Learning disguised as fun

Tri-state teachers make creativity part of the lesson plan

Tri-state teachers make creativity part of the lesson plan

October 07, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

The boombox goes on and Nancy Souders' inner Rastafarian comes out.

Her guise as a proper teacher - white blouse, floral scarf, dark olive green skirt - fades when she slips a rainbow-knit cap over her blonde hair.

Now, dreadlocks hang to her waist. She breaks into a rap she wrote about parts of a map.

"The six map musts/we appreciate/First you need a mapmaker/a title and a date," Souders and her sixth-grade Smithsburg Middle School social studies students chant with full-throated voices. "Now you add a scale/to tell you relative size/Directions are important/to keep you very wise ..."

Souders cuts the air with her hands as she dances around the classroom to the reggae funk.

She's no Bob Marley, but her attempt to "lively up" her lessons seems to work. Students compete to be called on; they know the answers.


Fun is also an ingredient of choice for other Tri-State teachers, such as April Crowl at Boonsboro High School.

Crowl said she goes all out when she teaches English class.

For example, when she does her British literature lesson, The Canterbury Tales is a production, not just a discussion. Her students dress up as the book's characters.

"We take a pilgrimage. We walk through town," Crowl said. "It's close to Halloween, so they don't feel too geeky."

When a freshman complained about never reading a good story, she directed her students to go out and find one - and write it as a play script.

That turned into an annual dinner theater, complete with a gourmet meal. Last year, her students performed about 10 stories and raised $800 in ticket sales for the freshman class.

Crowl said her ideas and her approach may be offbeat - "everybody expects me to be nuts" - but they resonate.

Don Kawalek, a technology education teacher at Musselman Middle School in Inwood, W.Va., tries to grab his students' attention by videotaping himself explaining aerodynamics, or whatever the day's lesson is.

"I got tired of doing the same old thing, demonstrating and demonstrating and demonstrating," he said.

Kawalek figured "I might as well as use the technology," so he used a monitor and a microphone and taped each lesson.

He watches himself teach while they do.

"There's dead silence. There are absolutely no discipline problems ...," Kawalek said. "There's the novelty factor: 'Whoa, this guy made his own video.' "

Smithsburg Middle School math teacher Kevin Geesaman uses tape of a more famous person - basketball star Michael Jordan.

As Jordan hits almost every jump shot on a highlight reel, Geesaman's students track the field-goal percentage, which they later chart as they study statistics and tables.

A poster on a classroom wall shows Jordan with his arm extended, pointing. The stance is a great example of a ray, Geesaman said.

Geesaman has created a series of graphs in which sports' teams logos appear when enough coordinates are plotted. Some, like the Washington Wizards' logo, are intricate, requiring hundreds of points. Students work on them during free time in class or at home.

For so many lessons, Geesaman finds a way to use sports to "dress up" the material.

"It gives it a little more meaning than just doing it out of a book," he said.

Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School science teacher Todd Toth wrote in an e-mail that his ninth-graders will work this month on a project designed by NASA. Students will work with environmental satellite data and NASA scientists, Toth wrote.

John Evans, a Smithsburg Middle School science teacher, said his singing voice isn't as good as Souders', so he relies on other tools to keep students interested - such as computer gadgetry.

His students use handheld devices to measure temperature, pH or heart rate for their labs, then download the data onto a computer so they can create graphs and spreadsheets.

But technology isn't necessary to captivate. Who Am I? - Evans' semiweekly version of Twenty Questions, a simple parlor game - gets students wondering and inquiring, stretching their brains.

"At the beginning of the year, they're way off the wall," Evans said. "Their questions become more scientific."

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