Stealth Schooling: A Tale of Two Teachers

I suspect that most of my fellow blog-hoppers are writing articles about how to sneak education into children at home. Because my husband and I currently teach classrooms full of other people’s children, I am writing about how we sneak “outside-the-curriculum” learning into our students at school.

My husband and I both engage in random acts of teaching during our non-curricular time with students, just as we used to do with our own children before they grew up. A few months ago, I treated my advisees to a Vi Hart video about hexaflexagons. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VIVIegSt81k The students were mesmerized. Several experimented with hexaflexagons during recess, on the bus, and at home. One wrote an article on hexaflexagons for our school newspaper.

My husband recently displayed one of his Google SketchUp drawings on the board in front of his advisees. Exactly as he surreptitiously planned, the drawing snagged a few unsuspecting students into learning about the free software and about architecture in general.

Last week one of my students accidentally spilled water on a desk. When another student ran to grab a fist full of tissues to mop up the water, I stopped him. Instead of allowing my students to waste tissues, I used my hand to spread the spilled water over the surface of the unused desk. My students looked at me as though I was crazy. I could see the cognitive dissonance in their heads. Until that moment, they had never seen anyone react to a water spill by spreading water over a larger surface in order to promote evaporation. When the class period ended an hour later, most of the water had evaporated. I figure my students learned three bits in the process: (1) how to avoid wasting tissues, (2) how to promote evaporation, (3) how an idea that looks crazy at first might end up making sense.

My students love clicker quizzes and Jeopardy-like games. I use the quizzes and games “officially” to review material in our curriculum, but “stealthily” for much more. Because I do not count review activities in my grade book, students relax and enjoy themselves as we play. Few of them realize my stealth schooling intentions, even when they see that I purposely include super-difficult questions in the quizzes and games.

The stealth schooling happens in part because the quizzes and games allow immediate feedback. Students can argue about answers and share their answer-choosing memories when those memories are still fresh. We compare and contrast the answer choices. We apply logic to find the best answers. Often we learn more from wrong-answer explanations than from right-answer explanations. Although argument and logic are not part of our literary terminology curriculum, the high-level thinking that we enjoy during these light-hearted quizzes and games sneaks learning into my students.

Last week my husband taught his high school chemistry students how salts change the pH of water. He asked them why the ocean is salty. His students had no clue. Next, he pulled up a satellite view of The Great Salt Lake and pointed out the salt flats. One of the students looked at the salt flats and figured out, “that’s an old lake.” My husband praised the student for recognizing the outline of Lake Bonneville, and then instigated a brief off-topic discussion about car racing on the Bonneville Flats.

The next day, as an experiment, he included a car-racing question on his quiz about salts and pH. Surprise! More of the students correctly answered the car-racing question than the chemistry questions.  I, too, have discovered that students sometimes retain off-topic learning more readily than learning from the official curriculum. Off-topic learning grabs students’ attention and helps them build connections between curricular learning and the larger world. Sneaking in extra learning during off-topic discussions is not a waste of time. Imagine how many of my husband’s students will forever link car racing on the Bonneville Flats with salts left behind after the disappearance of Lake Bonneville.

Many schools have daily bulletins that teachers read aloud to students during homeroom or advisory. On the first day of school, I surprise my students by having my computer read the daily bulletin. The surprise amuses the students and teaches them about text-to-speech software. When the novelty of a talking computer wears off, students ask if they themselves can read the announcements. Here, once again, my students fall victim to a bit of stealth schooling in the form of oral reading and public speaking practice.

Stealth schooling bestows many benefits upon unsuspecting students. Victims of stealth schooling frequently enjoy their learning. In my experience, students often remember stealth learning better than they remember curricular learning. I hope that someday adults will find a way to make all schooling for all children feel as natural and invisible as stealth schooling.

Here are links to other blogs participating in the Stealth Schooling Blog Hop:

How to Work and Homeschool
Building Wingspan
Mommy Bares All
Little Stars Learning
A Voracious Mind
Chasing Hollyfeld
Cedar Life Academy
Thea Sullivan 
Buffalo Mama
Sprite’s Site
Achronicities-Schmicities

Here’s the permalink that will include a complete list of all the blog articles that are part of this blog hop on Stealth Schooling:  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blogs/blog-hop/