Embrace the Teachable Moment

On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, it is still very easy for me to remember where I was and what I was doing on that day.  I remember waking up to the sounds of my AOL instant messenger beeping like crazy, back in the days when AIM and ICQ were the main forms of communication between college students.  I had friends who were telling me to turn on the tv and watch the events unfold.  I was living in the dorms and it didn’t take long for people to gather around their tvs and watch the unfortunate events transpire while discussing all of the what ifs that the future would bring.

This was still a school day and although it seemed to not be as important as what was going on, I head off to class. Mostly because my first class of the day was my intro to political science class.  Of all of classes that could address what was happening that day, it was this class. You could tell that many others thought the same thing as the class was packed for the first time since the first class of the term.  Our professor walked into the room, cell phone pressed to his ear, and dismissed class before he went right back out of the room.  Many students were stunned as they were expecting a deep conversation of what was happening but our professor had more important things to do, mostly talk on the local news channels.

Instead of using the moment to engage us as learners, the professor saw the tv interviews as more important things to put his energy into.  Our learning was not the focus for that day.  This was a missed opportunity and caused me to  view that professor in a bad way the rest of the year.

While this was an extreme situation, as educators, we face many situations like this where a teachable moment is right in front of us but we miss it.  Many times it is our pre-set lesson plans that we view as being more important than the timely discussions and focus on current events that can be a much more meaningful learning experience for students.  Learners are more engaged when the topic relates to them at that moment, not something that they can’t connect with.

As a science teacher I would try to make use of current events to engage my learners.  When the Deepwater Drilling rig exploded, we changed our plans for the day and focused on the impact on the environment and watched the live video as they were exploring the ocean floor.  When a major volcano erupted or a major earthquake caused considerable damage, we would discuss it.  This was a big reason why I purchased a seismograph for our classroom as we were able to measure these events ourselves and have our own data to look at.  As tornadoes ripped through Parkersburg, we changed our plans.  Although our text books had no information on these current events, we were able to use technology to access the information we needed and wanted.  Just as when Pluto was reclassified as a Dwarf Planet, our textbooks were not made to address this but yet we had access to resources that could. (Just another reason to not rely on a textbook and to be more open to open educational resources, #GOOPEN)

These teachable moments can’t be planned but they need to be engaged.  I am sure many social studies teachers did not have much in their lesson plans about Alexander Hamilton but I hope many of them are taking advantage of the impact the musical can have on our students to engage them in their learning.  We need to be aware of the world we are in and making sure it makes it way into our learning spaces as we have to make sure our students are prepared to live and learn not only in the future, but in the present.  If our lesson plans only reflect the past, how will our students view their learning as something that happens in the present?

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