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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

One Hot Chocolate

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Now Playing» Band: Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise Record: Time to Discover I’m no coffee house snob. Lattes, mochas, and macchiatos sound like a disease line up to me. “Sorry sir, but you are infected with the drippy macchiato.” Coffee is my caffeine of choice. BUT… every now and again I find myself in the awkward position, usually on a Saturday night when the place is buzzing with hipster city folk, standing in front of the barista ready to order. I found myself in that very position on Saturday night at the Green Line Café in West Philadelphia, PA. I was there to support The Silence Kit. “The Kit,” as I like to call them, is a post-punk band that sound like The Killers and The Cure all swirled up together, put into one those silver cups, and steamed. I strolled up, joined the line, which was more like a circular meeting (“No, you go”), and devised a plan while I waited. Sneaky. (Rubbing hands together) When I finally was face-to-face with the master coffee-drink-maker I said, “Surprise me. Make me whatever you like.” She apparently gets this a lot and took it in stride. She worked her magic–– shaking, mixing, and even used the silver cup. Man, I thought. I’m getting something good. Then she filled the top of the cup with whipped cream. Huh? “One hot chocolate,” she crooned. She chose to hit me with the simple, yet complex, drink of champions; the drink of cold, snowy nights; the drink of The Polar Express. All of those fancy drinks and she picks simplicity. Isn’t that what education needs? Simplicity. Don’t get me wrong. When I say simplicity, I don’t mean reverting to the “old days” of pencil, paper, and splintered, wooden desks. I mean…. The Rules of Simple are Simple (written simply by Gaetan Pappalardo) Rule #1-What’s the Big Idea? Honing in on the “big ideas” should be first and foremost. Instead of cramming the curriculum with petty content, spend more time in the deep end. Community, Environment, Communication, Artistic Expression, etc… In his book, Holding on the Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principals Worth Fighting For, Thomas Newkirk praises Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, CO, for its mission and philosophy that fits on one side of a piece of paper. “Simple,” yet so powerful. “Teachers and students had wide latitude in how these goals were met, and everyone would return to them again and again.” (Newkirk) Now that’s spending some time in the deep end of the pool. Rule #2- Simple is as Simple Does Make it simple for the kid. Everybody can use a little “simple.” We can all agree that “the kid” has changed. Making school, or a least a bit of it, simple for today’s little bean might be adding a video game reference to your lesson; allowing kids to compose stories with different computer programs; letting them read alternative literature on the Internet; Graphic novels. Yes, pop culture needs to be valued to connect with “The Kid.” Rule #3- Simplicity needs time, believe it or not. Simple is not easy. I spend time with teachers discussing how to effectively teach kids to write. The jaws drop when I tell them I teach one whole class lesson a week. Maybe. Barry Lane, in his book But How Do You Teach Writing?, simply states: “Real writing needs real time.” How do you become a writer? You do it. How do you become a Scientist? You do science. How do you become a golfer? You golf. Time is needed for instruction, but more time is needed for the “doing.” The “doing” is what grabs you and shakes up your bones and makes you think: I want to do it again. You learn by simply “doing.” Guess what? That hot chocolate was the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Simplicity, refined, refined, and refined to perfection.

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