Training Velociraptors

You may have missed it, but this summer’s mega-thriller, Jurassic World, had some serious educational implications.  These insights are not gleaned from the disinterested teen locked to his phone or the genetic improbabilities of splicing DNA from myriad animals to create the ultimate killer dinosaur.  In fact, a guide to educational awesomeness can be gathered from a single scene – training velociraptors.

Training Velociraptors

Step 1: Building relationships

Whether you are training velociraptors or teaching 4th graders fractions, it’s difficult to find success without first building relationships.  It doesn’t matter if you have state of the art materials, devices, or the most expert training – if a strong relationship doesn’t exist, the long term results will be tenuous.  As with velociraptors, it takes time to establish a rapport with students.  It can be tempting to jump head first into content before getting to know the students and building a community.  While students won’t tear your arms off if they don’t have a connection, productivity decreases dramatically in a classroom without community.

Where I failed: This past school year, I gave up my 6th grade homeroom duties, freeing up a couple periods to help other teachers in the building integrate technology.   As a result, my time with the 6th graders decreased by nearly 2 hours.  Without that extra time, I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know the students as I had previously.  When they came to me for science class, I made the mistake of jumping into content much too early.  It ended up being a tough semester and we didn’t get nearly as much done as previous classes.  Over time, we built a stronger sense of community and the second semester was much more productive.  All of this could have been avoided by following the first step of training velociraptors – building relationships.

Step 2: Personalize learning

In Jurassic World, the villain sees the velociraptors as cogs in a machine and doesn’t recognize that each animal has different needs.  He doesn’t separate the individuals from the herd – and ends up getting his arms ripped off.  In the classroom, it is easy to get into a cycle of planning lessons with a herd mentality (teacher led powerpoint, everyone read pages 100-110 and answer these questions).  The velociraptor trainers/teachers take a different approach.  They call each dinosaur by name and attend to each on an individual basis, while at the same time working with the herd.  Individualizing lessons and shrinking the classroom with small, collaborative groups certainly takes more effort, but pays off in the end.  With enough training and practice, a student centered classroom can reduce teacher workload and increase productivity.  While it isn’t possible to individualize each lesson of every day for a group of 20 students, and retain sanity, there are a lot of strategies to break down groups for more individualized learning.  Below are some resources that may help.

Utlimate Toolbox                Shrinking the Class Guide              Shrinking the Classroom video playlist

Step 3: Grit

Velociraptors can’t be trained overnight and students don’t magically ‘get’ fractions.  It takes time, perseverance, and a good deal of failure along the way.  I really dislike when educators refer to the “lightbulb moment” as a magical instant when a student figures something out.  It discounts the hours, weeks, and sometimes years of work that go into mastering a skill.  Students start learning about fractions in 2nd grade and it can still challenge them in high school and beyond.  Struggling and working through difficult concepts isn’t limited to students though – it’s incredibly important for teachers.  The trainers in Jurassic World had some clear failures along the way.  While there is no silver bullet when it comes to teaching students grit, modeling this as a teacher by reworking lessons that fall flat or re-teaching areas in which students aren’t meeting goals can go a long way.
https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit.html

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