thinking skill. We need to have more dead cats in the classroom…that is to say, we need more avenues for students to release their curiosity.