Monday, December 30, 2013

Zoom towards 2014

I would be remiss if I did not gleefully gloat about the one thing the teaching profession offers in comparison to similarly ranked careers. Of course I'm referring to vacation time. I absolutely love having vacations during holidays. My equally elated spouse insists on taking in new ventures, enjoying each full minute of an unstructured afternoon. As you can see,
I have discovered, the thrill of riding a fat tire bike on winter snow. A four inch tire hugged by a heavy wide frame, race ready shifters and derailleur. It rolled harmlessly over woods terrain leaving a tread but no ruts. I climbed easily over  the recent snowfall that wasn't deep enough for skiing but too wet for walking.  Tentative speeds were replaced with aggressive cornering, bridge climbing and downhill plunges. The aptly named Surly, Moonlander, did not skid out from under me. So confident was I that I aimed straight up and over that small rock ledge that had deterred me all summer. My brother in law caught air, sailing expertly over our GoPro camera for the Facebook video we would post later. I did not sail and I did not fall. I rolled. I rolled and bumped at high speeds, zipping off course, breaking a fresh trail just as I do when. I ski the back country. My heart and stomach fell back into place, smiles replaced my video'd look of horror. We rode for four hours and I only thought of school twice.
Here's what I was thinking. My students would love this. How can I fit demos into our school wide wellness studies? Is adrenaline rush part of the Common Core? It should be. Taking risks is a healthy part of learning, it's a healthy part of growth. Trying something new gives people an impetus for conversation.  So often teachers revert to the safety of a tried and true lesson. Students bemoan projects that end in constructed outcomes that end in predictable assessment scores. Can I recall moments in the classroom where students were working at individual paces yet pausing to cheer each other on? How often do these moments happen in a given year?
 I remember using clickers on a unit test. Each student sat with an open notebook, the test and a clicker that calculated their instant raw score. Students reacted with shock or confusion, an "ah man". When offered a chance to converse, share notes and their scores, they began speculating which questions were undoubtedly right or probably wrong and then at a certain moment, begged to retake the test. While a retake is not as exciting as a cliff jump, recording the highest score allows each student to walk away with greater satisfaction and a reason for returning for the next class and the teacher's explanation behind appropriate answers.

Taking risks while flying through the familiar woods of Stowe, Vermont is not the real reason I plan on renting a fat tire bike from iRide cycle real soon. The real reason is that I had fun. And this fun revived me. I plan on carrying this enthusiasm back to my students and the walls of my classroom. I plan on keeping an open mind while encouraging students to focus on design and possibility in the lessons we learn. Fat tire bikes were not around when I was racing 10 years ago even though the idea was. It reminds me that some ideas are worth a second glance, no idea is too preposterous, and the more we redo the things we already know the chances are that everyone walks away happy.