I am a planner. I spend hours upon hours planning lessons. Oddly enough, after all the planning, the lessons almost never go as planned. After a few years of stressing over this, I have learned to roll with it. And I have found that some of my best lessons were not planned at all.
One such lesson occurred last fall. Every year, our entire school does two service days. I happened that we were serving in a soup kitchen, and I was peeling potatoes alongside my students. For some crazy reason, they were in awe of my potato peeling prowess. They claimed that they had never seen anyone peel potatoes so fast.
A legend had somehow been born. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but there was a group of students who swore that they could beat me in a potato peeling contest. Knowing how competitive some of them were, I took every opportunity to trash-talk right along with them.
Then one day, I found a note on my whiteboard. They wanted a contest. Though I knew I would be losing at least two instructional days, I thought it was worth doing. I decided that we would take the two days right before Thanksgiving (instead of their suggested date in December) – it was perfect timing.
I brought in a 5 lb. bag of potatoes, and set everything up before school. In each class, we picked two students to compete. We talked about the variables involved in the contest – time and potato size. Each student was given 5 potatoes, and they weighed each one. Our data keeper recorded the weights on the whiteboard and the rest of the class had a data sheet where they recorded their data. The students took turns peeling one potato at a time while another student timed them with a stopwatch. Times were recorded for each run.
The next day, we had to decide who had won each competition. Looking at crowded data sheets, it was unclear how to do this. We talked extensively about what to do with the data and decided that graphing it would show us a picture. What followed was a discussion of independent vs. dependent variables, linear vs. non-linear relationships, correlation, and variability. We discussed the slope of the fitted line and what it meant. We talked about whether or not Benen was the winner because he had the fastest time and why two of Joe’s data points seemed to be outliers.
It was a good way to spend the three days before Thanksgiving break. It was non-stressful, fun, and the students were engaged. And it was not planned.