Missing the Teachable Moment

On February 15 of this year I participated in a special electronic field trip streamed online with Ball State and the Holocaust Museum. The broadcast went out live from Washington D.C. at 10:00 am, with a field of experts ready to answer any student or teacher questions. I had been "hyping" this field trip for over a month, sending opening questions, surveys, polls, etc. to all teachers in the building. I booked the interactive television lab for the presentation, discussed it with colleagues and supervisors. However, when 10:00 rolled around no one was present but me...what went wrong?

I'll tell you what went wrong: a static curriculum.

In fairness to the Supervisor of Social Studies I was informed that the department did not cover the Holocaust until May, and that many of the social studies teachers would probably view the archives at that time and work on some of the activities with their students at that time. However, I can't help but feel that we have missed an excellent opportunity to discuss a major event with experts in the field, all because of a lack of flexibility.

When I was in the classroom I always looked for the “teachable momentâ€. Yes, I had lesson plans just like everyone else but I always viewed my lesson plans as a road map that I would occasionally consult to make sure I was still heading in the right direction and not a manifesto that had to be adhered to step by step. Often students would ask me questions that were not addressed in the lesson, or (more often than not) students needed to review something that had been previously stated in order to make connections. Current events would occur that precluded my lesson, and topics arose while doing research on the internet. The students (though I am sure they thought they were getting me off task) were learning about things they would never have even addressed had I strictly adhered to my lesson plans.

As I sat and watched the live presentation from the Holocaust Museum I realized the impact technology was having on the students from other districts who were participating in this event. Students asked questions of the experts via phone lines and Email. The presenters would stop to address viewer concerns and to point out various objects or clarify statements. The students were made to feel like a part of the event, not just people on the outside looking into the window.

I use to scoff at the idea that an electronic field trip was just as good as being there, but for the first time I saw how powerful a tool the electronic field trip was, and my teachers and students were missing out on this great experience (very frustrating).

In retrospect I should have pushed harder for the Social Studies and English departments to get involved with this project. Though I understand the importance of a curriculum following a pattern (especially in history) I also see now how events such as this one could have had a great impact on how our students think.

Lesson Learned:

In order for our students to get the most out of the technology that we purchase so readily today we (teachers and administrators) must be flexible and allow ourselves to occassionally deviate from the time line/schedule that curriculum dictates.

Email: Terry Woolard