Things I Know 112 of 365: It’s not enough to have the door open when I teach

An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought in it.

– Unknown

One of the few specific pieces of training for being a teacher I remember was a piece of cautionary advice – Don’t teach with your door closed.

As is often the case with this sort of advice, no one ever really filled in the gap of how to do the opposite of teaching with my door closed. Namely, I received no direct instruction in door-open teaching.

I often read about technology’s affordances for networking teachers with one another. It’s always seemed a bit like showing someone a telephone and wishing them luck on finding useful numbers.

Teaching with my door open is best when it is a combination of the personal and the virtual.

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a fellow SLA teacher linking to a Slate article about movie theaters’ resistance and attempted avoidance of the Food and Drug Administration’s draft rules requiring restaurants to post the nutrition information for the food they serve.

Movie theaters would rather not have their patrons realize each tablespoon of butter they just doused their popcorn with had nearly double the number of calories of a tablespoon of the butter back in their kitchens.

I tagged the article in delicious (long may it live) and stowed it away to use last week in my food class. The students and I read the article and engaged in some pretty fantastic conversation about the economics of movie theater food as well as the cultural implications of the event of going to the theater.

I’ve talked all over the place about this food course. Even before it started, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about it. I wasn’t bragging, I was just thinking and planning aloud, inviting anyone who read or heard what I was thinking to throw in some ideas.

Thus, the e-mail.

We read the article in Tuesday’s class, whetting our appetites for Friday’s convening.

I remembered about a month ago one of my science teacher friends explaining an experiment to me during my first year at SLA.

Students exposed popped microwave popcorn to a sodium hydroxide solution that corroded the organic matter.

One would imagine that would include everyone one would find in a handful of microwave popcorn.

No so.

I remembered this experiment because it had sounded interesting. Were I a teacher who claimed open-door teaching, but who really only carved a window into the door, I would just have told my students about the experiment.

While, I’m fairly eloquent, me telling can never replace them doing.

Friday’s class, everyone met in my room. Then, we walked down the hall to VK’s room where we donned safety goggles and completed the experiment.

First, we submersed the popcorn to a hydrochloric acid solution so the kids could see what happens in their stomachs.

Next came the sodium hydroxide or lye.

We watched as it ate through the corn and could feel the heat of the exothermic reaction.

When all was said and done, we were left with a white substance at the bottom of our beakers. This, VK explained, was the plastic used to coat microwave popcorn kernels in order to keep them from burning through the bag during the popping process.

More importantly, this was the plastic a person ingested with each handful of popcorn.

Not only had I kept the door open, I’d led the class out the door and down the hall to experience a perspective I wasn’t equipped to provide.

This Tuesday, we’ll return to the article and reflect on the experiment and try to cobble together an understanding of the role of popcorn at the intersection or science, culture and literature.

Had I propped my classroom door open and simply waited passively for technology to bring me something worthwhile for class, it never would have come.

What I wasn’t taught in my teacher preparation, but needed to experience for myself is that teaching with my door open works much better if I’m willing to walk through the door and see what’s out there that I can bring back to the classroom.

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