As I sit writing this, it’s Sunday afternoon. Sunday’s in my family are often about getting work done – chores around the house, prepping for school, groceries, etc. To fit with that norm for our family, today was no different. This morning my wife Diane, an amazing kindergarten teacher, needed to go over to school to do some prep for her week. I needed to mow the lawn and then get to the grocery store. The kids had no real responsibilities, so they were going to stay home with me. I knew that if I left them inside, even though they said they were going to read, it would turn into a Netflix binge of Dinotrux, or Glitter Force, or something of that nature. I wanted them to be active, so I convinced them to come outside and play while I was mowing.
As I did the front yard, they had out their big wheels, their stilts, and their pogo stick. They were working on creating an obstacle course in the driveway when I finished the front lawn and grabbed the sprinkler to try to deal with a couple of brown spots. As I starting working on the side yard, Lainey came running up to me and asked “Can we run through the sprinkler?”
I started to say no, I mean they had just gotten dressed, we had to run to the grocery store after I mowed, and Lainey was going to a birthday party for the afternoon. But then I looked at the excitement in her face – how could I say no?
For the next thirty minutes, while I mowed the rest of the lawn, Lainey and Brody were in heaven with that childhood joy that goes with running through a sprinkler. I may have even let myself get sprayed because I was jealous of the obvious fun they were having.
Seeing the joy on their faces as they played in the sprinkler got me thinking about classroom conditions. How often, when you scan your room, do you see the look of joy that would accompany a kid running through the sprinkler? When I reflect on my own teaching practices, it probably happened far less than I would have wanted it to.
Last week I participated in an online, free, open to anyone PD called Hive Summit. It was put on by Michael Matera, the author of Explore Like a Pirate, and the front man for the #XPlap community. The gist of the Hive Summit was to bring together amazing educators to share little tidbits of knowledge in short, easily digestible conversations between Michael and various guests to provide ideas to help us start the school year off with a bang!
The last session of the Hive Summit brought in Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, and easily one of the most engaging presenters I have ever seen. Towards the end of the conversation, Michael asked Dave for some practical things that we can do right away. Dave started talking about the beginning of the school year. He suggested that we should “Invest time in the front end to build a community, to build rapport, and to create a place that kids are desperate to come back to the next day.” We don’t accomplish what Dave is suggesting by spending lots of time on procedures. Those can come later. We need to hook them, get them excited, get them wanting to be in your classroom, get them banging down the doors to come to school!
Dave went on to share a couple of his favorite activities to accomplish those goals. The first is the Play-Doh lesson. Students walk in to a container of Play-Doh on a paper plate in the center of their desk, and when ready, they are asked to create something out of the Play-Doh. The goal is to create something that is in some way representative of them. Let them know up front that when time is up, you are going to come around, show the class their object, ask a couple of questions about it, and then have them share their name. Let them know in advance that they will not have to stand up or come to the front of the room, and the process will take less than 30 seconds. Letting kids know what to expect will alleviate some stress that comes with any type of getting to know you activity. Give students 10 minutes of work time, and while they are working, walk around and chat with them in an informal way.
This is great because it gets your students creating right away. We live in a world where information is at our fingertips, and knowing things doesn’t make you successful. In today’s world, it’s about what people can do or make. When we show kids that’s what we value right off the bat, they will be more likely to continue to do and make things when asked.
Another activity that Dave loves is the plane crash on a deserted island lesson. 10 people are stranded on an island, and when a rescue helicopter shows up, it only has room for 5 people. Students are given a list of the different people, split into small groups, and asked to work together to come to a consensus on who should be rescued, and who has to be left behind (click here for a shared google doc with the instructions and list of people). Again, this activity immediately gets kids to collaborate, connect, and create to solve the problem.
Activities like this allow kids to engage right away, and think about how much more excited your kids will be about tasks like this instead of a more traditional lesson. All of us bring our own special skill set to the classroom, and we all have the ability to create learning environments that kids will be excited to return to day after day. You get to decide if the lights are on or off when students enter. You get to decide what shows up on your screen or board. You get to decide what is sitting on your students’ desks when they come in. When we pause in our lesson planning to think about those hooks at the start of our lesson, we’re able to create more of those “Running Through Sprinkler” kind of moments for our kids.
If you are looking for more ideas for amazing engagement strategies, check out Teach Like a Pirate (I linked to it on Amazon above), or if you’d like, I’ll loan you my copy (as long as you don’t mind my highlights and notes in the margins). If you feel overwhelmed by a book, look for Dave Burgess on YouTube or Twitter, or check out the #tlap Twitter chat on Mondays at 9:00 pm eastern. There are lots of small resources that will help you create lessons that engage students on the sprinkler level!
Let me know if you’re planning to try something new to create a sprinkler moment in your class! I’d love to see it, or talk to your students about it. I think we all want joyful classrooms! How will you bring that joy to your room?