…on hooks, silence, and iPhone ocarinas!

“If people think something is going to be great they are more likely to experience it as such.” Teach Like A Pirate p122

In part 2 of Teach Like A Pirate the author, Dave Burgess, explains some of the ‘hooks’ he uses to craft engaging lessons. This got me thinking to some of the lessons I’ve been part of that have been special experiences, and funnily enough they all involved some sort of hook – something that excited curiosity!

4’33” by the composer John Cage is a piece that requires an introduction. Possibly his most famous piece, it is 4 minutes and 33 minutes of ‘silence’. Arguably, there is no such thing as silence and so it is really a study of the sounds around us. I introduce it for some time, going into details about the composer, the piece, how it is performed and what it hopes to achieve. I try and ramp up the student’s curiosity to such a level that they can’t wait to hear it! Before we listen to the piece, I ask the students to get comfy – to choose any place in the room, the floor, their chairs, their tables, to find a place where they can remain relaxed for 4”33, so that they have the best chance of experiencing the piece. There would be students under desks, on top of desks, curled up, flat out, and so on. By the time we listen to the piece our ears and bodies are so tuned in that we hear everything. It’s a really fascinating experience for all of us, because we are all hearing that performance for the first time, together, and we hear so much! Footsteps taking an age to come and go, doors opening and closing, people talking, instruments playing in other rooms. One memorable performance included a teacher/student exchange in the corridor that we probably shouldn’t have heard (that one lead to an unintended yet fascinating discussion on various school policies!), but it all went towards the special moment when you experience something together, and the 4”33 lesson definitely drew all of us closer together. Thanks to John Cage for that!

One other hook for now – when the iPhone first came out one of the most popular Apps was Ocarina. Ocarina was, and is, amazing. There’s a beautiful feature in Ocarina that lets you hear what people are practicing on their iPhone Ocarinas from around the world. I would have this feature playing as the students came into the classroom. Students would literally get 3 feet into the classroom then stop in their tracks and listen to the generally pretty weird sounds that were coming out of the speakers! Exciting curiosity! It usually sounded so bizarre, so random, but then every now and again you would get a hint of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and we’d listen for a bit longer and then hear someone else practicing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. We would be collectively willing them on to get it right! This helped the students practice too. What was also cool about that iPhone Ocarina feature was the picture of the Earth that pinpointed where in the world the people were performing from. Geography and music. Nice.

I hadn’t thought of these things as hooks before reading Teach Like a Pirate, and maybe now that I’m thinking about them as hooks I’m going to over think it and end up in a fankle like the Wee Kircudbright Centipede! But the point is, whatever you’re interested in, whatever makes you smile, whatever you’re curious about, whatever disrupts the way it’s always been done – use it. Sell the lesson to your students as the most amazing thing they’re ever going to experience and you will create an atmosphere were learning can’t help but take place.

 “Students will do amazing things if you can design a class and environment that is positive and empowering. Rising up to and overcoming challenges, building lifetime relationships, and forging positive connections to school won’t directly result in better test scores. It will results in better people. Isn’t that what we’re really trying to accomplish?” Teach Like A Pirate, p138

Teach Like A Pirate – Part 2
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