Monthly Archives: September 2010

the world is your lab

Introduction to Anthropology, Sociology, and Psychology is affectionately known around my school as “SAP.” But lest the title throw you off, you won’t find any mawkishness or naivete in Ms. Antflick’s class – I’m hoping for some serious, bare knuckled inquiry. The grade 11s can handle it.

I gave a lot of thought to this course before the school year began, and my colleagues and I came up with a great course outline, structured around several BIG QUESTIONS about humanity. I was going into September feeling pretty good about the whole thing. But the boss’s words were bouncing around my skull: “They make up their minds about you in the first 45 seconds.” Gulp. I brainstormed, refined, scrapped, and reworked that first lesson for a week. Then, sitting in a traffic jam chewing on my cuticles one afternoon after a particularly grueling day spent wrassling for a chance to use the photocopier, I had an idea.

I’d make them study me.

Subject EA

I wrote on the board:  Please have a seat and look at the handout in front of you. On each of their desks was a handout beginning with the following invitation:

“Dear social scientist in training:

Our school has been asked to participate in an important social scientific study, and you have been recruited as research assistants. This study will begin today and continue until June, 2011. You will be collecting qualitative data in an attempt to understand Subject EA in terms of her behaviour, the way she is socialized, and her role in various social groups and institutions.

Please have a seat and observe the subject in front of you (Subject EA). You may get up and examine the artifacts associated with her. Please do not attempt to talk to or interact with Subject EA. You have 10 minutes to complete your research.”

There was a chart underneath with a few questions. I brought in a bunch of artifacts – a can of tennis balls, my ipod, my MA thesis, a canoe paddle, etc. I displayed them on the table in front of me, Then I sat there, silently, for over 10 minutes. Imagine! 10 minutes of silence on the first day of school – amidst all the “do this, don’t do that” course overview blah blah. I walked around, purposely biting my nails and twirling my hair, bopping to the music on my ipod (I’m pretty sure it was DOOM), crossing my ankles on the desk. I refused to talk to them or answer their questions.

Not only did they do it enthusiastically and wholeheartedly, they even asked for more time to fill in the worksheet! I overheard a couple of students discussing my outfit in detail, “Yeah, high waisted gray pants and…are those wedges? Yeah, black wedges.”

They totally got it. The spirit of inquiry was in the air – students were discussing their observations with one another, getting up and approaching the desk, examining the artifacts, scrutinizing my behaviour. It was fascinating for me to be observed, and to observe the way the students handled the task. In our debriefing, they made insightful comments about why they thought I did the activity and what it was all about.

This lesson served several purposes. It set the tone for the year – the students learned that this is going to be a course unlike anything they’ve taken before, and it’s going to be up to them to observe and inquire and figure the damn thing out. Second, it was a good diagnostic. For example, I learned that when you ask teenagers what social group someone belongs to, you are likely to get answers like “popular” or “the sporty clique.” It drove the point home that the world is our lab and that the social sciences are all about examining the world and ourselves.

Here’s the handout I gave them – Handout: HSP3M Intro


one down

01 by kid grandios

01 by kid grandios

I survived the first day of school

(photo: 01 from the ONEHUNDRED series by kid grandios)

“(insert quote here)”

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to schlepp up to school (I haven’t even begun teaching at a Jewish school and already I’m peppering my speech pretty heavily with yiddishisms) to decorate my classroom. If there’s one thing I’m good at – besides, I hope, teaching – it’s making a blank room feel like home. After living in my apartment for a month, it looked like I had been here for a decade. When I taught ESL this summer, the first activity I did was an acronym poem that involved multicoloured construction paper and collage. We taped the colourful poems all over the chalky drywall and the room was instantly transformed. We nearly forgot that we were in a former chocolate factory surrounded by heavy construction…nearly.

But that’s a story for another night.

I don’t have my own classroom this year. I am sharing two classrooms with a number of other teachers, so I have to be respectful of their space, but I’m hoping they won’t mind a little colour, some thought provoking quotes, a little mind/eye candy. I ordered a Toronto neighbourhood map poster from Ork.

Part of my mission this year – as a geography teacher but also as a bit of a personal crusade – is to get these quasi-suburban kids to love their city! I think this poster (and my nonstop Toronto chauvinism) will help.

I have a couple more posters – a nice one on the UN Declaration of Human Rights that I got as swag from the recent Facing History and Ourselves seminar.

Tonight, cooling down from a pleasant nighttime bike ride to Trinity Bellwoods with Heather, I plopped on my living room floor and wrote out a bunch of quotes that I want to hang around my classrrooms. I found them flipping through some of my favourite books or surfing online. Some of them relate to English or to literature. Some are social-science oriented. Some geography. All on colourful construction paper.

Here are a few of them:

“History is the gradual instant” (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces)

“Public parks hazy with subtropical memory, a city built in the bowl of a prehistoric lake.” (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces)

“One can look deeply for meaning or one can invent it.” (Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces)

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought” (Albert Seznt-Gyorgyi)

“How we humans came to be the way we are is far less important than how we should act now to get out of the mess we have made for ourselves” (Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope)

“Before the real city could be seen it had to be imagined” (Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion)

“The first sentence of every novel should be: “Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.”” (Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion)

“…a technique common to liars and writers of fiction: to give credibility to invented details by blending them with factual ones.” (Michael Chabon, Maps and Legends)

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
Are of imagination all compact.  (William Shakespeare, “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”)

“If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free minds is not a barking dog, to be tethered to a ten-foot chain” (Adlai E. Stevenson)

“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.” (Galileo Galilei)

“The only possible conclusion the social sciences can draw is: some do, some don’t. “(Ernest Rutherford)

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.” (Stephen King)

“Either our lives become stories, or there’s just no way to get through them.” (Douglas Coupland, Generation X)

‘There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.” (Salvador Dali)

and finally…

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

(Ferris Bueller)

Teachers: which quotes do you put on your walls?