Teachers Can Have “Aha” Moments Too!

Recently, I’ve been in a bit of a lull, as reflected in recent tweets and blog entries. However, something magical happened today in class. More often than not, we – teachers –always seek to capture that illusive “aha moment” from students. Conversely, today it was my light bulb that turned on. During an activity, I decided to have my students put on a “play.” And. Play they did. They had so much fun “acting” that I realized how much my negative focus hindered my creative ability to “roll with the punches.”

Now, before you think that I’m retracting some of my earlier concerns surrounding the need for reduced class sizes, the challenges of teaching within a low SES public school, or the demand for equal access to resources, I’m afraid I’ll inevitably let you down. However, the teaching profession is peaks and valleys, and my writing simply echoes this cycle. In spite of this, today opened my eyes to the power of “play.”

Here’s how it went down. Today, we were discussing Hammurabi’s Code of Law. Part of the lesson included a story, which centered on a father, his son (narrator), and a builder. The builder had to build a new house. After completing the task, the roof of the house, unfortunately, caved in. The scene consists entirely of a heated discussion between the father and builder; mainly squabbling over whether the builder should pay for the damages. After the “read aloud,” and frequent checks for understanding, I asked the students to write a persuasive speech from the perspective of the father, and of the builder. As the students were writing their speeches, I had an epiphany. I remembered showing the students the famous picture of Hammurabi’s stele (shown below).

Seeing the opportunity to put their persuasive skills to the test, I suddenly changed gears and told them I would need three volunteers: someone to play Hammurabi, someone to play the father, and someone to play the builder. As the students were looking around in bewilderment, I rushed to my trusty MacBook and opened the previous day’s PowerPoint lesson. After locating the picture, I maximized it to fill in the entire smart board to serve as a backdrop to the “play.” Once again, I asked for three volunteers. This time, there were more hands raised then needed, so I randomly selected three students for the first round. Although I was operating entirely by the seat of my pants, experience has taught me that I was onto something special.

As the three student-volunteers were making their way towards the front of the room, I stated my expectations and provided the ground rules. The father would “go first,” and he had to present his case to Hammurabi (seated in the teacher’s chair, of course). Following the father’s persuasive plea, the builder made his/her case. Hammurabi, after ten seconds of pondering, had to administer a ruling in favor of the father or the builder. As one can imagine, we had a bit of fun with this activity. Virtually every student, even those hesitant to read aloud, wanted to take part. Today I remembered of my love for teaching, especially in a challenging middle school. One day you can go home feeling defeated or overwhelmed, and the very next day, you could have an “aha” moment. Today, the students reminded me of the power “play.” Today, my teacher light bulb turned on again!

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