Yes I just said I hate Teach Like a Pirate! I admit it, I hate it!
Some of you might be astonished with this statement since I run #sstlap social studies teach like a pirate and have supported the Teach Like a Pirate movement for years. Now that I have your attention I think it is important to discuss why I hate Teach Like a Pirate. The reason is pretty simple but very important to my professional development.
I was teaching for years when a change meeting put me on a path to Teach Like a Pirate. I was looking for resources for my sociology class which I was teaching for the first time in my career. I found Reuben Hoffman's website with amazing resources and emailed him about using some of his amazing lessons. He shared his entire Google Folder and then pushed me to get on Twitter and read the book Teach Like a Pirate. This has forever changed my professional life.
I have written so much about how this has transformed how I approach teaching and professional development. It helped open the door to creating a Professional Learning Network that has been so supportive in my learning journey. The ideas helped me refocus on building relationships as the most important aspect of teaching. It has taught me more ways to engage students in the learning process. It has challenged me to do better and be better. I can't say how important reading Dave's book has been to reinvigorating my educational career.
Recently I have read Play Like a Pirate, Learn Like a Pirate, and have many other books from Dave Burgess Publishing that I am either in the midst of reading or on my night stand. I am a true believer of what Dave is doing to transform education.
So why do I hate Teach Like a Pirate? I hate it because I didn't discover Teach Like a Pirate until I had been teaching for about 10 or so years. In those years I wasn't teaching like a pirate, I wasn't focused on making ticket lessons and building relationships. I didn't have a PLN to support me or encourage me to take risks and learn from failure, or to share ideas with. This isn't to say that I didn't connect with students, or have good lessons. What I am saying is I wasn't as good as I could have been because I didn't know about being a Pirate. I didn't know how to change what I was doing to become the best teacher I could be. I am frustrated that I fell back on doing things the way I was taught early in my career and that was a disservice to my students. I wasn't asked- "If kids didn't have to come to your class would they?" If that was asked to me earlier I know I would have begun my transformative journey sooner.
I have read Play Like a Pirate and want to be back in the classroom using those lessons right now! I want to see what super powers my students would assign the presidents, or how we could use Ken and Barbie or Legos as learning opportunities. I also read Learn Like a Pirate and want to turn my classroom into a student centered learning experience where I get out of there way. I am no longer in the classroom daily, I am a Tech Integrator who works with teachers and their classes to create learning experiences. I promote the Teach Like a Pirate message and get to see their amazing results. However, I didn't get to unlock my full potential or that of my students while in my own classroom.
Why am I sharing this with you- I want every young teacher to know about Teach Like a Pirate! Share this with them, and transform their learning environment. Share it with veteran teachers and again transform their teaching and the experience for their students.
We can do better and our students deserve our best. Connect the disengaged student, motivate the unmotivated student through ticket lessons, passion, and most importantly developing rapport with them.
I am someone who loves hearing ideas about connecting the contemporary world with my classroom. I used to love playing Jeopardy in high school as a review game. I now love seeing, hearing and using modern concepts of game shows, or reality TV in my classroom or helping others to create these for their students. A colleague Josh Gauthier @mrgfactoftheday did a presentation using the Amazing Race and Google Maps that was really cool. It like many of the concepts I want to discuss here, added the element of competition. It was amazing sitting in a room of educators and seeing how much the atmosphere of the room changed once the idea of a prize or winner was introduced.
I want to share some ideas, some that I have heard from other people and may had added some of my own twists to. I hope if you find something interesting here and use it that you would share with me the way you used it and how it went. I love hearing how things are used so I can learn and grow. I don't ask so I can take credit. I shared a concept about using Speed Dating about a year ago and had lots of responses about how people were incorporating it into their classroom content as well as PD sessions and lesson planning. I was amazed at the creativity and imagination applied to these applications. I was so appreciative that people shared their incarnations and results with me because I shared those ideas with other teachers who then used or tweaked the new methodologies in their learning environment and more and more people benefited from the sharing and conversations around a simple concept. With that in mind, I want to share some of the ideas about using Reality TV in the classroom.
EDIT to post- I put this post down for a couple hours today to grade some papers from my grad class and hang out with my kids while they were in the pool when I saw #edumatch chat starting up. As part of this it was mentioned the idea of Shark Tank and I commented I had a post in the works about this. Then I saw a link to a post about someone else's take on it. What I found as I began reading it is that unlike my post that is based on the concept, and discusses the potential, this post discusses what was actually done with teachers and students participating.
Here is the link to Shark Tank goes to school by Natalie Orenstein outlines Mari Moss's 8th grade class as one example.
What follows is my post with the concepts of both Lesson Plan Shark Tank and Students being put into the Shark Tank as presenters themselves. I wanted to give credit to those who initiated this idea and acknowledge their efforts. I appreciate the ingenuity and contributions to furthering education.
Shark Tank Reality Check
Shark Tank- the high pressure environment of selling yourself, your idea, and your hard work. In the end you are evaluated, judged to be worthy or unworthy of someone else's money. So how can we use this premise in Education?
I read a tweet or heard someone share the idea at a conference of having teachers engage in a Shark Tank Environment. I brought this up to teachers in my grad class recently and saw the look of terror come over some of the teachers in the room. So what kind of environment could we create that would make teachers visibly uncomfortable? Ask them to enter the Shark Tank accompanied by their lesson plans. When the doors swing open they see the three to five chairs elevated slightly and sitting in these chairs are their students. Stop, pause, reread the scenario if necessary. You walk in and students are sitting in the judges' chairs. Your task, like those on the show, is to sell your ideas to the panel of investors, this case your own students. What are your ideas in this case, are your lesson plans. Now to actually make this work, you would bring in one lesson plan and sell sell sell your vision. Another concept might be to present your vision for the course, present an overview of your vision for the term.
Students would listen to your proposal, ask questions, probe you for information, and give you feedback. This feedback could be constructive, or brutally honest and devastating depending on the student just like the judges on Shark Tank, their personalities and interests vary.
Realistically it would be a challenge to do this with all of our lessons, BUT if we don't consider our students reactions to our lessons, we are less likely to succeed. If when considering this scenario we are truly scared of student's responses, or if we know their responses wouldn't be good, we need to scrap those lessons and rethink what we are doing. We should be student centered and always consider how this will be perceived by our students. Telling students I know this is boring, or really tough stuff and then lecturing at them doesn't cut it. We can do better!
Now that I have thrown out the challenge- I must admit much like when Dave Burgess proposed the question would students come to your class if they didn't have to, or could you sell tickets to your lessons would not have resulted in favorable responses. It was like a kick in the stomach. I thought good things were happening, but Dave set a pretty high bar. Very similarly, the idea of having students evaluate our lessons is scary and I don't know that many of mine would have had unanimous support. I share my shortcomings because admitting that you have growth potential allows you the freedom to achieve those higher standards. I worked hard in the past few years to increase the number of ticket lessons and creating an environment students wanted to be a part of. Each year I set a goal to improve, to have more ticket lessons and to continue to build relationships with students so they knew I cared. I am still a work in progress, and the idea of presenting our lessons in the Shark Tank is to get us to do a self evaluation and make a plan for our personal growth.
If the idea of entering the Shark Tank is too intimidating, but you still feel that student feedback is important, then enlist students to be your sounding board. In the past few years when we tried new lessons I spent some time debriefing with students about what they liked. What went well and where I could improve the lesson. I set up expectations for the conversation to be constructive but honest. I told them that I was always trying to get better and needed their help. There were sometimes that things were said that I didn't like, but overall students had insights that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. They had experienced both the in class work and the outside of class interaction with both the content and peers that helped shape their experience that I wasn't privy to. All of this helped me reconcile my perception with reality and make change. I would encourage you to debrief with students, not only about the content, but more importantly the learning experience.
Shark Tank 2.o
Using Shark Tank with students in the classroom where their work is evaluated by a panel of experts. My first idea is not very divergent from the show. When I taught Economics as a student teacher, we had a class that was called Economics and Entrepreneurship where each student had to propose a product and their classmates voted on which to build. The class was set up to create a business with manufacturing and marketing groups.
Economics - What if instead of building the product and business, students present a business plan. They come up with an idea for a new product, service, etc. and after doing research, they present before a panel of business people from your community. Something to benefit the students in this process would be to bring in business mentors who could assist students with their research and development. This economics lesson could be very elaborate involving a multitude of people and actual products, or more in the realm of visionary. Who would make up the judges would depend on who you have access to in your local community.
Social Problems - I worked with a colleague this year on a service project where we used the KIVA micro-loan project. I wrote a post about it earlier (May). Students researched one of the potential campaigns and then had to present before their class to decide which would be funded. The cool thing is that there was real money available for the winning cause. The class had three students who were the judges and make the final decision. I wasn't able to see the days of voting, but I would definitely push for these to be set up more like the Shark Tank model where the judges are tough but fair. They were in charge of real money and making investments that would make a difference in real people's lives. From what I saw the days I was in the class, students were taking if very serious and working towards making their presentation the best it could be. An extension could be to partner with local businesses who would be willing to pledge their own funds to the project and hear what questions and ideas these individuals might have.
History - There are many opportunities for students in history to use use the concept of Shark Tank to create real world presentations. I did one that could easily be turned into the shark tank if I had given my intended audience a little push to be more skeptical of the presenters. Two years ago I had students present before the head of the school board, the superintendent and my building administrators as to what they thought should be taught in schools about how the world came to be. This could be Scientific explanation, the Big Bang Theory, or Intelligent Design, a higher being creating our universe, or a combination of ideas. If I had changed the scenario slightly I could have created a much more intense venue for the presenters to not only share their ideas, but be in competition somehow for the votes of the audience. The votes should not be based on what idea was presented because it is too controversial, but rather how well the ideas were presented and how well they were able to defend their position. This would have been an assessment of their content knowledge and their ability to persuade. I think this could have been very good for some students and very difficult and challenging for others. As it stood, I found myself more of a cheerleader for my students than worried about which stance they took. I wanted them to succeed and knew some students hadn't had a lot of academic success prior. Turning this into the Shark Tank for some would have been an exciting experience and for others a traumatic event.
Math- I am not a Math teacher nor do I pretend to understand the complexities of math. But after watching shows like Numbers and Big Bang, I was thinking about the way they discussed math. Math was a way to solve problems and there were a multitude of methods at their disposal. My thought here was if teachers created a problem based activity for students to delve into there could be opportunities for divergent thought. Some students or groups might attack the problem one way while others look at it another. Some might use one formula or others apply it differently. My vision was for students to present their plan of attack to the sharks in the tank. This could be a panel of experts from a local business, engineering firm, etc. who recently had to solve a similar problem. The students could present their plan of attack to the sharks, get some feedback, but not necessarily be steered away from their thinking. At the end they present their final solution and here would be where the sharks vote on which solution they think would have completed the task most satisfactorily. I apologize to the Math teachers out there who might be thinking that is a poorly constructed lesson plan. I am not a math teacher, but putting my thoughts out there, I hope you say- I can do better and do it! Make it happen for your students.
Science- Maybe this is because I liked the show House, but this idea came to mind. Students would be presented with an illness, a case with symptoms that the patient is exhibiting. Their task would be like in the show House, to present their idea for the best method of treatment. In the show House, the main doctor used to have brain storming sessions where his team would discuss the symptoms and make a case for their best course of action for the patient. In this case the sharks would take the place of Dr. House. This is probably pretty advanced thinking for high school students, at least it would have been for me while in high school biology. But think about experiences where students could apply their knowledge of science and have to defend their thinking.
The Wrap Up!
If you read this post to the end, you might be thinking that the lesson ideas that I tossed out there would not fair well in a Shark Tank Lesson Plan show down. I don't disagree. I didn't spend a lot of time building up the plot lines or adding hooks to grab student's attention. I didn't provide much in the way of detail or learning targets. The lessons were simply my brainstorm session trying to comprehend how Shark Tank could be used with students as the entrepreneurs in the scenario.
What resonates with me about the Shark Tank idea is that there is Real, Meaningful, Honest feedback by people invested in the outcome. With lesson plan sessions, we get that by brining in the students in our class. They are definitely invested in what we do because it directly impacts their experiences in school and life. What about providing students opportunities to do things where their audience is directly invested in the outcome of their learning journey? How can we create activities where students are doing things that matter to people beyond the school building? How can we flip the experience to be one that creates community involvement in a multitude of subject areas? How can we tap into student passions and desire to learn, create, and develop a sense of investment in what they are learning and doing?
These are all big questions that I don't have quick quotable answers to. I struggle with this but want to help make this a reality for students whether it be in the buildings I serve, or students across the country or world. I want to see students engaged in learning that matters.
In true Pirate style, Day 2 is supposed to keep student's attention and cultivate the behaviors of an exciting, nurturing and relevant classroom. Dave Burgess starts out acting out scenes similar to what I created in the video clips above. I am not as comfortable as he is with the stage. While I know I need to push myself to let my guard down more, I also realize I don't need to be a parrot of Teach Like a Pirate, more of a cultivator of its intentions.
Day 2 begins with the video presentation followed by the Survivor Island Scenario. Students are assigned to groups and then discuss who will be rescued and who will be allowed to be saved. I also tried playing the song "Should I Stay or Should I Go Now," as they began their examination.
The students ponder the situation, discuss, and then work to create a collaborative group decision that they can justify. This activity provided a lot of great teaching moments. First we discuss the idea of consensus. It was important that all students agreed, which also meant that they had the expectation of all sharing and being heard. I made a group leader who was responsible to ensure all were actively engaged. Students were give 15 minutes to discuss then we listed their results for who would be rescued and who would be saved.
This actually took us to the end of the hour for Day 2, so our discussion of the results was carried over to Day 3. What an amazing day this was. Not only did it provide opportunities to again reinforce expectations for group work, but it also helped students understand what I mean by justifying or supporting your ideas. I emphasized that there would be no right or wrong answer, but they would be evaluated on their rationale. Having never done an introductory task with so many possible answers, I was nervous about what I would hear from students. What did help is that during the discussion process I did make it around to groups and listen to their discussions and ask questions, or even play devil's advocate at times to spark extension of conversations.
The whole class sharing was enlightening. Students had so many different approaches to how to solve the task. Some looked primarily at who should be saved and the others were left to fend for themselves, others focused on making sure those on the island would have the best chance of survival, and finally, some tried to make it possible for all to survive balancing at times those they thought should be rescued with the skills they could provide to those stranded on the island. The analysis of how they went about tackling this task became a topic for discussion that I used to further the idea of how critical thinking varies for every student. There isn't a right approach, or one right answer.
Another area that led to some very cool discussions was what to do with the murderer. I learned so much about how people perceive the idea of a murderer. Most students saw this person as a male and someone who was prone to violence. They viewed him as a threat to those left on the island and many sent him home to save those on the island. Others still viewing him as a threat, or a bad person, left him on the island because they had a hard time giving him the seat of someone they felt more deserving. In the end we discussed their views or perceptions and had a very cool conversation that I think opened the door for future dialogue about perspective.
This activity is another piece of the framework I am hoping will fit together to show my students that my classroom is different, this year is different, and I, as their guide, am unique.
Teach Like a Pirate Week Begins!
Here I am with the classroom movie posters I made for the hallway outside my room.
DAY 1 - I wish I could have the cool effects like the X-files where the ideas type in those cool green letters because I feel like what I experienced this week was crazy exciting!
Okay, so if you have read anything else I have written thus far, you know that I am a huge fan of Teach Like a Pirate. I took the challenge to be a Pirate this year, and my year has begun with the first week activities that Dave Burgess outlines. I got on Amazon, asked my wife for permission to use the card and purchased the biggest pack of play-doh I have ever seen. 36 cans of funky stuff that can be molded into some of the most creative objects I have ever witnessed in my life.
Day 1 for most teachers begins with some introductory or get to know you activity. I have been doing something for most of my career and enjoyed the activities. Students although sometimes reluctant to share, always provide something that could be used to build rapport and relationships with them. So what is so revolutionary and exciting about using play-doh? Nothing! Absolutely nothing in terms of the idea of a get to know you idea. It isn't the play-doh that makes this activity, it is how and what it is used for. As I said, I always did an activity to begin the year, but this year my approach was markedly different.
The difference to some may seem subtle, but it was really a significant change for me. In other years, students had shared things about themselves, and I have even learned some very personal things about my students through questions they had answered. Day 1 this year was no exception. Where the difference came in was in many cases how I learned these ideas. While students were making their projects out of play-doh to represent something about themselves, I focused on asking them questions, talking to them, and sharing with them. I heard their stories directly from them in a conversation that I could react to and they could see and hear my thoughts, ideas, or in some cases compassion for their lives. This was missing in the past where students answered questions just for me and I was reading those in isolation of them. I still react, still feel for them, still want to connect, but they never saw those reactions, and thus the moment of me being a real person and not just another teacher was lost.
So the best and worst of the sharing and lessons learned. I realized after trying this with my first class, that the need for explaining that the object had to be something important or significant to their lives resonated with most students, but I did have one that tried to push back against this. His object was a chicken drumstick because he said he loved chicken. Not exactly what I was going for. He and I talked before he was to present, and he modified his sculpture, but I think he was still trying to be the class clown. I learned from this and the rest of the classes I emphasized that I was looking for something significant to their lives. It yielded better results, although I did have the hour where half the class talked about sports, where I again had to adjust my questioning to why were sports so important to them. Why would you spend hours doing something, what are the rewards to this activity in your life?
Those were the ones that didn't quite meet the mark, although with the exception of the chicken example, they did a good job explaining their ideas. I included images above of just some of the objects. There were 3D objects, activities as mentioned earlier, even including music and dance. Then there were the ones that really showcased what this was all about. The handful of students who talked about the connection to others in their lives, or how something was almost vitally important to them. I had a couple of students use symbols like a rainbow to discuss their being homosexual, or their connection to the Gay Straight Alliance. I also had a student share a very personal story about how she has been affected by suicide. She made the semi-colon sculpture above. I didn't know it was the symbol for suicide, but I did know about this student's story before she shared. I was overwhelmed that she shared it with the class. I was very emotional at the end of the day hearing so many wonderful and powerful stories about things that impact my students' lives. It caused me to really reflect on my responsibility as a teacher to honor their courage to share, and to do everything I can do to make my classroom and this year a safe and nurturing one. I struggle with the fact that I do not know that I am up to the challenge of helping students who have the realities outside of school that some of my students do. I pray I have the strength to be the teacher they need and deserve.