Thursday, 1 November 2012

Embracing Our "Inner Weird"

I'm constantly amazed by the amazing sense of humour and enthusiasm that my elementary school students have.  I shared many funny moments with my students as a secondary school teacher, but this unfiltered, class-wide enthusiasm is something new and fantastic!  Our first read-aloud book of the year was Nerd Camp, the story of a boy who goes to a camp for gifted children while trying to convince his future stepbrother that he's cool.  I thought that it was a great way to start off discussions about who we are, being ourselves, and avoiding labels as we began to form a sense of community in class.  I wasn't expecting the level of enthusiasm that would follow!  A group of students began memorizing the digits of Pi because the protagonist did so; this group will now eat up (haha) any math challenge that involves using Pi to solve a problem.  It's awesome and hilarious!  I always say that "Nerd is the new cool" and it really seems to be the case as they proudly declare that they're "nerds" like the protagonist in the book.  I don't know that it's ever going to be necessary for them to know the digits of Pi, but I love their enthusiasm!  One of my favourite discussions that followed Nerd Camp was when I asked the class "What are you a nerd about?" and they shared things that make them become extremely enthusiastic experts: video games, math, reading, dance, etc.

A couple of weeks ago, the class entered the room in one of THOSE moods.  They were silly and quirky and generally awesome, but their energy level was SO high that they were completely unable to focus on anything.  We were expecting a TOC as I had a couple of IEP meetings to attend so, in a moment of silliness, I drew a "Weird Dial" on the board with an arrow pointing toward "High."  I told the class that this was our current level and that we needed to turn it down a little before the guest teacher arrived so that they could focus on the task at hand.  Then, I erased the arrow and placed it between "medium" and "low."  In high school, this might have received a few laughs and (a few eye rolls) before the students moved on.

That is not the case in elementary school.  I am finding that my moments of silliness turn into full-blown class-wide trends for weeks (and months!) after the fact.

They LOVED it!  The next day, a couple of students created this:
I have to admit that I thought their creation was hilarious.  A unicorn is the class mascot so, naturally, "Unicorn Weird" is the most extreme and excellent sort of weird that a person can be.  Of course, I realized later that I may not want to have that up when parents or guests walk in!  "Weird" is certainly not an insult in that context.  Likewise, when we say that students are "geeking out" over a math problem, it's a beautiful thing!  But, to an outside eye or ear, the "geek friendly" language that has developed in our class is probably a little odd.

You would think that I had learned my lesson from that but, less than a week later, I did it again.  A student wrote, "Hi Ms. Jakse!" on the palm of her hand and secretly opened her fist so that I could see it.  I laughed and quickly drew a "finger mustache" on mine then showed it off the next time she looked over.

If you think that things "go viral" on the internet, you've never seen a finger mustache spread through a grade six and seven classroom.  I had never seen a "finger goatee" or "finger unibrow" before, but I saw a few that day!

As we work on community building, I have been really encouraging students to recognize their unique qualities and embrace the differences they observe in one another.  I suppose that embracing my own weird sense of humour, and allowing some silly tangents to run their course, is a good start.

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