When a semester or school year is in full swing, it can be all too easy to fall into a routine—prepare, teach, evaluate, repeat—and lose sight of the excitement that moved you to become an educator in the first place. Then something interferes with your routine, which has become comfortable. The principal calls for an all-school assembly and your class is canceled or the athletes in your class are leaving early for a game. You had the week all planned out and now it is a mess. Move the class, move a test, teach to some and do make-up with others later. Ugh!!
Relax, take a deep breath, and remember the joy of teaching on that first day of the school year. Fortunately, your excitement can be recovered, say the authors of a recent Harvard Business Review article on awakening our sense of wonder. “As the pandemic era goes on, more than ever we need ways to refresh our energies, calm our anxieties, and nurse our well-being.”
University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross defines awe as “the wonder we feel when we encounter something powerful that we can’t easily explain.” It is time for us to adapt our curriculum so as to excite our students and ourselves. Breakaway from the next lesson, and add to your classroom something with a “wow” factor. I know for me, that during the course of the year, I have a few topics that surprise the students and generate a plethora of questions and active classroom conversation. It is time to break out one of those topics for you and for them.
As a physics teacher, I know that there is a list of demonstrations that have this “wow” factor. When I sense that the class is in a funk, I know it is time to break out a demonstration that gets the students asking, “how does that work.” I know you know what these lessons are, but here are a few suggestions:
- Science – demonstrations of center of mass, Bernoulli’s Principle, the story Archimedes, or Newton’s Laws.
- English – rare and/or unknown synonyms (cicatrix, ort, eft) or use crossword puzzles, diagramming sentences (a favorite of mine).
- History – geography by powerful event like volcanoes, tsunamis, etc., historical events that are very pertinent/like an event that occurred today (history does repeat itself).
- Mathematics – the divisibility tests (like for seven), computations with matrices, use math games like Sudoku.
- Here are a few other ideas.
Students love to compete, so divide them into teams and have them go to the board and compete in a game. This is always exciting and fun.
To inspire the awe of learning, show short videos of things that are interesting and maybe surprising. The Harvard Business Review article says, “Several studies have shown that videos can stimulate awe. Perhaps we are inspired by award-winning documentaries such as Free Solo, Planet Earth, or the recent Oscar winner My Octopus Teacher….The harmony and complexity of music can also elevate and inspire awe.”
Learning should be awe-inspiring. You should be moved by the power of awe and so should your students. It is not time for the same-ole-same-ole. I believe that you will be energized by the extra work to change your class curriculum and so will your students. Good luck! If you have other suggestions you want to share, let us know.