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Monthly Archives: November 2013

On Being Thankful…

With Darrow’s Thanksgiving Recess underway, I’ve been reflecting on the things for which I’m thankful, in no particular order:

  • students who aspire to be their best selves, and who also ask for help getting there
  • living in a place where my kids can walk out the front door and play safely outside all afternoon long
  • the opportunity to learn whatever I want
  • the availability of other leaders to teach me their wisdom and to learn from their mistakes
  • the feeling that I’ve “come ’round right” at around the time an actuary would say is the midpoint of my life
  • working with adults whose passion is for something larger than themselves
  • Hands-to-Work

Please leave a comment and share with me the things that you are thankful for.

Gobble, gobble


Getting Hooked

What is the efficient number of classes to skip?

This question is an example of what Doug Lemov calls, “the hook,” a question asked, usually at the beginning of class, to get the attention of the students. The hook can also take the form of an activity, a short video clip, or a demonstration. The goal is to quickly and unequivocally engage the students in the work of the class.

It’s amazing when it works, catapulting students into action on a new project, or a heated discussion of a hypothesis, or even a rousing recitation of the Pythagorean theorem. When the hook takes the form of a question, it is also an important part of an educational principle known as understanding by design (UBD), which is practiced at Darrow. Known more commonly as “backward planning,” UBD is designed around what are called “essential questions.” These questions are the marrow of a course. The essential question is called essential because it is important, something hard to answer, which forces the sort of higher-order critical thinking that educators must prepare their students to perform.

Strong essential questions are the antidote to the dreaded plea, “Why are we learning this?” I love it when I’m asked that question because it represents a student opening the door to a dialogue. When I teach Economics, my essential question is, “How do people behave in the face of limited time and resources?” That’s it. The whole course emanates from those dozen words. And it readily leads to a discussion of the efficient number of classes to skip, which is the hook for the day when we start talking about marginal analysis (a function of cost/benefit analysis, which is the center of much of how economists think about the world). How many classes have you skipped? Was the benefit greater to, equal to, or less than the cost?

When we ask important questions we get important learning.