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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


Let me begin by stating some things I believe:

    • I believe students should be freed to use technology to learn.
    • I believe in the use of creativity and imagination in the classroom.
    • I believe that students believe that doing "fun" activities is a good way to learn.
    • I believe teachers should try different things when the "basics" don't work.
    • I believe there is a tremendous difference between information and knowledge.

I want to record my thoughts rolling around in my head.

Students can't use their imaginations if they have limited life-experience. What they see on TV or movies is too often super-natural, not creative. For example, we went to see the TerraCotta Soldiers at the High Museum in Atlanta. These soldiers are the basis for the Mummy 3 movie. While we were there, a student asked a teacher if the soldiers were going to come alive and talk to us. It would have been funny, except he was serious. Really, he was. He was also disappointed when he learned that they did not have that power.

Imaginative? Yes. But, not very realistic or sensible.

Students can do all types of fun activities. Make posters, dioramas, put together skeletons, etc. But if they do not have some basic understandings of why they are doing it, they had fun, but they did not learn. Just because they sort their M&Ms into 5 different colors, doesn't mean they understand percentages, or can create a pie graph, or even more important - can read and interpret a pie graph, and know when to use one.

I teach 7th grade Social Studies. I had hoped my students would have some background knowledge of geography, maps, history, even racism, so that more "interesting" activities could be used to reinforce the concepts. But when the knowledge is missing, the activities must wait.

I spent 2.5 quarters using videos, Internet scavenger hunts, and reading/writing/lecture to pile up information in the minds of the students. They did not know what I was doing. They thought everything was "a mess" and a mass of disjointed junk. As the Wizard would say, A "clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk!"

But, the method to my madness was much like the Internet itself. It was a web of information, that on one hand seems disconnected, but on the other provides students the opportunities for analysis and synthesis...just not immediately.

For the past 4 weeks, in preparation for our state mandated, federal authorized CRCT test, we have put the information together to create knowledge. It has worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I think it is because our Standards were not approved by the state until October/November, so we sort of flew in the dark for 1/3 of the year.

I call my process Inductive Teaching. It is like the comedian telling a punchline joke. At the end, the punchline gives the setup meaning.

With Inductive Teaching, you set up the students with information; information that seems unrelated, yet in the hands of the "one who knows" it can be a long-awaited reward (delayed gratification, if you will). To see light bulbs turn on when students put together information from a video, a movie, a newspaper article, a class conversation, a lecture, a web search, a map, an assigned reading, a memory, a TV show on Discovery is what every teacher hopes to see.

Our problem as teachers is we expect to see light bulbs every day. I think that is not possible in middle grades. We talk about how our kids expect things right away, and how they should understand delayed gratification, but we get discouraged when students are trying to synthesize the pieces of information that we throw at them, and sometimes angry when they "don't get it."

Inductive teaching only works when you know the end result you seek. (Without the Standards firmly in place at the start of the year, I was unsure of the results I needed.) Everything you do takes you to that end. But, unlike UBD, that expects it with every lesson, and therefore causes many teacher unwarranted critique, Inductive Teaching allows you time to develop critical background information and experiences. Inductive teaching allows students the opportunity gain information that is necessary for them to be creative, innovative, and use imaginations that are based in reality, not Hollywood.

Posted via email from rrmurry's posterous


At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Stephen Rahn said...

This is fantastic. I might mention this on my blog if that's cool with you.

At 3:51 PM, Blogger Ric Murry said...


You have my permission. Go forward, and thanks.

It's funny how so things catch the attention of people. I've gotten several emails, a Twitter or two, and this response.

This is a work in progress for me. I have been toying with the idea of Inductive Teaching for a while. It is not a process for the timid, because you have to truly be willing to wait for results. That's not a popular approach in this era. We want pre-test, teach, post-test on a consistent basis. Induction does not necessarily play into that philosophy.


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