George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Are You a Chaser of Crows?: Using a Different Approach to Enlighten Students

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

We recently lost a great dog to illness. Pip came to us a little over nine years ago, a mixed breed, kind and gentle, and way too smart for his own good. Man, what a guy he was.

I was more than a tad humbled when it took me years to figure out how to lock Pip out of the trash can in the kitchen. And sometime, when you have a minute, ask me to tell you about the time he started the grease fire in the kitchen while working to get at some bacon fat in a pan pushed way back on the gas stove after we had all gone to bed.

But it is not Pip's often weasel-like behaviors in the kitchen I want to talk about here, but rather one of his favorite outdoor activities. Pip, you see, was a chaser of crows. It didn't matter whether we were on a walk in the woods or on a country road. We could be on the front lawn or in the backyard, raking leaves with him sitting guard duty, but if one or more specimens of Corvus brachyrhynchos were to fly overhead, he was gone. Off into the woods or down the road, his head up, eyes fixed on the prize, he became a dog possessed.

In a few minutes he would be back, and never with any signs of success. There would be no feathers in his mouth or even peck marks around his snout as evidence of a tussle with one of his quarries, but somehow he always seemed calmer upon his return. I came to understand that all that really mattered was the process; the result was unimportant. It was a good day if he had chased another crow, a good day if he had been given the chance to do his doggy duty.

So I ask you to consider whether you are, on occasion, a chaser of crows. Are there things you do, activities that you engage in with kids that are not specifically and directly focused on "raising student achievement" or "improving teaching and learning for all students?" Are there some things you do with kids that you do simply because these are the things good teachers, good adult role models, good people do? Do you ask riddles or pose problems that are not connected to your curriculum but provide opportunities to make students think in new ways or even to laugh? Are there activities you engage in even though you know you will never "win" anything by so doing? Are there places or times in your life where you act on a firm belief that the greatest gain is in the chase, and not the capture?

In memory of Pip, I urge us all, from time to time, to be chasers of crows, and in those times to revel in the process, not the product. Let me know what you think.

Was this useful?

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Bonnie Bracey Sutton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am afraid I am a confirmed chaser of crows. I do it to get the attention and interest of students, and it works....Well not in this test, test , test environment.

I attended a Supercomputing conference recently and ran into a former student of mine who would be considered a "chaser of crows" to many people.A He was in my gifted and talented class for three years. The thing is that we had permission to chase crows then. I doubt if GT classes have survived in many areas. I had a class of half GT and half regular students and some of color. I never labeled the kids myself, but the school system did. I learned that I could create ideas, mindstorms, innovative ways of thinking, and show worlds that many students may have never been explosed to except through opportunities that I offered.

To me, chasing crows means doing things that are not formulaic. Here are some of the fun, open-ended learning experiences I incorporated into my teaching:
I did week long environmental camps. We learned a lot about the environment, but also about ourselves. The students liked to plan the event and we had real food, and carried our computers to write our newspaper about the event and the things we learned.

I love teaching about the rain forests, so we studied the world's rainforsts and sampled tropical fruit, learning about the plants, medicines, and the history of the rainforest. We were lucky to be involved with the National
Fish and Wildlife Service and to find out about illegal international trade of endangered species . ( I was wearing a coral necklace when I found out about that problem). We had insights into international trade and the fish and wildlife service sent us examples to use in the classroom.

Shakespeare is not on everyone's agenda. The Folger Shakespeare library had wonderful resources. I started off with an activity I called "Shake Hands with Shakespeare." A local theater company donated costumes, and some madrigal singers from the high school came to visit my students. We read Shakespeare for kids until one of the kids found adult versions and insisted that we learn the real scripts. I think the bread dough dragons and our learning about the foods was one of the most interesting events of the learning experience. But again, I was chasing crows. Then, during the summer, my students and parents (all on their own) staged a play in the park. So far no actors have emerged as I know of.

Math is a wonderful thing. Not that stupid old boring skill and drill math. I collected math games, and conundrums, long ago and would tease the children with them as a break from skill and drill. Ok, I also advanced students who got skill and drill beyond their given grade level. We were allowed to enrich but not advance. I advanced students with books that I purchased myself and we had the help of people from NSF to explore problem solving. We had every problem solving book that there was from finger math to Greek math, Plato's cave.. and other ideas. It worked for me. I do have several students who went to college with math scholarships.

Then there was the geography. I know that you know that even in this flat worldwe hardly teach geography. We had so much interest and there was funding from the National Geographic. This learning paid off for me as well as the children. I bought, with funding, an atlas for every child in my classroom, we had a class set
of interesting geography atlases, books, and resources from the National Geographic and we had media resources to learn from.

I guess chasing crows took me out of the classroom. It was hard work. It was wonderful work. I hate it when some one who can't even teach tries to tell me how to teach. So I started working in other ways in education. This work is not as rewarding, but I guess you have to decide who is in charge of learning experiences. My students learned conventional work to be able to do the hard fun work.

Dr. Ric Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My dog chases crows too...

Over the summer, we had a particularly bold crow that was a frequent visitor to our backyard. He would sit on the wire and caw at the dogs and anything else below. Now, I never saw him do this, but I am also certain that he took more than one dive bombing run on Natanne as she lay asleep in the sun. Now, my dogs are wolf hybrids, so I know that patience and waiting are part of their background. Sure enough, I returned from school one afternoon in August to find five black feathers on the ground, and a muuch quieter backyard. The lessons I drew from this experience are:

1. If you are a crow, let sleeping wolves lie.

2. The incident reminded me of the value of patience in teaching. So many times we are so focussed on what we want kids to learn, or how we want them to behave, that we forget that each student is an individual human being, who brings his own experiences with him, and who will develop exactly at her own pace, in her own time.

Sometimes we just need to wait....

Stephen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Where it is important to not go chasing after crows during every lesson or the students will leave the lesson without any meat. However, an occasional crow chase can be exciting and motivating for learners.

In addition, Edison chased 1,000 crows before he came back with feathers in his mouth and a light bulb. Think how limited our lives would be without pursuing crows.

Janice's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Your question intrigued me! I am a dog lover through and through. Even though Hunter, my Shetland Sheepdog, does not chase crows, he certainly enjoys running after something he will never catch. To be quite honest, he does not mind in the least.
Being that my school, the district, and the state are test oriented, it becomes quite difficult to "chase crows". Sometimes we get those teachable moments that let the imagination of the children run wild. Every now and then, I will throw out a question, a riddle, an idea that gets the children to stop replying so quickly and to start discussing the many possible answers.
Even at recess, because I am not one who stands around watching the children play, I can "chase crows" with my students. We get to apply how to work collaboratively in the classroom, outside in a less structured environment. Understanding that fair play and working as a team is a part of everyday life. It allows me to be a good role model and help the students to be life-long learners.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.