Sunday, September 25, 2016

Dumb Things Are Important


I think you're pretty neat. Thank you for stopping by.

So dumb things... If you wanna take the title as a complaint, you'll have a lot of ammunition to prove your point. In the education world, there are a lot of dumb rules and contradictory policies from the classroom level all the way up to the education policy makers. The problem, for me with this line of thinking is it's not what I do well. I mean, yeah, I can complain, and I can point fingers, but I'm not good at railing against things effectively. I'm much better at talking about the things that make me happy. When I start focusing on the negatives too much, I tend to swerve headfirst into them, and then I miss all of the good stuff. This doesn't stop me from cursing things that are terrible, it's just that I don't know how to fix the bad, so I focus on making the good.

And for me, just as much as the things that we all know are good, I believe that there's a lot of really great Dumb stuff that makes life so much better. Because this is my space to go all, "Blah blah blah," about education, this is about how important it is to do Dumb stuff in the classroom.

To keep everyone together, I'm using Dumb to describe things that seem pointless, are often silly, sometimes distracting, and occasionally a waste of time. A lot of people can certainly get behind silly, but pointless doesn't usually have buyers in the education marketplace. Distractions and wastes of time are things that we're supposed to minimize and ferret out.

But maybe they're not?

Every day, when I take attendance, I play a game with the student names. I pick something (this is not a specific rule or plan, it's always spontaneous) to modify their names. Initially, this was something I did to amuse myself while doing a dull, daily task, but the kids enjoy it, too. Some days I rename them as animals (or vegetables, fruits, cars, countries) with the same first letter as their name. I've flipped the gender of their names, called them out like a basketball announcer, used bad foreign accents to pronounce their names, pronounced their names backward, given them royal titles, I try to vary this a lot so it doesn't get boring. When I'm having trouble thinking of something, I call them out by their middle names.

As a practice, you could say that there's a purpose here - it's creating fun, it's making the kids laugh, it's creating a positive mood, but other than that, there's nothing. And that's the beautiful thing about being deliberately Dumb - it clears the palate. It's game playing that stretches out our brains while acting as a release valve from all of the super important stuff we're supposed to be doing.

Steven Universe
I recently bought an afro wig - not as a practice of cultutral appropriation, that's tacky and insensitive - but because I was looking into putting together a Steven Universe Halloween costume. Unfortunately, when I tried it on, it looked stupid on me. So of course, I did the only thing you should do with such an item. No, I didn't take it back to Target, I stuffed it with old t-shirts, and used zip ties to close it up. A little hot glue, some googly eyes, and now we have a classroom friend named Reynaldo who hides in a different spot each day. I'm sure that I could have my students write stories about Reynaldo (where does he come from, what does he do when we're not there, what does he eat (fingers! stay away from his mouth!)), there's no real point. He's fun. It's a dumb game to play. Where's Reynaldo today? Did anyone find Reynaldo yet?

Andrew wrote about Reynaldo on his Seesaw Journal
Okay, again, maybe there is a purpose here. Shared experiences create culture. Building memories together - especially silly ones - creates bonds between people that last a lifetime. We look back at the times in life when we laughed. Mapping out your life and relationships with memories of laughter is a powerful and positive way to reflect. Okay, so maybe I'm helping my students with that, and maybe I'm even showing them how to create those parts in their own lives. But seriously, we're just being Dumb!

Another thing that Dumb play does for kids is to free them to be more open, more confident that they're in a safe space. On Friday, when we clicked 'Today's Event,' in Classcraft, it said that the player (student) with the lowest XP got to choose a song  for the Gamemaster (me) to sing. This had some really cool aspects to it. First of all, the student with the lowest number of Experience Points is the kid who's struggling to play the game of our classroom the most. Maybe it's someone who doesn't have a good record of taking up opportunity, maybe it's someone who's always a little behind. Either way, it's a cool way of drawing in a student who could be doing better. Next, having a kid pick the song is great because our music overlap isn't strong. I'm in my early forties, they're eight. Chances are that it's gonna be a song I've never heard before. The song that got picked was Fight Song (which I'd heard enough watching the Democratic Convention this summer). That led to the best part of all - Fight Song, an anthem of empowerment - doesn't fit with my voice at all. I'm not a very skillful singer to begin with, but I knew I couldn't nail it without being a buffoon. Opportunities for buffoonery are important for teachers. They humanize you. They teach your kids that respect works better when it comes from liking and caring about someone than when it's just fulfilling an expectation based on hierarchy. They teach students that it's okay to look silly if you're all in on the joke. Also - they give the kids a chance to laugh their butts off, and that's really important.

The last thing I want to share is Stupid Homework. On Friday afternoons, we brainstorm until we come up with something that sounds really stupid. That Really Stupid Thing becomes their homework. We've only done it twice, but so far, we've had a good time. The first one happened organically. I was joking around with them at dismissal, and said that we had homework for the weekend (Awwwwww). I wanted them to do something stupid that wasn't dangerous and wouldn't get them in trouble. That day's brainstorming session came up with: Put whipped cream or shaving cream around your mouth and run around yelling, "I have rabies!" Do that and send me a video, and I'll give you a ton of gold in Classcraft, I told them. We only got a couple, but it cracked everyone up on Monday. This weekend's stupidity is pretty simple - wear an outfit of mom or dad's clothes and take a picture. It's nothing too extravagant or ridiculous, but it's something that'll make the kids (and hopefully their parents) laugh, and make them excited to come back to school on Monday.

Investing a little time in being Dumb with your students is powerful. It builds culture. It scrubs stress from your classroom. It aids creative thinking. Really, being Dumb intentionally is a game. The rules don't always make sense, but that's okay because the points aren't important. It's not about winning or losing, it's about laughing. And THAT is why Dumb things are important.

Now go be Dumb in your space!

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