For years, whenever I showered, the best ideas came to me like epiphanies. It was amazing. Almost every day, great ideas about how to solve problems I faced popped into my brain almost like magic. Was I the reincarnation of Houdini? Or was the water tainted with some strange chemical that caused my brain to work in strange ways? Or perhaps it was a chemical reaction caused by the water mixing with my perspiration. Well, for years, I couldn’t explain this bizarre phenomenon any other way than to say that the water inspired me.
Over the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of learning regarding neuroscience and the brain. How do my students learn? I wanted to know how to best teach my students so that they could effectively and genuinely learn what I was teaching them. In this self-learning process, I came to understand that most of the work, in terms of thinking, that our brain does happens when we don’t even realize it’s going on. When we are doing something that does not require a ton of focus like showering, our unconscious brain is trying to help us solve some of the problems we encountered earlier that day. A great example of this is when you try to name the song currently playing on the radio and you seem unable to do so, despite having heard the song many times before. Later in the day when your conscious brain is doing something that doesn’t require a lot of brain work, your unconscious brain finds the answer for you and slips it into your conscious train of thought. I’m sure you have all experienced this phenomena before. The brain is such an amazing tool.
Sometimes though, ideas and solutions come to me in other ways, outside of my being. A great example of this occurred in my classroom yesterday during the first day of school. My students worked on an activity that had them decorating a superhero cape with facts about themselves through the lens of superheroes. Instead of simply plastering their name on the back of their capes, they had to generate a unique superhero name, super power, and other fun facts about themselves. All of my students were super engaged in this activity as they created interesting superhero personas for themselves. One student named himself Burger Boy because he enjoyed eating tasty cheeseburgers. I was excited that the students were so enthralled with this activity. While planning this Orientation Day task, I hoped that the students would enjoy it as much as I assumed they would, but we all know what happens when one assumes. So, watching the awesomeness unfold during the execution of this activity filled me with joy.
While my students worked on crafting creative and colorful capes that helped to tell their life story, one student made a most magnificent suggestion. She said, “Mr. Holt, we should write a class graphic novel all about our superheroes fighting crime at our school.” Wow, came to mind as she uttered those words. My response, “That is a most amazing idea. I think we might have to try that on for size during Language Arts this year.” The other students chimed in, noting that it is a great idea.
For the rest of the day, I thought about this amazing idea that one of my students had generated during class. I love it. I think it would be an epic way to get my students working together as a community of learners, creators, and writers. I could have the students completely own this writing task.
- They could brainstorm ideas for a story theme. Perhaps they want the story to be about a series of crimes or one larger crime.
- They could then map out the story, as they find a way to somehow incorporate each of their superheroes into the story.
- They could then assign roles and tasks for writing and illustrating the story. Each student would required to write and illustrate at least one part of the story.
- We could then submit their story to one of those online bookmaking services to have it transformed into a fancy, bound graphic novel. We would be sure to order enough copies for each student to have one. We’d order an extra copy to donate to our local public library.
- The students could even host a special superhero night at the library where they read their book aloud to other children.
I love, love, love how this idea is metamorphosing into so much more as my unconscious and conscious brain dwell on it. I do believe that this will be our first Language Arts project of the year. I had something else planned, but this seems to be a way cooler idea that will better engage my students. I’ll still be able to cover similar writing strategies through this task, and so, it’s not like I’d be losing any “teaching” time. I’d still be covering the curriculum and writing objectives that my students will need to master by the end of fifth grade. I feel like it’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to jump into this project sometime during the first few weeks of school. I’m so excited.
To think that this idea came from one of my students. Seriously, my students are brilliant. Just when I thought I had good ideas, one of my students blows me away. I love it. This one of the many enjoyable aspects of teaching: When students become so engaged in a task or topic that they generate innovative new ideas. Amazing!