“Is it getting hot in here?”

The other day in class, we were having a discussion about stars and color and temperature. But since most of the kids were looking silently at their laps, I knew their interest was fading fast. (Which is surprising, since they voted by a landslide to study astronomy in the 4th quarter.)

So to get the kids’ attention, I got up on the teacher desk at the front of the room. Then I stood on my hands and farted fire. No, I didn’t merely light one on fire. I literally farted fire. (Lucky for me, I keep a change of clothes at school — just in case.)

And the biggest reaction I got was from a student, who, without even  looking up from his lap said, “Is it getting hot in here?”

And then another said, “What’s with the sudden breeze? Can someone close the window?”


It seems that, at this time of year, any attempt at whole-class discussion is a recipe for failure. Any advice?

6 responses to ““Is it getting hot in here?”

  1. Same place here. I have had limited success with having them watch Dan Meyer 3act videos and turning them into goal less problems. Maybe we should reserve the last week before finals to do practicums? Wish me luck tomorrow when we listen to the radio lab show on colors!

  2. Perhaps discussion in small groups or pairs, with an engaging question and report back? I’ve heard that this is oft-given advice in the case of whole-group discussion failure.

  3. Variety. Labs. My end-of-the-year run takes us through light and wave optics: mirages, rainbows, blue skies, disco glasses, CD grooviness, and such. But I’m a benevolent dictator who decides where the course is going and when it’ll get there. Giving them each a pair $0.75 of disco glasses turns otherwise jaded seniors into giddy 4th-graders.

    It’s a tough time of year for robust student engagement/participation. Not your fault.

    • Variety. Labs. Yes, but why? What does the research say?

      Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, examines the question of engagement in a book he wrote in 1990 called “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”. His research team and other colleagues interviewed thousands of people in many cultures worldwide. They found that in all different types of cultures, people are happy when they are focusing their attention totally on the task that they are doing, when they are doing that activity for its own sake, when they are absorbed in a goal for which they have sufficient skills, and when they are struggling to overcome a realistic challenge. In these conditions they reported that their inner consciousness feels more clear, and they perceive it as a kind of flowing.

      He wrote, “The more a job inherently resembles a game – with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback – the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.”

      His ideas can be used to improve education, since school is the job of students.

      In Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s words: “The optimal state of inner experience is one in which there is order in consciousness. This happens when psychic energy – or attention – is invested in realistic goals, and when skills match the opportunities for action. The pursuit of a goal brings order in awareness because a person must concentrate attention on the task at hand and momentarily forget everything else. These periods of struggling to overcome challenges are what people find to be the most enjoyable times of their lives.”

      He wrote, “‘Flow’ is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake”. He added, “One of the most frequently mentioned dimensions of the flow experience is that, while it lasts, one is able to forget all the unpleasant aspects of life….enjoyable activities require a complete focusing of attention on the task at hand…”

      How do they do it? From his thousands of interviews with workers in many cultures, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi found that in all cases where people transformed hard, boring, repetitive, unglamorous work into enjoyable, flow-producing activities, they did it “by recognizing opportunities for action where others did not, by developing skills, by focusing on the activity at hand, and allowing themselves to be lost in the interaction.” These people “in the flow” reported that they felt as though, as a consequence, they had freely chosen their work.

      These people changed severe constraints into opportunities for expressing their freedom and creativity. But what about people who don’t know how to do this? Dr. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that jobs be changed so that they are more conducive to flow. He describes the characteristics of such a flow-producing job: “The more a job inherently resembles a game – with variety, appropriate and flexible challenges, clear goals, and immediate feedback – the more enjoyable it will be regardless of the worker’s level of development.”

      So Dr. Csikszentmihalyi suggests that to improve the quality of life through work, we need two strategies. First, redesign jobs so that they are more conducive to flow; and second, teach people to see opportunities for action, to hone their skills, and to set reachable goals. Teachers, take heed: the same ideas can be used to improve education, since school is the job of students.

  4. I’d say, “Feed them, man!” Food energizes them and your chances of catching their attention should increase.

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