Thursday, December 1, 2011

The gift before the holidays

We are down to the last few classes of the semester and I don't have time to start a new unit. My classes are semester-long classes, so I need some quality ideas around which to plan my last few classes before the end. As students take time off to complete college applications, study for the SAT, and due to sickness, these lessons would ideally be self-contained, one block lessons.

My perfect solution has come in the form of TED talks. I have been a great fan of TED Talks since introduced to them by @kdsl at a professional development session about two years ago. Adora Svitak hooked me and I've been using TED talks with students ever since.

The first TED talk lesson we did this week was a talk by Malcolm Gladwell "The Strange Case of the Norden Bombsight." The talk tells of the creator of a device created to guide bombs accurately from planes to their target. As in all intriguing stories, there are twists and turns as the story unravels. The consequences are unexpected and unintended.

With my juniors and seniors, I began the lesson by asking students to spend some time considering questions about consequences. I asked them to define consequence, think about how consideration of consequences affected their choices, how often they think we accurately predict consequences, whether or not we predict consequences better or worse than they really are, and what unintended consequences are. I shared some stories from my life of unintended consequences. These were light stories that were not meant as moral lesson but more of a "you don't know what's going to happen when you....." type of story.

We then watched Gladwell's video. Students then had a few further questions to consider cooperatively and as a whole class in discussion. We ended with students brainstorming inventions that may have had unintended consequences.

The class was not necessarily something someone with a PhD in Philosophy would have immediately recognized as a Philosophy class, but as a Philosophy teacher - as any kind of teacher - my first priority is to get my students thinking. They were able to hear a story and share with one another ideas that they had in response to the story. They thought about a few things in a new way today. These last few periods before Christmas break are not wasted. In fact, this freedom to start something short that we don't have to finish up in a rush, it's a gift.

Here's the Gladwell video


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