Saturday, February 9, 2013

Video for a Blue Monday: Dear Katie (V1#6)

From time to time I plan to encourage my niece Katie in her pursuit of being a teacher.  She is currently a Sophomore in college.  These blogs will take the form of a letter.

If any of my teacher friends have any topic you would like be to write about or would like me to paste your own post on here for her or anyone else to read, by all means, please be my guest.

Dear Katie,

When I was in college, my history professor, Dr. Vos, would begin his Western Civilization classes with a "Thought for an Un-Blue Monday."  They were little factoids to get you pondering anything but the realization that the weekend was over and the work of being a student was beginning again.

About 5 years ago, the nexus of the Internet, Youtube, and a video projector in my classroom gave me an idea, to revive the practice of Dr. Vos.  Every Monday (or whatever is the first day of classes for the week) I show my students a brief Youtube video called "Video for a Blue Monday".  Most of the time, they are just to make you laugh (like the famous "Charlie Bit My Finger") and others are inspirational (like the autistic basketball manager who made the most of his chance to play by scoring 20 points in 4 minutes).

Now, you may be learning about "time on task" and one of your education professors may have told you things to save valuable minutes, such as having students pick up handouts on their way into a classroom.   The thought of showing a 2 minute video that doesn't relate to your topic is anathema.  However, this little diversion will earn you big dividends when you want them to pay attention.

Here are the reasons I show a Blue Monday Video:

1) No one likes Monday, or the day your break ends and you have to go back to work.  It is a small way to acknowledge that and soften the blow.

2) It creates anticipation.  Students come into class looking forward to what video will be played that day.  Having them think about your class will also stir up thoughts of the lessons they have been learning or the assignments that are due.

3) Your students are entertainment focused, it may not be the ideal, but it's a fact; your competition for teaching your students are the Internet, iPhone, X-Box, HD-TV, etc.  It is your choice to fight it or embrace it and enhance their educational experience.  You are not going to match what can see in those mediums, but there is still a place for the human touch which those devices cannot provide.  You being physically present in the room, and adapting and creating an atmosphere for your students to interact in an entertaining way can be a great help to capture their attention.

Remember, technology is a valuable classroom tool, but nothing replaces the human need for interaction within close proximity to others.

4) The Video for a Blue Monday recognizes the fact that students are not pieces on an assembly line.  With all the focus on testing and scores, we are losing the fact that students are flesh and blood people, not numbers.  A piece of metal can be molded and constructed without it getting tired or complaining, teenagers cannot.  Sometimes the classroom needs frivolity to motivate  your students to reach the educational goals that you want to see them achieve.

When I was a young teacher, I often opened my class talking to the students about their lives.  One year in a parent-teacher conference, the parents of one of my students confronted me on all the class time I "wasted".  Very sternly, the mother stated the number of minutes I "wasted" talking about basketball, skiing, ice skating, and the school play.  I calmly explained  that the time that the students and I got to know each other in the beginning of class will make them realize that I care more about them as individuals than the subject I teach.  And when I do teach class, they will focus on what I care about (the lesson) and the 2 minutes I spent in the beginning of class might be a trade off when I do not have to spend those 2 minutes getting the classroom under control when they lose focus during the lesson.  

The father, who started the conference as stern as the mother, soon started smiling and shaking his head in agreement with me as I explained myself.  He got it (in two ways; what I was saying and probably at home too because I don't think his wife accepted it).

Anyway, It's Just My Opinion,

Uncle Kevin

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