Arguments as Enthusiasm, and Ideas that Come from the Grey Zone

en·thu·si·asm
n.
1. Great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause.
2. A source or cause of great excitement or interest.


One of the PYP Attitudes that is easy to apply to any situation is Enthusiasm. It is kind of the fall back for reflection. Well, the students were engaged, and they had fun, so they must have been showing Enthusiasm. It is easy to notice, and easy to bring forth with a little creativity. For the most part, in my experience, getting primary school students engaged and Enthusiastic has never been a problem. Like I said, it is the easy PYP attitude to apply to any situation, and I rarely gave it any critical thought.

Until today.

Today I noticed a different type of Enthusiasm. It showed itself through high emotions and anger (through a class debating activity). We are starting a new inquiry into technology and its impacts on work and leisure. We tuned in by doing some brainstorming. I asked the students to list what IS technology by writing examples on a piece of paper.

It started nicely, as expected. The usual answers came flooding in, as you expect from this generation. iPads, iPods, smartphones, Playstations, Xbox's, Nintendos, etc. Most them began to think of the home, and all the appliances we associate with our comfortable lifestyles came out; toasters, microwaves, TVs, etc.

And then...

...as the ideas started to thin out, people started to take more risks and the group ventured into unknown waters. This is always the case, once the obvious black and white choices have disappeared, things start to get a little grey. It is in this space, that real questions come out. These are types of questions that can drive inquiry to new and exciting places. The types of questions that have no obvious answer, but have kept people awake for centuries trying to answer them. These types of questions get at something deep about the world, and make us question and wonder about our very existence. One of the main pieces of advice I can give to teachers is just wait, give them time to brainstorm. When the black and white ideas are gone, and the obvious solutions are thought of, keep the session going and let the wacky, off the wall ideas come alive. Sometimes they will get you nowhere. Other times, it will be glorious.



Once the ideas started to get more 'out there', the passion and Enthusiasm started to turn up. People, even young children, get very connected to their definitions of the world. When that idea is challenged, they can react with anger. As a teacher, I see it as my job to perturb and make unclear these things we take for granted and assume as known.

Today, I let them get angry. I let their blood pressure rise, and their voices rise. I saw the passion behind what they were saying, and I saw a real Enthusiasm to engage with difficult questions. I could have asked them to treat each other with respect, use an appropriate voice, not cut people off, listen to all sides of the argument, etc. etc. But there will be plenty of time for that later. Right now, at this moment, the Enthusiasm to engage with the tough questions is what I am looking for, not the polite matters of formalized debate. The passion needs to be there before the structure.

The form that Enthusiasm took today was not a smiling face and a proud posture, but rather a fierce and angry defense of what they believe about the world.

That is great place to start a learning journey.


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