It was the Friday before our week of state high-stakes testing called the FCAT. The pressure on kids and teachers was building minute by minute it seemed. The kids know that the tests decide whether they pass or not. The teachers know that the desire or lack of it to pass, the way the children might feel, or any number of factors they can't control might literally cost them their career. So the anxiety builds day by day.
We try to lower it through thorough preparation - through encouragement and praise. We test to find out where the weaknesses are and we teach and reteach. It's systematic and professional. We're told - and we hope that pre-work - will be effective. But there are certain things that go beyond that. There are moments when teaching happens - really happens. One of those occurred yesterday.
Every morning, I have the kids do an opening activity. It can be a few math problems, a topic to research quickly on the PCs, or a short one page story to read and answer questions on. The idea is to help build skills over time. Recently one of the best teachers I know sent my the worksheets she uses. They have a fact about each weekday on them and have been well received by the kids.
Well yesterday in was about Apollo 13's "Houston we have a problem."
I had other work scheduled for the first hour of the day after they completed the task. But they kept asking me questions about the worksheet.
So I went to the PC and found the clip from the movie, and Tom Hanks captivated them.
More questions shot out, so I found a National Geographic clip with the actual film of the astronauts and support people explaining what it was like - punctuated with the real film of the events as them happened. At various points I'd stop and ask and answer questions, relating them to what we had learned this year.
Jim Lowell had to hand input the coordinates at one point to ensure the spacecraft was aimed at the right point. Off one way and they'd shoot past Earth into space. An error the other way would mean their death as they burned up in Earth's atmosphere. Lowell did the calculations as we watched. It was Math we had practiced the day before.
Then he asked Houston to check his work. Like we do.
That sort of thing went on for 30 minutes. At the end of the film, when the astronauts splashed down safely, the kids clapped.
And I asked them "Did you see Jim Lowell do that Math?" "When do you think he learned that?
"Do you think it mattered whether he had worked hard and learned all he could in fourth grade?" "Do you think it could matter whether you work hard for me while you are in the classroom?"
One child said "It sure could. They could have died if he had goofed off in school."
I wrapped it up reminding them how proud I was of them, of how hard they had worked, and how I knew they were going to ROCK the FCAT. Then it was time to leave for PE and they were out the door.
Teaching. It happens sometimes. :)