We all understand the first priority of a school is to keep the students safe, and in today's world that means adding security features. Cameras, doors that buzz open, and everyone's favorite... the man trap. School lobbies have gone from welcoming and inviting to a security zone where visitors must be screened before they are allowed to enter. While these safety precautions are absolutely necessary, it does take away from the feel of a school as you first enter.
Does Safety Kill Curiosity?
With this in mind, as a school we are always searching for ways to have students show up "curious for class". Some of our math teachers use the site, Estimation 180 to spark curiosity in our students right as they enter the classroom. We have have had discussions with teachers about how we can set up the outside of a classroom to prime students for learning before they show up, as suggested by the book, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I started to think about Ken Robinson and how he believes schools are killing creativity. I thought about visiting Tony Sinanis at his elementary school, where the walls were alive with student work and you could feel the energy in his school. I thought about our teachers returning after visiting Glen Robbins and his middle school. They were in awe of the freedom students has in the hallways to explore and be curious learners. As the building principal how could I model what it means to encourage curiosity?
With these two seemingly divergent situations, safety and security, I was surprised they led to an interesting idea. Everyday before school we have between 20 - 30 students who wait inside our school in the 'man trap' for school to start. Once music begins playing, the doors open and they depart for their zero period, or morning meeting. But we have these students, usually on their phones, for about ten minutes. A few weeks ago I displayed the problem below on the glass with Expo Marker. I placed an eraser and about four other markers and waited to see what would happen.
The first morning...nothing happened. Not a single student tried to solve the problem. The second morning, nothing still. Not one attempt by a student. I walked out into our lobby area and asked if the problem that was up on the window was too difficult for the students, and the responses I received were, "What problem?" "What are you talking about?" After I showed them where the problem was we had all Expo Markers busy at work. Every day for the rest of the week we had students trying to solve the problem, writing their names next the their answers, and choosing to talk about how to solve a math problem instead of picking up their phone. What really surprised me was that we had students on their way out to recess stop to solve the problem. Some of which, so driven to solve the problem, wound up missing their entire recess to trying to complete it.
I do not want to be disingenuous, not every student in our school stops to solve these problems, but we are three weeks in to our 'lobby math' and every week we have lots of work displayed, and lots of students who I hope are showing up curious for class. This is a small change, but one that I hope allows visitors to see that the students at Byram Intermediate are curious problem solvers. If someone comes to our school the first thing they will experience is a camera and an intercom, but the second is math problems over the lobby.
If you are looking for ways to have students show up #curious4class I would love to see what you are doing. I hope to learn from your experience, and if you could post any pictures to Twitter with the hashtag '"#Curious4Class" so we can all learn from one another.
If anyone has math problems they would like to share that would be great for our lobby, or other questions that would help students open students' minds in the morning I would love to learn what ideas you have. Feel free to post a in the comments sections below or connect with me on Twitter @JohnFritzky.
Reference: Growing Staircase Problem: http://www.insidemathematics.org/assets/problems-of-the-month/growing%20staircases.pdf