Teaching Tip Tuesday: Dealing with Why-ners

What is a sound more grating than fingernails on a chalkboard? The sound of a small child or teen saying, “Whyyyyyyyy do we have to learrrrrrrrn this?” Chances are, they will not take favorably to “Because No Child Left Behind has mandated us to teach this content standard this year!” One sure-fire way for teachers reduce why-ning is to make activities more meaningful and relevant for kids. Of course, there are some subjects that are easier to link to their prior knowledge, experiences, and lives, but every teacher should have in his or her toolkit some ways to make learning relevant. Personal meaning increases motivation and compliance in the classroom.

So, this week, go on and submit your tricks this Teaching Tip Tuesday on how you make boring, mandated, or somewhat difficult to make relevant material more meaningful.

Now I am not a teacher, but I have several fantasies for what this could look like in the classroom. One fantasy I have is for social studies and/or history teachers. Go on, try it out and let me know if the kids liked it. Sometimes I wish I had my own classroom…but I do not, so let me live vicariously through you!

Here’s the pitch.

I have worked with so many students with learning disabilities, low achievement motivation, emotional and behavioral problems who absolutely light up when they talk about MySpace.* So instead of fighting it, I say roll with it. History teachers could make each student pick a historical figure from the time period they are studying and the kid has to make a MySpace page for that figure. So if a kid picked Abraham Lincoln, then s/he could research his interests, what he might say on his profile, what groups he may have joined (Free the Slaves!), who he would have been friends with, and who he may have blocked from being his friend (Oh! If he’d only blocked John Wilkes Booth!).

Social studies teachers could have kids pick current event figures, like, oh, I don’t know, Barack Obama? Would he “friend” John McCain? Why or why not? What would his “status updates” look like?

11:02am Barack is…trying to pass the stimulus package

11:04am Barack is….soooo frustrated!

Or English teachers could have kids pick characters in the book they want to be! How fun would that be to see kids get excited about being a character in Shakespeare or in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying? Ooh! Ooh! I want to be King Lear!

I think it would be super fun for the kids and it would be a way to make history, current events, and old novels relevant to them. Now I realize that most schools block MySpace from their internet options.** So you might have them draw a home page on a piece of paper, or better yet, a giant posterboard to put up in the classroom. Then historical figures would be able to interact by writing down friend requests, joining each other’s groups, and blocking each other. You might do an example first to model for them what it might look like.

Let me know if you try it out, and if you hear any Why-ning!

*I have a love/hate relationship with MySpace. Yea!: social connectedness, learning computer skills, opportunities for social skills training, cyber-style. Boo!: cyber bullying, poor boundaries, inappropriate postings (by teachers and students alike). In general, I am against teachers and school staff having a MySpace page that kids can find (boundaries, people). I overheard a kid in the hallway say to a teacher, “I found you on MySpace! I saw your boyfriend! What are you doing on MySpace old lady???” P.S. She’s all of 22 years old.

**Not that they can’t get around the blocks in 2.2 seconds…

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Comments on Teaching Tip Tuesday: Dealing with Why-ners

  1. Casey says:

    “11:02am Barack is…trying to pass the stimulus package..”

    LOL!! This cracked me up. I think you are making a really valid point, which is, no matter what the subject matter is, and no matter how boring it may seem on the surface, we have to find a way to motivate kids, and get them excited…even if it is about parts of a sentence.

  2. Hilarious / brilliant. Yes, I think tech is the way to go when it comes to teaching kids nowadays. Teens are already eagerly awaiting the release of Nintendo’s classic literature series. (Why is everything more appealing to teens when it can be done with a tv or computer? Wii fit, anyone?) We’d better embrace this if we want to keep students interested. My classroom resource recommendation is Shmoop, which is a modern and engaging alternative to the stuff most of those “notes” sites offer. (Those of you who “want to be King Lear!” can check this out.)

  3. Kate says:

    I like the example lesson/project. It sounds like it would be really fun.

    I’ve had mixed results with trying to incorporate technology into math. I’m warming up to the idea of investigating pictures and video for mathematical phenomena (what transformations did the programmers have to use on Mario as he navigates this level? which are isometries? etc etc). But I’m digging my heels in on things like using graphing technology to observe how changing an equation affects a graph. That doesn’t seem to stick with the kids at all. I’d much rather have them substituting values manually and graphing by hand.

    I have a Facebook. All that kids can see is that I have a Facebook. They can’t look at it or see my friends. I ignore their friend requests and explain in person that I’ve decided to avoid any complications by not friending students.

  4. Laura says:

    Hi! I’m a first time poster but a long time reader!! I love your posts, but I love it even more because, before becoming a school psych, I taught high school history, and I did a similar project with my students. I did it at the beginning of the year and gave each student a figure of the American Revolution. Students had to create a MySpace page for their person. It was such a great way to get the learning wheels moving and integrate boring history (in their eyes-not mine!) with their current view of the world. Anytime you can help teachers relate their instruction to what students care about, you will tend to get a positive response, from students.

  5. superdeens says:

    This is hilarious. I’m going to totally do it with my class.

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