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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Teachable Moment: Is It Science, or Just Plain Serendipity?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

While in California last week for a meeting, I hiked the hills above Novato, a town north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a clear day, and the afternoon sun warmed the west-facing slopes. I followed a dirt road that had been carved out of the hills. An ardent observer of nature, I quickly clued in to the fact that there were a large number of lizards around.

Credit: Jim Moulton

On the first half of the hike, I was able to get a few decent lizard photos. And because I was searching for the little rascals as I hiked along, I learned a few things about them. Lizards sit in the sun: Rocks, exposed roots, fence posts, and tree trunks are favorite sunning places. Lizards are also incredibly zippy. It took only my stopping to send them scurrying down a hole or behind a trunk.

On the way down late in the afternoon, I observed the lizards behaving differently. The light was now blended with shadows, meaning less heat, and because of this, they slowed down considerably. Were they suddenly willing to pose? No, that would be a stretch. However, without the direct sunlight, their cold-blooded bodies could not move as quickly, and my camera and I were able to get closer. Aha! I had discovered the best time to photograph lizards in the hills of Novato!

OK, I understand that you are teaching kids and not photographing lizards, but this experience got me thinking about teachable moments. You know, those times -- that occur either regularly or not -- when our students are most receptive to learning.

Where do you find teachable moments? When do you find them? And are there patterns you have recognized? Is there one example that has really stuck with you? Come on, make this a shareable moment!

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Simone Palmer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have found that the most common setting for teachable moments as a Science teacher are when students are relaxed and yet in a stimulating setting (for example, by the side of a pond when we're studying pond ecosystems or outside in the side yard as we studied components of ecosystems or even on a walk taken in order to stimulate pulse and blood pressure in Anatomy class). I believe this is because their senses are being stimulated and yet their limbic systems, which are too often overactive, are not overrun with anxiety. Being a teacher at an alternative school, I truly think that providing an environment that "deactivates" emotions but activates the prefrontal cortex, even as simple as moving into the gym or other large space for an activity, is vital to learning.

Edo Forsythe's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've found that during the course of collaborative tasks, the students will come up with questions that I hadn't thought of sharing when planning my lesson. So, as a language teacher, I think it's possible to create the opportunity for 'teachable moments,' but at the same time I haven't been able to always ensure that those moments arise. So, I can plan for them and I try to recreate the situations that caused previously successful teaching moments, but I think that the relaxed, task-focused periods of my classes are most conducive to the blossoming of teachable moments. I can't always plan for them to occur, but when they do and I'm able to capitalize on them, they really reinforce why I love teaching.

ariane edmundson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

"I truly think that providing an environment that "deactivates" emotions but activates the prefrontal cortex, even as simple as moving into the gym or other large space for an activity, is vital to learning."
Please tell me more!
I am a teacher for ED kids. I yearn for teachable moments. My kids are constantly "anxious" and absorbed into eachother. How do I get them to even notice their environment, where they are, me, my lesson . . . ?
Thanks.
a

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Edo-

When you say, "I can't always plan for them to occur, but when they do and I'm able to capitalize on them, they really reinforce why I love teaching" I think of how many times I have heard teachers describe such "aha! moments," the times when kids "make the connections," as the reason they love to teach. It is being watchful, aware, and skilled enough to take advantage of these moments effectively that is so important...

And it keeps a teacher going to feel that kind of success, and all parents want their children to be spending time with teachers who loves to teach. Your kids are fortunate!

Cheers.

Jim

Debbie McMillan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the teachable moments. My sixth grade science students are always bringing in things they have found and want to identify. I use a flex cam and TV to share the specimen in the class. I have gained much by capitalizing on these teachable moments and even conquered my fear of snakes, spiders, frogs, and rats. Our biggest Ahhh occurred while getting ready for lunch. One student noticed the cocoon in our class terrarium moving. Every student agreed for our class to be last for lunch so we could watch a luna moth emerge from it cocoon. It was an amazing experience and solidified my quest for becoming a life long learner. Every one in my school knows to send for us if a bug,snake, spider, etc. needs to be identified. We research, identify, and educate the school on the huge spiders that build their webs in our school window sills. Appreciating and encouraging self discovery has untapped my student's thirst for knowledge and guidance.

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Now that is the kind of classroom I would want my own children to be a part of - a place where the wonders of the world are recognized, and the metamorphosis from caterpillar to winged moth is seen as worth paying attention to. A place where questions that are answered provide stools from which we can see the next question waiting for our curiosity!

Brava.

Jim

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Now that is the kind of classroom I would want my own children to be a part of - a place where the wonders of the world are recognized, and the metamorphosis from caterpillar to winged moth is seen as worth paying attention to. A place where questions that are answered provide stools from which we can see the next question waiting for our curiosity!

Brava.

Jim

J. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Now this would be one of the classrooms I would want my own children to be a part of - a place where the wonders of the world are recognized, and the metamorphosis from caterpillar to winged moth is seen as worth delaying lunch for. A place where questions that are answered provide step stools from which we can see the next question waiting for our curiosity!

Brava.

Jim

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