This is embarrassing. My students in Cell and Molecular Biology are working harder than ever and my time spent in SCALE-UP are some of the happiest hours of my day. Each week, the students validate the pedagogy. Give students the keys and they will drive. They will take you on an educational journey you could never plan or even imagine. So what is the matter? Well, and this is not the first time I’ve done this, I decided to bring these progressive educational practices to my other students – my third grade Sunday School class.
The topic was virtue, which seemed both fuzzy and dry for a third grader. I wanted them to own virtue, to taste it. But how do to that with a group of little rowdies who have been known to draw Indiana Jones and Tony Hawk into the Nativity scene. Then I had my inspiration… superheroes.
I told the class that they were going to create their own superheroes today. Their superhero could have any superpower they wanted, but they also had to possess a virtue. The rule was that to retain the superpower, the hero had to consistently exercise his or her virtue. Lose the virtue, lose the power. What a lesson plan! I was enabling my students to construct knowledge .. and virtue, in the most tangible of ways. It would be active learning at its best.
The activity started well enough. We brainstormed an impressive list of virtues – honesty, integrity, generosity, faith, etc…. as well as a starter set of superpowers – the ability to fly, to become invisible, to shape shift. We had all the bases covered. Then I handed out the paper and markers and my class got busy. They worked themselves up into quite a fervor of creativity and virtue.
After they finished, it was time to share. Sharing time started out well enough. The first superhero was a shapeshifter who was always kind. The next was “butterfly girl” who could fly but never told a lie. Then it was Billy’s turn. (His name has been changed for his mom’s sake). His superhero was kind, honest, brave, faithful and generous. “That is excellent Billy”, I said. “But what is his superpower?” “Sonic farting”, Billy replied. I was sure I hadn’t heard him correctly so I asked him to repeat himself. “SONIC FARTING”, he said in a superhero-sized voice. This was wrong, terribly wrong. I’d been to many seminars on active learning, even presented at some myself. No one ever discussed what to do when your student chose sonic farting as a superpower. I had to think fast. “Billy”, I said. “I’m sorry but there is no way that your superhero could be virtuous while using that superpower. You’ll have to think of something else.” “But, Miss Jill,” Billy said. “Instead of killing bad people, my superhero just stuns them with his gas and they are powerless.” What could I say? He had me.
So big kids, please be patient with me this week. I may be a bit more hesitant than I usually am about handing over the reigns of learning. I don’t want to stifle anybody, but I’ve had a long week and it’s only Sunday. So please be gentle with me. Otherwise, I might have to unleash one of my superpowers on you.