The Invisible Teacher

Guest Blog by Ricky Board- 2nd grade teacher in Everman.

I came across Sugata Mitra‘s experiment a few years ago and it challenged me to rethink some things.  His experiment is called the “hole in the wall“.  He simply placed a computer in a wall in the slums and watched to see what would happen.  Before long there were un-educated children exploring this new device.  When he went to check in on them he found that they had taught themselves english because they had to in order to use the computer.  In one of his experiments he simple asked a friend of the children to stand behind them and admire what they were doing and just ask them about it every now and then.  I think this experiment could be used to redefine the role of teachers.

At Ipadpalooza this year I met several other educators that are building new ideas about what teaching should look like.  Rabbi Michael Cohen, who wrote about the invisible iPad, talks about how it’s not about the device but what we can do with it.  Another amazing speaker was Richard Wells.  He shared a story where he was late to his class and walked in to find his students working on projects already.  So I began to think about all this and what it could mean for the future of classrooms.  What if we made the classroom less about the teachers?  I don’t mean to say we don’t need great teachers in the classroom, but rather the role of the teacher is beginning to shift.  If we want to have a student centered classroom then teachers need release some control over the classroom.  You might think that sounds crazy, but if we release our control and guide our students they become empowered.  They become inspired.  They become creators and innovators.

At the start of my education career I thought that the consumption part of technology and the gamification of education was what was going to make the most impact.  I still think games are a fantastic way to learn, but they are not the deepest way to learn.  What I finally started to see was that creating was ultimately the greatest thing for my students.  Creating allows them to dive deeper into the topic and really explore from multiple perspectives.  If I set them loose on a topic and let them explore it deeply I can become their guide in exploration.  I can essentially fade into the background and become the invisible teacher.  I’m no longer the center of my room.  I’m no longer the one giving them information, but rather I’m there to help them discover it on their own.  

I saw an article by Mind Shift that talked about a study in which some students got the typical lessons from a teacher while others were handed a problem and had to solve it with out help.  The students that did not receive help showed more progress and a better understanding of the knowledge because they had wrestled with it.  I’m teaching mostly math this year in 2nd grade and I’ve tried to  model this idea.  I’ve created simple but deep learning activities.  At the beginning of a unit the students spend time exploring these activities with very little explanation from me.  This give them the time to explore lots of ideas rather than listening to me and doing what I ask.  The students work and wrestle with the concepts with a partner and they explain what they have done using Showbie on the iPad.  Showbie allows me to see what they did during that activity when they take a picture of their work and describe it using a voice note.  What amazed me was some of the ways that my students started solving problems that I would have never taught them.  They would try and fail and try again.  Through that process of failing and trying something new they began to understand concepts on a deeper level.

My challenge to us as educators today is how can we become invisible?  How can we fade into the background of our classroom and be there to support students when needed.  I believe our students will be better learners if we step out of the way and allow them to explore in their own way.  They will make mistakes along the way and it’s not our job to fix those mistakes for them.  It’s our job to let them fix those mistakes so that they can become the great problem solvers and innovators of tomorrow.



One thought on “The Invisible Teacher

  1. Lynn G. says:

    This is so true. Many of our students are willing to be spoon-fed information and don’t quite know what to do when presented with a challenge or problem and have to think for themselves. Your students are lucky to have a teacher who is willing to take a risk that will ultimately benefit their students.


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