Monday, October 7, 2013

Harry Potter, Hogwarts, the Sorting Hat and Magic in the 4th Grade

After three years in retirement, I've re-entered the classroom in a way I never envisioned.  

My grandson started school this September and his district is actively seeks volunteers.  They were looking for library volunteers, and while I wasn’t interested in shelving books, as a retired technology infusion consultant, I thought I might offer my talents in other areas.

I have great respect and admiration for librarians, and know them them as one of the earliest education groups to welcome technology into their domain.  In 1996 I received a call to provide an Internet workshop for school media specialists in the south Jersey.  When asked what they wanted me to present, I was given one of the best, if not the best response I ever received to that question.  She said, “It’s hard to say what we want, when we don’t know what we need.” 

With that memory in mind, I attended the volunteer meeting. As I sat and listened, it was obvious she was looking for the kind of clerical help that I wasn’t interested in providing, but was very open to finding out what we had to offer.  Well it’s not that I wasn’t interested in providing clerical help, as much as I wasn’t interested in driving 35 minutes in each direction to provide it.  

When the appropriate time came, I spoke my piece and alluded the kinds of thing I could and would be able and willing to provide.  Rather than being dismissive, put upon, or intimidated, I could see the wheels turning and her acceptance of what I was offering was immediate. 

Over the next week, we exchanged emails in which I gave her a much broader range of services I could offer, and asked her to get back to me once school opening was out of the way and she had time to digest what I presented to her.

A short time later, she sent me an email with the disclaimer that what she was about to propose might sound crazy and that I shouldn’t hesitate to tell her no.  As soon as I read the word crazy, I smiled.  She had come to the right asylum!  After all, I had taught a self-contained classroom without any text books and created life science curriculum by writing songs and singing them in the classroom.  My teaching partner dressed up like a tree to teach her class photosynthesis.  Heck, the biggest part of my teaching career was defined by crazy!  

Her 4th grade book club was doing Harry Potter. At their next meeting she wanted to sort them into the four Hogwarts houses; Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Gryffindor.   We would reenact the Sorting Hat scene from Harry Potter.   She had a sorting hat that was every bit as authentic as the one in the movie, and would tape her smart phone inside the hat. I would be outside in the parking lot providing the voice of the sorting hat and working from descriptions she had written for each student.

When I arrived, so as to not lose and time with her students, she had already primed and tasked one of the other volunteers to set things up and test everything out with me.  We taped, tested and got ready for the class. 

As the librarian called each student up I used a script she had written to sort them into their respective houses. I couldn’t see what was going on, but after the first student, it seemed to me that they were buying into the “magic”.   

When the second student was getting ready to have the hat placed above her head, she said, “That’s kind of creepy.”  Before reading her script I ad-libbed, “No, it’s not creepy.”  

I wish I could have seen the expression on her face, because the next student said to the librarian, “How does he know all that stuff?” 

Not waiting for her answer, the sorting hat said, “The sorting hat knows everything.”   After the rest of the students were sorted, they got down to the business at hand, which was reading and discussing characteristics of each of the Hogwarts houses, and what would happen in following weeks. 
Later, the librarian confirmed that they bought into it completely.  Had they questioned it or guessed what was going on, we had plans to introduce me, but that wasn’t necessary.  The sorting hat will be there for future Hogwarts students.

There were three things that really made my day.  First, was that she was doing exactly what I had spent my technology consulting career trying to get teachers to understand.  It's not about technology! It's all about the curriculum.  Technology is simply a tool! You start with a curricular problem and then look for the technology that will help you do it in a way that is better or more efficient than without it.   

Second, the technology of choice was the smart phone, a tool that has yet to make significant inroads into schools. They were just coming into use during the final years of my “working” life, and this was the first opportunity I had to use it with a class!

Finally, was that I wasn’t teaching anything. I was the assistant! There was very little prep and no pressure. It was a fun day and great to get back in the classroom. Well, actually it was getting back into the parking lot in front of the classroom.

Next on the agenda will be something more in my wheelhouse that will truly get me back in the classroom.  I’ll be doing some Internet safety work with all of the 4th grade classes.  

More about that later!