By the time I left teaching high school English the world was spinning out of control. Along with my normal duties, for several years I had been taking students to read John Muir in Yosemite and Gary Snyder on the beaches of Northern California. I had them reading Earth First in the Redwood Forest (in this slideshow) , and I had students riding mountain bikes with me in Utah. We were checking out landforms of the Colorado Plateau. And screaming! Massive Field Trips!
I had them in the creek blindfolded in canoes, and I got the school to buy a bunch of awesomely fun remote control cars that we made a very cool track for. But by far the greatest loss of sanity occurred when I bought about $400 worth of percussion instruments from Musicians Friend. A bucket of fun. Tragically, they sit unused today in a plastic bucket. A sin. I’ll fix that.
We had 90 minute classes. There was time. I worked at a private school with small classes. Like 5 to 10 students. I had this vision that music was dividing us rather than unifying us and I had done several assignments that looked at the purposes of music. But this was the age of the Walkman (about pre-iPod) and students were wandering around silently and uncommunicative. The opposite of my vision of the unifying properties of sound. I had them do photo shoots to describe that feeling.
So I bought the instruments and we played for 10 minutes at the start of each class. It was weird. No nouns. All verbs. It took a while to figure it out. To become comfortable. But soon, we rocked. Sometimes we failed. Students started buying their own djembes. Some classes absolutely made amazing music. I brought my acoustic guitar; students brought their electric guitars sometimes. For ten minutes or so, every class period, the class joined together with the band. And we rocked. We discussed working together in different ways and we talked about participation. Things happened to us I cannot really describe. It was emotional. And powerful. A drum circle in English class!
My role these days has me helping teachers create the best possible online courses. This ds106 experience continues to challenge my perceptions of what can be done in this environment and where we are headed in education. Something challenged me as an English teacher and I let it take me places. It is all so fascinating to me.