Saturday, November 8, 2014

Grapes are a good thing.

 More than a week ago, I worked with a student applying to a boatload of Ivy League schools.  In my rural district, the number of students who choose to leave the county, let alone the state, for the challenges offered at a Princeton or Harvard is fairly small.  The completion of the application and the coordination of the (four) essays required seemed so daunting that as the November 1st 'Early Action' deadline seemed to be rushing at us like an express train.

At this particular institution, 22% of the early action applications will be accepted, vs. 10% of the total applicants this year.  In an effort to increase the odds, we pushed on through.  

When you have roughly 1500 words to explain your entire self to a prestigious college, you make every word count, and choose and refine your essays with impeccable precision.  It's easy to back down and not take the risk, thinking more time might make the application better.  

The submit button was pushed shortly after 3 pm on Halloween.  And now we wait.

The Te@chthought blog challenge for today:

Nov 8 Write about a memorable moment in the classroom and how it reminded you about why you love what you do.

In Gifted/Talented Land, encouraging risk-taking is a tough thingFear of ridicule from classmates, or not meeting the expectations on the rubric, or, GOD FORBID, getting a letter grade that might be SLIGHTLY ROUNDED instead of tent-shaped, are all reasons for living in the safe zone.

I often feel like the creepy old guy on the corner who winks and smiles.

So when gifted kids work on projects together, sometimes they let their hair down a little.  Often, the group projects suggested are the way out there -- and are tossed out more as a means to shock me in the hopes I will shoot them down.  But I don't work that way.

In fact, last week, I may have unwittingly joined ISIS, when I clicked on an app for my new Windows 8 computer and my librarian dared me to download the Juzz Amma - Shaikh Sudaism
 but I digress.

So last year, when three boys came to me proposing that they start their own salsa business as their independent study project, I pulled out the Ig Nobel theory, and applied it.  You see, they are looking to make me laugh, or shock me.  And I am looking to make them think.

Several years ago while examining the theme of Disney, and its effect on society, from archetypes to the socioeconomic influence the giant conglomerate has, the students were challenged to work in groups to create their own Disney-esque heroes.  There were friendly fish, animated playing cards, a dog-octopus (stolen, I found out, from Sheldon Cooper), and others.  But the most memorable -- and risky of all --

Gary the Grapist.
  The name was for shock value, I'm sure. I only wish I had the poster at home to photograph for the blog.  Gary, according to his creators, drives a white windowless refrigerated van, and promotes
healthy fruit consumption at playgrounds.  (Update - see to the right)

While the rest of the posters were displayed on the walls in my room, we posted Gary on the ceiling.  It was safer that way, and allowed me to keep my job and avoid answering a lot of questions.  
Because while I knew that the process and creation of Gary followed the creative guidelines of the project, there were probably others who wouldn't embrace the risk-taking nature of fifteen year old boys.  (There was a visit to that classroom by an administrator one time who sat directly under Gary's display spot, with every kid shifting gazes between said administrator and Gary while working on a schoolwide project.  These are the days that legends are made.)

The Salsa boys actually created a business plan, a commercial, a label, and some of the best homemade salsa I've ever had.

I'd like to think that my willingness to go out on a limb and let the kids push the envelope a bit helps to get them to think more deeply and become more engaged learners.  
I hope that ten years later, they aren't telling a story of "pulling one over" on Mrs. Heydt, and are, instead, realizing that they were learning to take risks in a safe place known as my classroom.

And how can I not, as an educator, LOVE that?