‘Only the boring will be bored’
A teacher I had in primary school always said “only the boring will be bored”. I tend to agree with him in the sense that there is probably no subject in the world that is intrinsically boring. I can find most subjects interesting if I approach them from my own perspectives, and if the learning content is attractively and clearly laid out.
However, although no subject is boring in itself, as individuals we tend to feel aversion toward certain subjects. To keep things simple, let’s assume that these preferences can be explained by temperament, personality, learning styles and talents.
Boredom is a very serious issue that can destroy morale, quality of life, school as a social institution, and the social/emotional /intellectual development of students and teachers. Many educators bend over backwards to make sure that boredom will not creep into their classrooms. Yet, external factors can work against many of us. My challenge here is to suggest ways in which technology and online learning can make the most ‘boring’ subject seem interesting.
What I love about my blog manager Navleen Kaur is that she often challenges me to write about topics that would normally never occur to me. Really, she just suggests them, but I tend to take them as a challenge. This is one such challenge. When she challenges me like this she forces me to think outside the box, which I love.
My first challenge was to decide which subjects are boring. As this is impossible for me, I decided to base my article on statistics published by the website ‘Top Tens’. This website makes top ten lists based on popular vote. Statistics and opinions seem to be predominantly American, though I assume that the votes are open to everyone internationally. Judging by some of the subjects mentioned, there also seems to be a Catholic school emphasis, which would reflect many American school experiences. In order to confront boredom issues in school, I must make it clear that these samples of ‘boring’ subjects are just being used for demonstrative purposes. We must consider them from multi-cultural perspectives, regardless of whether they are American statistics or come from particular types of schools.
In a nutshell, lack of engagement occurs when a subject has no emotional or intellectual appeal for the learner. Dichotomies in school curricula, which separate the arts from logical subjects, prevent whole-brain integration. We can use educational technology to appeal to the emotions, make learning fun, and most importantly, integrate the logical and imaginative parts of the mind to power the whole brain, heart and soul.
Subject number one on the list is Maths.
Personally speaking, it’s also on my number one list. This doesn’t mean that Maths is boring, however. Some of the most exciting geniuses throughout history were maths experts who experienced the subject holistically and artistically.
When we go back to the renaissance we see Leonardo Da Vinci who combined logical thinking with the visual arts. The slideshare presentation above is an example of maths and beauty. It also demonstrates how multi-media presentations, posters and videos bring learning to life.
Einstein, himself, seems to have experienced maths as a mind-altering or even spiritual experience. Here is an interesting look at top ten eureka moments in history. You can also find some articles about creativity and genius. here.
Here is a five minute TED talk that would inspire me to learn maths if I had to go back to school. Also, note how inspiring talks can bring a subject to life? We can also find inspiring videos to show students in maths classes.
Why and how did renaissance philosophy degenerate into a sinister NEW DARK AGE of apathy and boredom?
Sadly, renaissance ideals did not affect the lower classes in Europe and, even for the upper classes, there was a subsequent shift to Latin grammar schools and harsh, repressive discipline. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a state of stagnation and emphasis on drilling useless facts.
We were still recovering from this in the 20th century.
In light of the above, you may find yourself considering how you feel about the 21st century so far. Here is an interesting article to put things in perspective.
Personally speaking, the fact that I love the arts and cringe at the word ’maths’ is because I may have over-developed the imaginative world of words in my mind and starved my logical side of its meaning. Why does this happen?
In primary school, I was very good at Math because my teachers used visual props, such as bricks, counters, beads, posters etc. In secondary school, things moved rapidly into algebra with no visual support and no tangible link to practical life. I wondered why I needed algebra and then just pretended that algebra didn’t exist.
My answer to this dilemma from an EdTech perspective is that we’ve got amazing tools and environments that can help us to teach maths using concrete, visual aids through imagery, multi-media and all kind of interactive quizzes. Here are some examples of EdTech for maths and interactive games. Online classes in a virtual classroom have maths tools and multi-media to give students hands-on experiences of having fun while learning. Learning management systems can become a mathematical Las Vegas.
Subject number two is Spanish
I have no idea why Spanish is number two, but as a language teacher, I can say that the more we use interactive games, music, and the arts, the better we can learn languages. Sometimes online learning can be easier because we have exciting resources at our fingertips. In a traditional classroom, it’s hard to find all the props, games, paper, photocopies, supplies and pay the expenses. I remember paying for resources out of my own pocket because schools supplied nothing more than basic books. Now, teaching online, I can find and create anything I want to show learners in my virtual classroom.
Subject number three is American history
I studied History as well as English at university and it saddens me that so many students never get to see how important it is. I see history as the story of human nature – the good, the bad and the ugly. I was lucky enough at school to have a teacher who taught us how to think. We had boring text books and the teacher had nothing but a piece of chalk as her teaching tool. Nothing too innovative there. But my experience of the lessons were multi-dimensional. She never used the books. For me, the historical facts were stories, they were insights, and our teacher asked us really probing questions where we had to get inside the heads of historical figures or analyse their military campaigns, treaties or attempts at diplomacy. It was really about stories, psychology and time-travelling. Memorising dates was secondary to the life of it all. Most people are bored by history because some teachers just read facts from books and ask students to learn dates.
It may be tough not always having the extra resources to take students back in time, but technology makes it easy. If I had time to teach history today, I would have great fun. Here are some resources from History and Technology: a perfect pair.
How would you teach the gold rush in a virtual classroom? Teachers can use images, presentations and video to bring history to life. They can use the back channel tool to ask clever Socratic questions and take students into the world of the goldrush. The students can later collaborate on multi-media projects via Google docs or prezi and mindmapping tools. Everything can be shared in the virtual classroom. Students can make presentations using video features. Historical role-play could take place where a students take on the role of an historical character and is interviewed or cross-examined by the judge and jury (chat box participants). Break out rooms can be used for creative group work. The cross-over from teaching language to history with the help of technology, games, and a little psychology is replete with creative possibilities. Remember CLiL – Content and language integrated learning. Here is something interesting from the British Council – mp3s of world war two from the BBC. The virtual classroom is equipped to play mp3s, and then the lesson could be built upon by using the whiteboard and other interactive features in the virtual classroom.
There are other subjects integrated on the link above, as well as on OneStop English ClIL. Which leads me to subject four….
Subject number four is Social Studies
“SS is so boring I can’t even explain how boring it is….”
I can imagine how social studies could be made boring if it was presented as political blah..blah..in class. Yet it can also be fascinating. Information-rich subjects like this need to be personalized for learners. Here are some digital resources that can be used to help you create some student-led workshops, webquests or citizen journalism projects.Webquests and journalism projects equip your students with responsibility, initiative, and the feeling that they are citizens of the world. Their discoveries can be shared in the online classroom or learning management system. Some LMS environments such as ClubEFL allow students to make their own quizzes. Imagine political, social and historical quizzes made and shared by students themselves? How about video-making, student channels on YouTube, and students broadcasting their own videos in the virtual classroom?
Subject number five is Physical Education
Well, you can’t exactly play football in a virtual classroom, even if you have breakout rooms as goal posts. Yet, I will rise to this challenge. If you think about the eighties, it was a time when housewives would do aerobics in their living rooms using tv or a video player to practice workouts with the leading fitness queen of the day, such as Olivia Newton John who starred in Grease with John Travolta. That was the first kind of virtual workout. For this subject I’ll call it blended or integrated learning through technology. Imagine schools with interactive whiteboards. Imagine students who want to learn hip-hop dancing but their teachers have no idea how to improvise such dancing techniques etc. A school gym with an interactive whiteboard or overhead projector broadcasting from the internet could bring world-class fitness programmes and dancing regimes to the classroom. Burnt-out teachers can also learn some yoga online as part of their professional development. Here’s an example of blended learning through hip-hop. Fluency MC shares music videos on YouTube and Facebook. He has also taught weekly workouts on WizIQ. These are linguistic and actual workouts. A teacher from Argentina uses these workout music videos to teach her children English and dancing workouts.
Subject number six is Sex Education
“Just because the name is very deceiving.”
We all know how important sex education is. However, many teachers are too embarrassed to talk to their students about sexual matters in an educational way. Yet, the future of our children is at stake and not teaching them properly is more embarrassing.
Despite the fact I went to an all-girls convent school in the eighties, my education wasn’t deprived of essential elements. The nuns were clever enough to delegate the duty of sex education and they brought in a famous special guest from one of our national newspapers and radio shows. She was a sex therapist and agony aunt. She taught us all about contraception and arranged for all of us to write private letters to her with our questions or concerns. She was an expert, we loved the ‘reality’ of it, and the nuns were spared a few blushes.
In the online teaching world, we often bring in special guests to our courses or MOOCs. Teachers can use online guests to teach sex education and they can have online forums where students get private attention without the embarrassment.
At the end of the day, we can teach anything if learners are engaged. Multi-media and connectivity can help us reach out beyond the classroom walls.
Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. ~ Marilyn Monroe
If you have a subject in mind that you think should make the list above, feel free to suggest them in comments below. We can all share our boredom tales. 🙂