Pirate Tales

So I’ve started teaching like a pirate thanks to Dave Burgess and his inspiring book by the same title. Even more energizing are the #tlap chats I’ve begun participating in weekly. I’ve begun following several fellow educators from all over the world through #tlap who have led me to even MORE twitter pln’s. And the spiral begins…

I’m now knee deep in PD and learning alongside some very smart & creative people. It’s like a caffeine jolt to my practice and I’m feeling very much engaged with my profession and my craft. Exciting.

My first experience as a pirate has been …I’d say fair. It started with a non-fiction article on the Maya civilization. I chose it basically for the non fiction reading strategy practice we needed (plus, the topic is cool). So the Maya became the backdrop for my lessons in drawing conclusions, making predictions, inferencing, analyzing, categorizing, and critical thinking (just how could they have predicted astronomical patterns such as an eclipse 34 years into the future, or Venus’ revolution to within mere days, without advanced technology)?

I searched online and found a YouTube clip, already segmented in 10 minute sections arranged by topic (glyphs, math system, astronomy, and way of life). These mirrored the article exactly. What luck!!

Seeing the potential for a pirate lesson, I seized it. The Maya Mystery Experience was born. I hung white sheets from the ceiling (to mirror the Maya interior of their homes) and removed the chairs. I put down mats (thanks PE teacher) to serve as the “thinking mats” which the Maya used (this info was in the article).

I met them at the door and told them to prepare to have their minds blown. Immediately they were hooked. As the kids entered the room, the only light came from the screen, which projected an image of a Maya tribal leader in full headdress. The mystery & excitement filled the room…and I had them! Immediately, the video segment began, bringing another world into the classroom. For 10 minutes they were completely mesmerized.

After adding to their journals, and what they thought the image was, we began asking questions. I told them, “as the week continues, you will learn these answers and more”. They didn’t want it to end. Exactly what a teacher strives for!

Each day has featured another video clip, more answers, and more questions. Today they were given the article to begin our reading and they COULD NOT WAIT to read it. We read only 3 of the 6 pages today (out of time!) and they literally moaned & begged to continue. Some asked if they could read ahead during recess. I have never, in 15 years, witnessed a more engaged reading lesson.

They made inferences, and justified them with text evidence. They drew on background knowledge to make predictions. They created categories and filled them with examples, delving into such character traits as “resourceful, insightful, ingenious, mysterious, advanced) and they found common themes (religion). They identified cause & effect. And they were in love with reading.

Tomorrow, we will watch the last clip. We ended today on a cliff hanger (they were not happy)! They cannot wait to complete the reading.

They requested (during math) that I give them problems to solve using the Maya number system of dots & bars. They learned of that today & were fascinated. What’s one more thing?!

But now….a problem. The students got together and proposed a project to me today. They want to create things to show what they’ve learned with technology, as a sort of tribute to this civilization. They explained that one group could do a play, another a documentary, another a slide show….they would include glyphs, pictures, maps…..and we could put it all on a wiki page. Our own Maya website.

Oh boy!! I could get lost in this wonderfully creative display of learning….but…time is so short!! We start a major science project next week, and a DBQ in Social Studies the week after. Our writing benchmarks are next week. There isn’t time for this extension!

So it seems my lesson was great but has brought forth some struggle & some questions. It’s so hard to stop progress but at the same time I have to say no to class time project. Could I let them do it at home? Don’t we want our kids to extend their learning? To take it home and continue learning because…wait for it….they WANT TO!? Maybe that’s the answer.

Other reflection: I was going to dress up in loud, colorful clothes to kick this off Maya style, but it was “Generation Texas” week and we were supposed to wear a school shirt. So I did. I should have worn the Maya clothes. The impact there would have been greater than them seeing me in the school shirt (again). That isn’t something they will remember.

Next time, I will.

And the journey continues….I will pirate on. Fearlessly.



4 thoughts on “Pirate Tales”

  1. Hi Traci,
    This is an awesome post!! I love the hooks and extra touches you added to the lessons and I’m so glad they ate it up. I think you are being way to hard on yourself to call it “fair!” I think it sounds like it was amazing and sparked a real thirst for knowledge. How cool that they want to extend the lesson. I hope you find a way to take advantage of this despite the issues with the schedule.
    I agree with you about the clothes, by the way…next time, for sure!
    I love that you’ve shared such an honest reflection with us about not only the successes of this attempt but also the real world issues that surfaced. Fantastic!


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