I always wondered if teachers know when they are getting distracted or off topic. My children joke at the dinner table about how easy it is to get some teachers to completely derail from their lesson plan. I have often puzzled as to how this is possible and just figured that things are somehow inherently different in the science classroom compared to other classrooms. Does Science just not lend itself to distraction?
Today, however, I discovered how diversion happens. I took my 6th graders outside to collect data for their ecology unit. They were making observations to determine the organisms in our local neighborhood in order to ultimately build an energy pyramid of the surrounding area. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, which is highly unusual for the Netherlands. What a joy it was to walk out in the sun. All of us were relishing the opportunity to be outside on such a perfect spring day. The students were so engaged in discovery and recording their findings. They were looking high and low, far and wide, and with the use of their magnifying glasses, they were also looking close-up. Their tables were filling with useful information for their forthcoming energy pyramids.
I was scanning the group when I noticed a pair intently bent over their magnifying glasses. I approached them eager to see what small creature they were studying. Well, I must admit I was slightly amused when I realized these boys were trying to start a fire on a dried up leaf with their magnifying glasses. While I appreciated the science they were immersing themselves in, I decided our ecology data collection time was drawing to a close. So, I gathered the students and we headed slowly back to the school, savoring the sunny day as we strolled.
A couple of boys who were a bit ahead of the group engaged in the fire making process again. We came upon them as the threads of smoke curled up underneath the magnifying glass. Other students asked for a magnifying glass and then I just couldn’t resist them anymore. Maybe I didn’t want to go inside either. So I made it official. I gave them all an additional 5 minutes with the magnifying glasses and the sun. Each and every student, girls and boys, reached for a magnifying glass and eagerly attempted the fire making process. The moment was glorious. The students were so excited. The sun was warming our skin. It just felt so good. I knew we were distracted. I knew this didn’t have anything to do with energy pyramids but I just had to let them continue. I was additionally surprised at how effective those little plastic student magnifying glasses were.
Finally, I told them it was, indeed, time to go inside and they obliged me. I managed to get them through the gate when someone noticed the bark from the playground and the fire making inquiry started all over again. Again, I knew we were distracted. I knew we were off task. I knew we were totally off track. I looked at the time. I weighed the pros and cons. I decided to give them the additional moments in the sun.
After another ten minutes we finally returned to the classroom, several children clutching pieces of bark engraved with their initials by the sun. I was amazed at how quickly the students returned to our lesson topic and immediately entered their data into the class Google shared document. They actually had more data than the previous year’s class. It was satisfying to see the data fill in. By the end of class we had reached my minimum goal for the day.
So, I did it. I succumbed to distraction. And why, you might ask? Because it was fun.