Break Every Yoke

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 30 2012

Laughter and stickiness

Two stories, both from my M-4 block today:


First, a story of laughter. During today’s intro to new material, R (the same R about whom I wrote a month ago) volunteered to read a word problem. The final sentence of the problem was, “Who was driving at a higher average speed?” Inexplicably, R read this as, “Who speeding highest drive?” The class and I were in uproar for a solid five minutes. Every time I tried to get back to the problem, someone (or I) would start giggling, and we’d be back to square one. I don’t know what we found so funny, but it was nice to share to share some genuine and extended laughter with my kids.

(Before I find myself criticized for being a terribly insensitive teacher to R, please note that (1) he was laughing along with us; (2) he is not an ELL and normally reads perfectly well; (3) I have an extremely close relationship with him and we joke around with each other all the time.)


Second, a story of stickiness. My M-4 block is probably my most advanced class, in terms of both maturity and academic rigor. This consistently allows us to finish lessons early and either work on extension activities or, more often, engage in interesting and deep discussions about anything and everything. Today was a prime example of the latter. With twenty minutes to spare after a lesson about rates and proportions, I decided to take a risk and start gushing about how incredible it is that the Earth is traveling at a speed of about 30,000 m/s around the Sun, which in turn is traveling at a speed of about 250,000 m/s around the center of the Milky Way, which in turn is traveling at a speed of about 300,000 m/s through the universe—and perhaps more importantly, that we can measure all of these things using math and science.

My kids ate it up. They were literally on the edges of their seats as the conversation moved from outer space to rocket propulsion technology, to the Drake equation, to Noetic theory, to quantum mechanics, and finally to modern theoretical physics research. In the end, it was neither a lack of topics nor the end-of-school bell that brought the discussion to a close, but pure mental exhaustion from learning and teaching so many new things. And it occurred to me after the kids shuffled out of my classroom that even if they don’t remember exactly what they learned about calculating rates and proportions, at least some of them will remember that there was a day in my class when they learned how rockets work, or that there’s an astronomical equation that estimates how many alien civilizations exist in the Milky Way, or that electrons behave reeeeally weirdly when you shoot them through little slits. I think that’s genuinely sticky learning, and I’m so grateful for days like today, when I feel like my kids get a rare but tantalizing taste of the true value of math and science.

2 Responses

  1. T

    This is fantastic.

  2. ekim

    wow. I wish I could have been there to see your kids’ reactions and to listen/learn myself!

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New city, same vision

Rhode Island
High School

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