Me Circles

It is so interesting where ideas come from, and how a class can dramatically shift from one activity to the next.  Being fluid and organic, and accepting that ideas are built on more ideas (and being flexible enough to evolve with them) leads to a dynamic environment.  This is true in ecology, and also in the classroom.

We were working on area of a circle and the class was trying to get their heads around all the different parts of the various equations.  I tried to make it interactive earlier in the week by having them rotate pencils, where the pencil could be either the radius or the diameter.  This would lead to two very different circles.  Once we had the radius or the diameter, we could plug it in and find the area, or the circumference.  This series of lessons was created by ME, the teacher, and given to THEM, the students.  For some, they go it.  For others, it wasn’t sticking.  I had to try again.

Next time, I thought I would do the same lesson, but the kids who got it would teach the kids who didn’t (Aside: I realize that I sorted and classified my students into two camps, whose that get it and those that don’t, and I have singled them out from the group.  That is on purpose.  As a community and a team, it is imperative that we tell each other when we are unsure of something, so those that do understand can help those that don’t.  There is no shame in not understanding and asking someone who does for help.  If all work together, we all go further. End Aside)  This however, wasn’t working either.  Until, one boy got down on the floor and started spinning.  I immediately got everyone involved and watching this odd display.

Everyone watched as I grabbed this student and spun him around his center point.

He is the diameter, one child said.

What would happen if he was the radius?  another asked.

As soon as I said that, the kids were off, rotating around on the floor, trying to be the radius or the diameter of a circle.  I asked them to draw a picture (or use Pages on a MacBook) to find as many values of a circle as they could and be as specific as possible.

This was a great learning experience, but it was one that I could have never planned.  If I did come up with this idea, and tell the kids to do it, would it have been the same?  Instead of coming from ME, and going to THEM; this activity evolved from THEM and stayed withTHEM.

In this scenario, what was my role?  Where do I fit into this system?

I guess my question now it this; in a decentralized classroom where the ideas are evolving from the collective, what is the role of the teacher?  Are we a part of the collective?  An agent in the system?  Or do we have a bigger role to play? Perhaps, we serve as the consciousness? (This is an idea put forward by Brent Davis at the University of Calgary, you can download the article here, it is called Teacher as Consciousness of the Collective).

I don’t know (and never will!).

About Craig

In Kyoto 京都
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7 Responses to Me Circles

  1. dwyerteacher says:

    Thanks to Edna for inviting me to be a contributor!


  2. What an amazing experience and terrific that you stepped back and let it happen. Many people have used the term “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” to describe the changing role of teachers, but Erica McWilliams used a term I hadn’t heard before, “meddler in the middle”. I think this perfectly describes what happened in your lesson. I enjoyed your first post here and look forward to more.


  3. John Lindsay says:

    I think if you had come up with the idea and then told your students to do it the result would not have been as fruitful. Students who pose genuine questions for themselves are much more likely to gain lasting knowledge. The trick (which I don’t claim to know completely) is to provide the experience in the classroom where such questions are welcomed and time is given to follow them through. The teacher has a complex, finely balanced task to provide sufficient front loading (examples: where did pi come from and the formulas for area and perimeter of a circle?) while still promoting genuine inquiry (which will at times allow for major “detours”)- and yes at times the teacher needs to be brave enough to be the ‘meddler in the middle’.


  4. Fantastic post and your ‘aside’ is well worth a post in itself. I love ‘parenthetical remarks’ and every time I see another blogger do it, I feel validated. #simplejoys

    I think in a decentralized classroom, the teacher will always have to be the responsible adult be it as another “player”, a guide/facilitator or even observer. Kids are always in our duty of care.

    That said, I think there is merit in having a variety of approaches. It is ok to be a sage on stage sometimes (sometimes, individual kids can be the sage on stage). For me, a harmonious collective is possible only if each individual feel like an individual valued by the collective.

    As my aside – here’s one of my post on circles Concentric Circles of Learning which is related to the above….sort of (hence aside).



  5. Pingback: OTR Links 01/20/2012 | doug – off the record

  6. Crista says:

    A wonderful and meaningful activity!


  7. tashacowdy says:

    I have the same question about the role of the teacher in a decentralized classroom. I feel like I take many different roles: sometimes I am part of the collective; sometimes an agent in the system; sometimes the consciousness (I like this idea. I hadn’t thought about it in this way before, but it is definitely one of my roles.). Another role that I take increasingly is that of observer. For me, that is sometimes the most difficult -I have to resist the temptation to step in and give the children the answers. (It is also much more time consuming. I am fortunate that my curriculum is not content driven and I can afford the time to allow the children to “wallow” in their inquiries.) For me, the challenge is to know what role to take when.


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