Thursday, June 13, 2013

Risky Business – “Have you heard the one—“

Imagine starting a class with the question “Why do Monarch butterflies fly south for the winter?”

Imagine the kinds of answers you’d get: seasonal migration, breeding, warmer weather, etc.

But what if those weren't the answers you were looking for?  “Good answer”, you’d say “but not what I'm looking for.  What else?”

You repeat the question a few times trying to emphasis certain words to give a clue as to what you’re looking for “Why do Monarch butterflies fly south for the winter?”

No one is picking up on it. 

The answer when I finally give it (I learned to make them wait for it) elicits the expected groans and a few chuckles.

“Because it’s too far to walk.”

Now you have to know that these weren't elementary or junior high students.  This was a group of university student teachers (most with science backgrounds) at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning.

What was I doing?

Besides being very nervous, I was jump-starting a workshop to introduce students to the Doucette Library’s fantastic collection of science kits, children’s literature and professional resources that would support their classroom teaching.

I was also taking what I felt to be, a risk.

I was tremendously nervous doing this as I felt I was opening myself up to ridicule.  But I knew I wanted something that would change the expectations of the students in these workshops.  It was not going to be an hour of me blah, blah, blah-ing about all the wonderful things they could find in the Doucette.  I wanted them to sense that this workshop was going to be different.

I had already set the ‘stage’ (the teaching space) with six tables piled with subject related science resources and covered up with white table cloths.  Students sat at these tables without knowing what was under the cloths or what was going to be expected of them.

I made them wait to find out about that, too.

All this was my attempt to emulate an idea I had seen in action at a library workshop the previous fall, in which Randy Burke Hensley was the presenter.  After the workshop facilitator introduced him Randy stepped forward and without saying a word began to sing.  That’s it.  I can’t remember what the song was but it was an oldie and he did it without music accompaniment.  It was terrific.  He was good. And it set our expectations about what this workshop was going to be about and how it was going to unfold.  The workshop was about information literacy (how to teach library/research skills to students) but with the focus on how to do it with some creative flair, stepping away from typical library orientations of watching or trying follow along canned searches of databases and online catalogues.  Ho hum, indeed.

I liked his opener but the only way I can carry a tune is in a bucket.  So, I needed to find another course of action.  The riddle was my attempt.

Did it work?

Some students did come to look at Hooked on Riddles so I took that to mean they thought it was worthwhile knowing about.

The workshops were certainly very vibrant, dynamic and loud.  There was lots of playing with the kits, discussion, and students browsing through picture books and professional resources.  Feedback from the instructors was positive.  The covered tables generated a sense of curiosity and anticipation.

And, no one told me that I sucked.

So all-in-all not too bad.  I wouldn't do this in every workshop but it was a good exercise  to put myself out there, a reminder that this is what good teachers do everyday.


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