That’s what I was thinking as I drove to school this morning. About the same time it dawned on me that I bet my students were not too enthused to be coming to school today either. I’m the guy that likes school; most of my students don’t share my enthusiasm. I also took a moment to feel a little sorry for my students that don’t have warm and comfy homes like I do. Then I decided to do something about it…
For those that don’t know me, I teach high school physics and my class runs asynchronously during the week. The students get all of their assignments and learning objectives on Monday and work through the week at their own pace. They know they need to have their work completed by Friday. So today I had students who needed to complete a lab experience as well as some students that had online modules they were still working on. A few students were caught up and had other work to do – a select few had all of their work completed.
I started class as usual. When the tardy bell rang I reviewed the expectations for the day. Then I told them I had an idea to make the day a little more bearable; I told them how I would rather be home curled up by the fire. Many commented they would rather be home too.
I told them I had the next best thing. I made a bit of a production about going over to my desk and starting a three hour YouTube video of a crackling fire – projected onto my Promethean board (appropriate use for it, eh?). The kids cracked up and thought it was great. I plugged in the two strands of Christmas lights in the room and put Christmas music softly on Pandora. I turned the lights off in the room. There was the warm glow of a fake fire and the soft light from the strands of blue Christmas lights. The cold gray sky visible through my one window completed the effect.
I told the kids to go to work – gently. They laughed and thought I was nuts, in a good way. I told them we still had school, and still had work to do, but there was no reason we had to be miserable. In the back of my classroom by the lab tables I turned on a lamp for light. I took a physics stand and mounted a work light for a little extra illumination. The kids that needed to complete their lab had plenty of light to work by. The room had a warm and “homey” feel. What followed illustrates why flipped instruction can be great.
My students worked their little keasters off and were happy for the entire class period. They were engaged in their work – partially because I wasn’t talking at them. Because the class is student centered the kids know what to do without being told. Some were re-watching video. Some were collaborating and working together in small groups on their laptops. Some were completing their lab. I had time to just stand back and watch the magic happen. All of my students were working happily - without me. I had a chance to just be with them today. I had a chance to model being a happy adult that likes his job and his students.
The students played along all day. Occasionally a student would get up and go “warm their hands” by the video fire. My room has an outside door and I would go outside “to get more wood.” The lab happened to be about elastic and inelastic collisions. The students were in the floor running little car-like carts together and observing their behavior. I encouraged the students to make “motor noises” and have a little fun. I told them if life was like a department store, physics was the toy department – have a little fun.
We were totally productive. The best part was I gave them a day when they didn’t hate school. I could tell by their body language that they were relaxed and really enjoyed the class period. None wanted to leave and go to their other classes. You have to count that as a win.
In the spirit of full disclosure I will make a few confessions. Not all of the students finished all of their work. Some students didn’t put as much effort into the lab as I would have liked. I am not teacher-of-the-year with superstudents. But the real truth is that these students would have had these issues on any day – it’s just that today they will remember that school didn’t suck for them. Maybe tomorrow I can build on that and bIn the end that may be the best lesson and outcome of the day.