Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Choosing to be a Unicorn

 It was nearing the end of the month, and I was putting together the schedule of options and opportunities for my junior high students in Giftedland.  We do our best to offer a variety of offerings, spanning time commitments as little as a single 35 minute block to projects and competitions that demand months of time.  Our program is a pull-out program, meaning that the students will be missing instruction elsewhere to participate in the enrichment offerings in our room.

TED Talks always provide an interesting framework for discussion, and the kids enjoy the quirkiness of knowing something new.  The site has expanded, exponentially, now that TED has swelled to include TED X and TED Ed components on their list, so I turned to the "top viewed" and "humor" recommendations for inspiration to share with my 7th and 8th graders.

"How a Dead Duck Changed My Life."  How could this NOT be wonderful?  7th Graders study birds, (curricular tie ins are always a plus), AND it's listed in the humor section, (always good for promoting the discussion).

Suffice it to say, it was NOT something I chose to share with middle schoolers.  Lord knows that I would have needed MUCH more than 35 minutes to handle the resulting discussion, and I probably would have needed union representation when the parents began calling the office.  The video did provide me with knowledge about the Ig Nobel prizes, however, and I was able to introduce THAT concept to the Junior High kids -- and they are working on their own ideas for nominations!

Share a TED Talk that you found useful/ interesting/ inspiring, and share why.

 TED Talks have been such an integral part of the offerings in my classroom in recent memory, that it is difficult for me to believe that there are educators out there that have never heard of this amazing resource.  In Giftedland, the discovery of a non-profit that focuses on "ideas worth spreading" is akin to discovering a closet full of previously undiscovered, virginal classroom supplies in their original wrappings.  

Dead ducks and breathing apparatus aside, (see hyperlinks above), the hands-down favorite TED Talk is The Happy Secret to Better Work, by Shawn Achor.  It was first sent to me in a link by my technology coach -- and it's easy to see why, if you take the time to watch it.  For me, the fact that it contained the possibility of learning to be a unicorn was a major plus.  (My people truly celebrate the unicorn-ness of everything.)  We watched, we discussed, and we explored some positive psychology techniques, all of which increased happiness, discussion skills, and student organization immensely.  Really.

The following summer I was sitting in a curriculum development course at the University of Connecticut.  Teachers of the Gifted (TOG) dread these sorts of courses because the directive in the syllabus is to bring teaching manuals to class to assist in developing curriculum.  Math teachers bring math texts, English teachers come with a stack of novels -- you get the idea.  They have a specific focus or subject, and well, TOGs do not have this luxury.

After mulling it over, I decided to write curriculum on Happiness.  Using the Achor's TED Talk as the springboard, activating strategy, I am able to introduce the who, what, when, where, and why of positive psychology.  My students spend a semester in Themes in Literature, reviewing the literature on happiness, studying their own levels, and work to improve not only their levels, but the levels of those around them.  The intrinsic rewards are phenomenal, and the letters to their future selves reminding them of what they've discovered is truly important, are priceless.  I can't wait to mail them to them in 7 years.

Take the time.  Learn to be a unicorn.  Or at least consider why you should.  And then try to define happiness for yourself.  For me, happiness is often TED, because it gives me quality information and ignites passion in my students.

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