Here is a thing I know about teaching: If I am having fun, odds are 99 to 1 the kids are going to learn something.
Here is another thing I know about teaching: You are never too old to have fun playing with toys.
The more I teach, the more I prove these truths to myself and my students. Some of my most successful English lessons have stemmed from the fact that I was in the mood to relive some favorite childhood memory or other.
Pronoun Twister, for instance, was a thinly veiled excuse to watch my kids laugh themselves silly while keeping track of which pronouns are singular and which ones are plural.
A hilarious, hands-on lesson in literary conflicts (man vs. man, man vs. society, etc.) sprang from the moment when a can of Play-Doh caught my eye as I was walking through the toy aisle at Target. I’ve gotta think up an excuse to play with Play-Doh in class, I thought, throwing several multi-packs of the stuff into my cart.
Math, I’ve found, lends itself even better to childlike diversions. There’s a colossal amount of algebra on the back of a baseball card. We’ve also used tiny colored blocks to learn cubes, squares, and roots; set up ratios involving Starburst candy; practiced set notation with a bucket of Legos; and worked equations with the help of magnetic letters and numbers like the ones my mom used to keep on the refrigerator when I was little.
Next week, we’ll be starting linear equations for the first time this semester. I’ve enlisted some special helpers for this lesson:
Monkeys will represent variables. Plastic counting blocks will represent constants. We’ll set up problems by playing the Barrel of Monkeys game to determine the value of the variable (2m, 5m, whatever) and then rolling a set of dice to determine the constants, which we’ll represent with colored blocks.
Five bucks says this will be the best lesson I’ve ever taught … because, really, how can you go wrong with a Barrel of Monkeys?
who finds her tendency to behave like an overgrown 5-year-old oddly useful in a classroom full of jaded teenagers