Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Part II

We’re in the library, kids are online, using computers, pulling encyclopedias, printing information, interpreting data, complaining about the work, arguing with group-mates, asking me good questions. We’re rocking it out. The librarian is a hassle, but that hardly matters for our purposes. Students divide and conquer, pooling and interpreting information. Summaries are written, references quoted. (We all know about plagiarism already!)

A day or two later, we’re back in class – and by now most of the kids have realized that we’re dissecting lines from a song, and that they’re holding the lyrics in their hands. What the order of events exactly was, no one knows for sure, but at some point I played the song for them. Students gave outstanding oral presentations on their decades. Here’s the key: the class had better be taking notes (especially when I highlight the important components from the back of the room by the world map) because there is going to be an open-note test on all this information. When each day ended (because we do lots of different activities in my course, we only had 30 minutes per day for presentations, so they lasted for several days), I’d play “We Didn’t Start the Fire” for them, and they’d follow along, singing the parts the could, realizing how much of the lyrics they understood and had learned about. It was eye-opening for all of us. Certainly a great way to start semester two.

Within a few weeks we’d written our own life’s highlights (similar to Billy Joel’s enumeration) with each group fine-tuning its own song, and some groups setting theirs to music and delivering jaw-dropping performances (both lyrically and musically). MoMo walked by my room to overhear a song.

We wrapped everything up with the open-notes test that I’d promised. Overall, kids learned a lot about the world around them – even if they didn’t memorize a host of facts; had a blast doing group work; took copious notes; stayed organized and informed; and excelled on a test. As late as the last day of school, students would shout “We Didn’t Start the Fire, Mr. KP” when I’d get too wild in class. Or they’ll shout, “JFK blown away, what else do I have to say!”

And I smile. Because kids’ll do that. “By god the old man could handle a spade / Just like his old man.”