Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Lessons from Mary Poppins

Do you remember the Disney classic Mary Poppins? I just happened find it on the ABC Family Channel over Christmas break and took the opportunity to watch it again for the first time in many years. I was surprised to find myself humming along with the music - many of the songs I remembered from my childhood. I was also impressed by the visual effects which were pretty cutting edge for 1964. But what stood out for me, perhaps for the first time, were all the little words of advice and mini-lessons presented by the title character. I know I may be stretching things a bit, but I think Mary Poppins has a lot to teach us about how we should be using technology in our classrooms - if we take a little time to listen to what she has to say.


My niece sharing a photo op with Mary Poppins at Disney World.

A Spoonful of Sugar
“In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and - SNAP - the job’s a game.”
If learning is medicine, why not make learning fun? Use the technology tools available to you and design engaging assignments that your students can get excited about. If you’re the kind of teacher that insists on a silent classroom, you may have to make some adjustments. Kids that are excited and having fun are rarely quiet. Better to worry about keeping them on task, rather than keeping them silent. Remember, adding fun to your lessons means more than just providing a fun reward at the end of a dull assignment. The learning process itself should be the reward.

And don’t forget to save a spoonful of sugar for yourself too. If you’re bored with the lesson you are teaching, imagine what your students must be feeling! Make your lessons fun and interesting for yourself as well. Your enthusiasm is contagious and will infect the kids your teach.

At a loss for ideas? Here’s a few to get your brain going...

Kindergarten Voicethread Projects from Bridget Belardi (Sorry about your Steelers Bridget. There’s always next year.)
Digital Riddles from Jennifer Gingerich
iPods in Education - Have a little fun yourself! Use your iPod in your classroom, or try your hand at Podcasting.


Jump into a Chalk Drawing

Be creative. Let your imagination go wild! By third grade we manage to stifle much of the creativity kids had when they started Kindergarten and replace it with repetition and routine. If you haven’t seen the video from Sir Ken Robinson yet, now would be a good time. ("Do Schools Kill Creativity?") Provide your students with opportunities to imagine, invent, and create. Not only are these skills important for your students personally, according to Daniel Pink (“A Whole New Mind”) they are a vital part of the new economy.

Currently our 5th grade students are using their online class discussion forum to imagine and write endings to some of the Harris Burdick mysteries and comment on what their classmates have done. Since the forum is protected, I can’t share their work publicly, but here is a link to the book to give you an idea of what it is all about. (The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg) This is a great book for getting students’ imaginations going. It’s fun to watch them mentally “jump” into the pictures as they create their stories here in the computer lab.

There are also many web tools out there that let students imagine, create, and invent. Here are just a few:

Scrapblog
Scratch
Kerpoof


Chim Chim Cher-ee

Chimney sweeps are people too. Take time to learn about, and empathize with those who come from a place or culture different from your own. You may find you have more in common than you think. Consider a collaborative project with a class in another state or country. By sharing comments or contributing to a group project blog or wiki they may learn more than just the subject they are studying.

Using communication tools like Skype or iChat, your students can connect easily with other classes in different states or countries. During the recent Southern California wildfires some of our teachers had a chance to video conference with Martha Thornburgh’s students in Washington. They were able to ask questions and learn about what we were going through. No, Disneyland did not burn down. It was just fine. (Martha, if your class would like to Skype again sometime let me know.)

Voicethread is another great tool for collaborative projects. Recently they’ve added some extra capabilities. You are no longer limited to voice comments. Now, if you have a webcam, you can leave video comments too.


Feed the Birds

Your students can make a difference in the world - if they’re given a chance. In the movie, Michael causes a scene at the bank when he decides he’d rather give his tuppence to the lady who feeds the birds rather than deposit it in the bank for himself. Give your students an opportunity to make a difference in their community with projects that extend beyond the classroom.


I Love To Laugh

And you should too! How serious is your classroom? How serious are you? Laughter helps keep you healthy and should be a regular part of your day. (Laughter Therapy from NPR News) So when technology doesn’t work in your classroom, don’t freak out. Laugh about it. You’ll relieve the tension in your room and you may clear your head enough to come up with a fun alternative solution. In fact take a little time right now to laugh. I bet you can’t watch the following video with out at least cracking a smile.

2 comments:

Bridget Belardi said...

Great post, Dennis!! Love the Mary Poppins theme! Very appropo!! Definitely depressing about the Steelers... I have to get on with my life...it's been a melancholy week!

Jen said...

I like your ideas!