The first few weeks of school are like the early rounds of a boxing match. The fighters circle each other and throw a few scout punches to see how the opponent will react. If the pugilistic espionage is met with an offensive move, then the fighter can understand how to defend and later attack his enemy. The start of a school year is similar in that the teacher and students must get to know each other. The dynamics of the relationship of everyone in the classroom is more important than the skills of the teacher or the acumen of the students.
Jack knew this and liked to take his time getting to know his students. He would throw ideas at them just to get a reaction. With the younger students getting that reaction was easy. He could push their buttons just by mentioning anything that went against the culture that had been shoved into their heads for their previous eight years in school. He would ask them why rules were stupid? They would nearly get out their seats to explain how unjust life was in the eyes of a teenager.
On this day, Jack decided to push a button. As he started to explain the focus of the class and how it would relate to the students’ lives, he stopped, looked at them with a pained face, and asked, “What do y’all think of PIOUS?”
The groaning started right away. Jack felt the angst rising and all he had to do was wait for the frustration to supersede their fear of answering in the way they figured he would want to hear. The fighters stalked each other and stared, neither wanting to throw another punch.
Finally, Bob said, “Why are all the teachers doing this? I hate listening to how this is going to effect my life.”
“Yeah,” said Millie. “Can’t we just take some notes and then the test. My mom says none of this will matter when I go to college anyway.”
Jack stepped around the desk, “Why do you think she says that?”
“I don’t know. She just says that we will probably forget what we learned in high school and then we’ll learn new stuff in college.”
Jack leaned towards Millie and lowered his voice to a loud whisper, “Your mom is wise. Go home and thank her.”
The class looked stunned as if a straight right had hit them right in the nose. They were trying to figure out if a teacher had just told them that school was a waste of time. This went against everything they had ever been told. Sensing their confusion, Jack knew this was the time to reconnect the circuits in their discombobulated minds.
“PIOUS is a strategy to help students make sense of what they are learning. It’s a scripted program that attempts to make connections between what you are learning and how it might be used in real life.”
Rodney asked, “Dr. Rice, when will I ever have an egg carton in my pocket to help me count change.”
Everyone laughed. It seemed that a math teacher had made a big deal of teaching money using egg cartons when this group was in elementary school. The lesson was not her most popular, but Jack saw a chance to go “gotcha” on his class.
“That was a pretty Disney trick, but it’s a teaching strategy that has some good qualities.”
“Like what?” asked Rodney.
“First, it helped to teach you about different values of money. The egg carton was just a way to help you sort the money so that you could see the amounts of change. Second, and I think this more important, it created a memory about school that each of you can share.”
“Memories aren’t tested, Doc,” said Bob.
“True, but memories are the basis for learning. Look, if you can remember the ridiculousness of that lesson and remember the reason that your teacher was using that trick, then you have committed your brain to making a connection. That is learning.”
Had they been in a ring, the students’ knees would have been buckling. They were ready for the knockout punch.
“PIOUS is just another trick. The key is you. What will you choose to remember? Will you see everything as stupid? Will you seek to make those connections so the content finds a connection to you. You will make those connections for no other reason other than because you have made it important. Then again, you may decide that some things are not important and the connections won’t be made.”
“Like my mom,” said Millie.
“Maybe, she may have just forgotten most of the stuff. She is getting old, you know. Oops, did I say that out loud. Each of you knows about forgetting in school. It’s like what happens when the bell rings and I don’t see you again for a couple of days. Many of you forget what we talked about in just that short time. What’s important is that you start finding the memories and asking yourself why you remember them. The connections will happen, then you won’t ever have to worry about egg cartons or PIOUS again.”
Several days passed and Jack received an email from Allen. The message was short and the tone was aggressive.