It is nerve-racking having guests in your room, no matter how often it happens!  You want to make a good impression because honestly; no one knows what you do 90% of the time and you just want a little positive feedback for all the awesome stuff going on with your kids.  I also truly love sharing my classroom practices with visiting teachers so that we as teachers can get used to sharing with each other and learning FROM each other. 

Recently during a planned visit from several of our school’s admins and some guest teachers, I tried something that completely FAILED…sounds inspiring, I know!  It was a true teach horror scene. Spilled vegetable oil on the carpet, students arguing about roles, blank recording sheets, toilet paper hanging off my assistant principal’s head…I might have imagined that last one, but it felt like it was completely possible!   

What will inspire visiting teachers and make my admin proud:  toilet paper of course. Why not create a toscale graph in the hallway showing the actual distance the planets are from each other with said TP?  Why not leave them unsupervised and with my personal iPad recording the mess in time lapse.   

Read So You Have Devices Now by Thomas Dennison

If that doesn’t impress them, why not give kids BBQ skewers and have them blow up a balloon and then puncture it with vegetable oil on the end of that skewer to show the angle of the earth’s axis and what rotation really is.  Demonstrating this myself last year was #tooeasy.   

Where are my game changers?  Where are my future leaders? Where is my class..WHAT IS GOING ON RIGHT NOW?!  I’m looking around at the chaos ensuing in the room and thinking…”Dennison, you’re an idiot!” 

It was so bad I was thinking of stopping it all and going to a tried and true Kahoot…  

 Then, like the Grinch’s heart growing three sizes, I suddenly became comfortable and content with the train wreck going on in my room.  It was an odd Zen teaching moment where everything slowed down Matrix style and I could see the truth about what was going on… 

I realized a few cool things were happening: 

  1. These stations are failing as I planned them and the work is not getting done. That doesn’t actually sound cool…but keep reading.
  2. They were still learning the content despite not finishing the stations…the closing vocabulary debate proved that to me.
  3. The Captains, who were each supposed to oversee each group at a station – tasked with giving the directions, keeping everyone on point, assigning roles and checking work – were frustrated as much as I was, but not quitting.
  4. The content was an afterthought.  They still understood the actual distance between the planets – and that Saturn is actually closer to the Sun than it is to Neptune, but their conversations were about the struggle to create legit scaled models.  They were using the words rotation, axis, day/night cycle constantly as they unsuccessfully popped balloon after balloon.

We’ve been touching on a deeper point in our room of late, that they need to be more than students who can find an answer.   

Read Class Size and Leadership by Thomas Dennison

In our data and knowledge driven world just finding answers will be low-level work; easily replaceable and not contributing to improving our world.  They need to be people who have thoughts and ideas that solve problems. 

The key ingredient in that statement is “problems.”  If they are going to solve problems, they must experience problems.   

I ended up being very proud of this lesson that wouldn’t go anywhere near the cute, bright and flawlessness of Instagram teaching. The first two rotations through, most of the activities in the stations were not completed and we had more mess and battles than scaled out models.  The last two rotations, however, had all but one group find a way to get the job done.   

Read Practice Buddy in Action by Thomas Dennison

We paused, we slowed down, we openly shared what was going wrong and we openly shared solutions to the next group…this is truly why I am proud of this day.  We did what so many are scared to do…fail and learn from it…fail and not let it define us. 

So here is my class, sloppier than I wanted it to be and not running as smoothly as I wanted it to be.  I’m hoping that we as teachers can find a way to let failure work for us, after all…problem-solvers need to experience problems in order to succeed

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Thomas Dennison

Thomas Dennison

5th Grade Teacher

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.