Teaching - You Don't Have to Reinvent the Wheel



As teachers, we are under constant pressure to come up with new and more engaging activities for our students to make the learning experience more meaningful. What lesson or idea will reach this class, this group, this individual?

With low pay and paperwork out the butt, there's not a lot of incentive to hand-craft finely tuned work for our classes, to put our personal flair into our lessons. The emphasis nowadays is on the creation of products, of grades, and of test results.

But life is MORE than test results, isn't it? 

The only time we care about test results outside of school is to find out whether or not that infection is turning worse, of if that tumor is cancer. We cannot spend nearly the first quarter of our lives worried about test results. As far as I know, there's no direct test that will tell you if a student is going to be successful as soon as they leave school and your classroom anyway. 

With these time constraints, with this emphasis on testing, we're constrained to the breaking point. I wish I had thought of TeachersPayTeachers, because I wouldn't be a teacher anymore, I'll tell you. Instead, we rely on the work of others and hope that it's meaningful, grade appropriate, not too "kiddy" for your middle school room or too advanced for your elementary room. 

I've found typos and incorrect facts in things I've downloaded from TeachersPayTeachers, and yeah, I paid money for some of those things, so that's not a big plus in the user-created content that we've come to know and love. 

And, why are teachers having to create all these materials ourselves anyway? What happened to curriculum?

The fact is, the state removed a guided curriculum because it made teaching too easy. Follow the guide. Add where you can. Make it work. Here are materials for you to work with.

Nowadays we're busting ass creating our own curriculum, spending extra time trying to make sure that content is addressed, standards covered, that assessments are authentic and that the students are actually learning something. It would be nice if they're engaged.

Who has time to reinvent the wheel?

Not us. 

But here I went anyway. What I tried to do is create some activities that would address a large number of standards at once, that could be completed individually or as a group, would engage the students, and could be used each year.

What I decided to do was to create some mysteries. Though I teach ELA, our standards are heavily based on informational reading, tracing arguments, checking to see if ideas are supported in the text, compare and contrast....you get the idea. 

The first creation is a Bigfoot mystery. The witness, Ms. Harvey, calls the police when she thinks she's seen a Bigfoot eating her vegetables in the garden. Through witness statements gathered by a deputy on the scene, sounds downloaded from the web, and some pictures I found, I wound together a mystery for the kids to solve. Is there evidence here to support the idea of a Bigfoot, or was it something else?

I've been piloting this lesson idea in the past few days. The kids are very engaged. There are some issues, but, I've been using Google Classroom and it's nice because all of the materials are in one spot. No need to make copies of everything, they're already there on the students' devices. They can look at each piece of evidence as closely as they like. They can replay the soundfiles of a Bigfoot "calling." 

It's not a reinvention of the wheel by any means. But it IS something I was able to throw together in half an hour with some work. It's a lesson that takes about 20 to 30 minutes depending on your students, and their goal is to create a written report to their supervising officer (you.) 

I'll let you know how it goes. I may even throw these on Teachers Pay Teachers myself. You know, to get out of the biz.

Jeff Hewitt