Three rules to spark learning

Posted on November 4, 2016 by Ramsey Musallam

Ramsey Musallam is a high school chemistry teacher in San Francisco. He spent ten years of his life teaching out of a textbook and wondering what happened to teenagers who ask ‘why?’. Then he underwent a life threatening surgery that prompted him to re-examine his teaching philosophy. Amidst geeking out over explosions and chemistry quirks, Ramsey provides three hot tips to all educators.

   1. Curiosity comes first

Remember being 5 years old, and wondering why the sky was blue and cars went vroom, and why it wasn’t okay to take off all your clothes and run around the supermarket naked?

What happened to that curiosity? Why are we faced with glazed eyes and blank stares, slumped shoulders and mobile phones in laps?

Ramsey suggests that curiosity is the root of all genuine learning. That you should engage your students to WONDER about the world, to marvel at mathematics and ponder patterns, to write freely and relive history; make the connection between learning and life and EXPLORE the world.

    2. Embrace the mess

Let’s be honest; teaching is a mess. Don’t expect it to be anything else, but embrace it and allow your students to play in it. Or learn to clean it up. School should be as much about learning life skills as your 8 times tables. Allow students to make messes; literally and metaphorically.

    3. Practise reflection

As an educator with curriculum guidelines, reports to write and the same content to teach year in and out, it can be easy to slip into autopilot. Make the effort to reflect on when students were most curious, what messes they were able to make and whether they learnt to clean them up. Adjust accordingly.  Start each day fresh.

It is not just teaching we are doing, but guiding students into their adult lives. Encourage them to retain as much curiosity and joy about the world as possible. Here at PROJECT ROCKIT we have a ‘show don’t tell’ policy. When we run our anti-bullying workshops, we don’t sit a bunch of students down and lecture them- we get them up and moving, we teach them through facilitating a conversation that desperately needs to be had. We let them ask and answer their own questions, exploring the concepts of labels and judgement. We try to embody Ramseys hot tips. We let curiosity thrive and embrace the mess that is one hundred students in the same room, talking about what they’re passionate about. There is no way to control this stuff. If you’re truly encouraging curiosity and exploration, there will be messes. But with mess comes reflection and this is what it’s all about. We want students to reflect on respectful relationships, on what it means to be a leader, on WHY it’s important to stand up to bullying, and HOW to stand up to bullying. This reflection is what genuinely changes the behaviour and attitudes of the students we engage with.

So let’s encourage students to ask ‘why’, let’s cultivate their curiosity, embrace the mess and make real change.