29 December 2014


I have been in a self imposed Twitter embargo this fall: somehow discussing theory and strategy with other teachers was not what I needed. Information overload is real for me-my temperament demands that I be open, so I am always reading, talking, trying new things, in all parts of my life. But sometimes, I have to stop.  Since all my preps are familiar this year, I decided to concentrate on my lesson frames.  I figured that  I would focus on the business of teaching every day, doing the work every day. Seeing where it led for my skills-and theirs.

So it has been a relief to turn to my first, my core PLN, my students, as I travel this road. And last week, I was reminded in a big way of how delightful and fulfilling it can be to play the role of learner in the classroom.  A bit of setup: I am moderator of the Graphic Arts & Animation Club at my school, a hardy group of ~25 aficionados of anime, manga, Japanese culture, high school subculture, and gaming. It is the most diverse club in school ( and that is a big job in a parochial high school) and the guys and girls respect each other just as a matter of course. They are cool kids, and they try not to laugh at my anime inexperience most of the time. They even retweet my lame attempts at humor.

We held a Mario SMASH tournament to celebrate the day-before-Thanksgiving break and almost 50 kids showed up. I was the newbie in the room--and no one laughed at my questions, everyone shared their expertise, and it was my best teacher moment of the year, when they taught me about bracket strategy, the many decisions that go into choosing your avatar to complement your personal skills, and why SMASH is the perfect game. The games moved too fast for me to do anything other than marvel. Different kids laid out different strategies for me, because I asked the same questions over and over. Isn't that what a learner does?

Some of these kids have never spoken up in my class. Some of them had never spoken to each other in school. And here they were laying out the intricacies of game strategy for me, screaming at the top of their lungs during each match, waiting for their turns with no complaints, just loving what they knew and how it brought them together.

So what did I learn? I stink at these games. I dominate at building bridges. I am a good learner--games are as great a way to learn as a 1-year-old learns with peekaboo, a 4-year-old learns with T-ball or a middle school kid learns with a Nintendo DS (which I learned is only useful to get you through the day until you can get home to the system), and after that, every single team you practice with or game you play on your Xbox. So, yes, I am going to recalibrate my units to take advantage of the mastery my kids showed last week, the learning pathways that are embedded in their brains already. So much more useful than thinking about the Common Core testing.

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