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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Talking Education: A Virtual Workshop for Innovations

This past Friday four of the top comedians in the world sat down and had a conversation about comedy for the HBO special, "Talking Funny." Jerry Seinfeld, Rickey Gervais, Chris Rock, and Louis CK discussed and shared their craft for roughly an hour on a faux living room set. Now, I am not one of those educators that feel there is a hidden message about education in everything I watch, listen to, or read. However, educators can learn a lot from comedians. Our jobs run parallel.

The Idea Process

The show started with the four comedians discussing their acts. Seinfeld asked his contemporaries about the idea process in comedy. More specifically, Seinfeld wanted to know how long it took for an idea to evolve into something that would be worthy of the act. C.K. was the first to respond by saying, "There's a weird, almost a fruit-like process to it for me. It gets ripe and then it starts rotting a bit for me."

This response was my first inclination that comedians are not that far off from teachers. I think we have all had a really great idea that we are eager to integrate into our class, or share with others. But that idea eventually starts to sour, or as C.K. put it, rot. The logical next step of the idea process would be to throw that fruit out and start new. Right? Or, should we try and find that same piece of fruit and evolve it into something new? Maybe a fruit salad or one of those ridiculous fruit bouquets.

Honing in on Your Act

The next topic focused on each comedian's act. It was thread that each comedian built around for the remainder of the show. Seinfeld provoked the conversation by saying, "When I go to see an act, I don't want to see your new hour, I want to see the act." Chris Rock immediately jumped in and disagreed along with Louis C.K. who both said they seek to present new material each time they are on stage. C.K. continued by saying he throws away his act every year. Rock agreed, and seeks to make each of his shows different from the last. Seinfeld responded by evoking Jack Welch and said that he cuts out about 10 to 20 percent of the bottom of his act each year and blends the old stuff with the new material. Finally, the question surfaced whether or not an audience was coming to see the comedian or the act. Gervais interjected by reminding us that an audience is coming to see Jerry Seinfeld, it's an event.

As this dialogue between the four comedic giants evolved, I started to realize that there are many parallels between education and comedy. While each comedian made a relevant point about his act, it's the blending of each that makes sense in the world of education. Have you ever thought about your act in the classroom? Do you consider it an act? Or are you simply recycling the same show year after year?

The answer lies somewhere between what each comedian said. While it may not be the best idea to throw away your act every year, as C.K. suggested, it may make more sense for you to take Seinfeld's approach and cut the bottom 10 to 20 percent of your act out each year and evolve the old material. This is not to say that C.K. is wrong, but he is simply challenging himself to create something new for an eager audience. Educators should be accepting of the same challenge. Each method works and allows room for plenty of innovative teaching, but those examples of innovative teaching are not surfacing. Unlike the comedian, we are not sharing our new act with the audience.

Seeking Examples of Innovation

Educators are thirsty for more innovative teaching ideas. We hear the word innovation all of the time, but rarely see it in action. Every conference I attended in the past three years included some topic or keynote on innovation, but beyond the buzzwords and engaging presentations, there is a lack of rich examples. So where are they?

Innovative ideas are out there, but they are not being shared enough. Last week I attempted to make a small dent in the "innovation in the classroom" discussion by sharing a new approach to the five-paragraph essay I was trying in my college composition course. It was far from anything epic, but I simply wanted to put the idea out there and see what others had to say. I received great responses from my network, and even invited some of you in to share your thoughts and resources on my students' Google Docs. The response was more than I anticipated.

So today I am leaving you with a challenge: share your innovative ideas here. Get up on stage and tell us what you are doing. Show us examples and ask us for input. In Talking Funny, Louis C.K said that it is a challenge to leave behind your old act, but you rise to the occasion. This is my challenge to you, the education community. Rise to the occasion and share what you are doing.

I will be dedicating my next few blog posts at Edutopia to showcase innovative practices in the classroom. If you have an idea you would like to share please do so in the comments below. Or, you can fill out this form and I will work with you privately.

I look forward to collaborating with you on these innovations; I'll present some of them on my next post.

Comments (7)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal
Facilitator 2014

Or can Higher Ed folks play too? I'm currently working on taking our high-touch Critical Skills Program into an online format using more technology. I'm pretty good with technology on a personal level, but a lot of instructional technology has emerged since I was last in the classroom. My innovation has to do with learning how to teach teachers to use the tools (social media, interactive white boards, web-based presentation tools, etc) to push themselves and their students to solve meaningful, real-world problems based in their existing curricula. I know lots of teachers who have the tech, but so many use them as glorified overheads and worksheets. That last part (the problem-solving part) is Critical Skills as it's always been. The technology and online piece as a part of how we do it? That's the new thing.

Laura Anderson's picture
Laura Anderson
Second grade, So. Cal, married to a deaf guy (he's a teacher also)

I agree that we need to continually "clean out" our toolbox and bring in new ideas...I may not come up with the best ideas on my own, but I know what is worth copying and stealing...LOL...I was inspired by the Brain Research webinar posted yesterday on Edutopia...tomorrow, as an extension activity to teaching 2nd graders their 10 times tables, I'm dumping a big box of popsicle sticks on the rug and having them count them...I've already taught them that multipliction is just a fast way to count a large amount of stuff...now they can put it to use. We'll bundle them in tens and then see what they come up with...maybe someone will suggest we make pile of hundreds?? Anyway, it is a great kinesthetic PBL activity that I'm really excited to intro.

R.H.J.'s picture
R.H.J.
Retired after 43 years teaching from K-12; currently part time technology t

Teaching history and mathematics are the two subjects in which I was most innovative. Here is a teeny sampling of what I did: When I taught pre-Revolutionary War, for quartering the troops, I "blew" eggs, painted them to look like British soldiers, gave them varying ranks, and the students had to "quarter" them in their desks. The higher the rank of the "soldier" the more cubic inches of space required in the desk. The students had to clean out their own possessions, and when they asked me where to put them I told them that King George really didn't care; it was their problem. Each "soldier" had to be provided with a "bed." I was King George's representative, and checked the desks frequently for proper cubic inches allowed and to see if any "soldier" suffered any bodily harm. If the "soldier" was injured, the desk owner was fined severely and had to pay a lot of the colonial "money" that had been earned through completing assigned work.
Along with that, each student had a colonial trade of his or her choice, and dice were thrown everyday to determine his or her "fate" for that day. They adored the fates.
We tarred and feathered dolls with real tar and real feathers; we hung effigies of tax collectors and King George around in the school; the students "smuggled" forbidden items to each other. They honestly could not wait for history class. I loved every minute of it and so did they.

Kristen's picture
Kristen
High School Agriculture & Industrial Tech Instructor, IL

This past spring I was introduced to a new online tool called Prezi. It is somewhat like a powerpoint presentation, but a bit different. I created one for my electricity class and for the first time I had the attention of the entire class as we learned Ohm's law in a new manner. As words swirled across the screen and fly by creating a sensation of moving, the students stared at the screen and actually asked questions. The Prezi format permitted me to easily move around the presentation to aid in answering the various questions.

Heather Giles's picture
Heather Giles
high school IB Spanish teacher

I am a "new trick junkie" and love ideas from unexpected places to give my teaching a boost.
One of my favorite strategies is "The 5 Word Summary." Students learning a second language often want to dig through the dictionary to help them write sentences, and, more often than not, the result is unintelligible. To avoid this, I ask them to imagine that they are going to text or tweet a response to a question or a summary of a TV show or story. Before they send the text they have to think of 5 words that are crucial to expressing their idea. Then they must use at least 4 of those words as part of one sentence about the idea. The result is a concise and focused explanation that is in the student's own words.

Example- Mythbusters scientific prove experiments legend
On Mythbusters, Jamie and Adam use the scientific method to prove whether or not an urban legend is true.

They also use this strategy to avoid plagiarism when writing longer compositions or compiling research and as a way to show me what they understood from a reading or listening piece. Part of the beauty is that it can be applied in any subject area.

Pat Paulson's picture
Pat Paulson
University MIS Professor

Winona State University has a Digital Life and Learning initiative that includes a 1:1 laptop lease program, an incredible networking infrastructure-learning management system, network storage, student web space, wireless access, wired classrooms, web conferencing and class recording technology and dedicated support personnel. This allows me to experiment with course delivery. Currently my students can participate face to face, via web conference or using class recordings. On one level they learn the subject matter, but by providing them with such a technology rich environment on a deeper level they are absorbing the technology into their daily routines. They learn to deal with the myriad of technology problems in school, instead of having to wait until they are in the work force. Next up-leveraging smartphones as an additional learning platform.

Edo Forsythe's picture
Edo Forsythe
English Professor in Northern Japan

I teach an American History class at my university and I've tried something unorthodox in Japanese schools - I've let students be the teachers. I know this is much more common in America but in Japan, the teacher still leads the class and students sit and soak up what's being dished out. Instead of me spoon-feeding all of the information and assigning weekly homework, I've broken down my class into chunks and give two weeks worth of lessons (one class per week). The third week's class is set aside for student presentations on a topic of their choosing related to the time period being discussed. At first, the students were unsure of how to proceed and gave short and sweet presentations. Toward the end of the first semester, they've begun using pictures, maps, graphs and teaching methods to do their presentations. I'm loving their enthusiasm and they've reminded me of information to integrate into our class discussions. They also submit summaries of their topic via email and I compile them into a document and distribute them the following week so they can build their own textbook as we go. I think these methods can be used in a wide variety of subjects; the limits are only the teacher's imagination! This will also allow students to integrate technology that they're comfortable with into their own presentation. I'd love to hear if this works out for you! Good Luck!

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