Sunday, April 29, 2012

Classroom Chronicles: Worth a Million

I'd like to think that at least a few of my lessons remain memorable for my students throughout their lives. As a teacher I worked hard at locating and planning lessons to engage my students. I wanted the lessons to lead to discovery for I felt that if students 'discovered' the principle I was teaching, they would own it and remember it. Unfortunately, sometimes what the students 'discovered' was not what I originally intended!

I was teaching third grade. I found a wonderful lesson in a magazine about "How Much is a Million?". The students would be able to measure liquid, practice multiplying by 10, develop an understanding of metric measurement, and work with place value as they counted one million drops of water. A 'packed' lesson. There was so much a student could take away from this lesson! But... wait until you hear what my students remember from this lesson...almost 30 years later!

We began our work. The students had paper and pencil for their calculations. We worked in groups. Each group had an aquarium (I think they were 20 gallon aquaria). They had an eye dropper and graduated cylinders in a 10 ml and 100 ml sizes. Each group also had a large plastic bowl or pitcher. My job, after directing the students through the initial stages of the lesson, was to supply water to each group. I had access to a sink in the room, so I simply had to go back and forth among the groups with a pitcher to bring water to them.

Students measured 10 drops of water into the 10 ml cylinder. Then they figured out what volume they would have if they multiplied it by 10. So they would know the measurement for 100 drops of water. Then they could multiply that by 10 to get the volume of 1000 drops, and so forth. They began pouring water and recording the amount on their papers. I began shuttling back and forth with my pitcher. There was a wonderful buzz of activity around the classroom. Students were involved. They were engaged in the lesson. They were talking about their work. It's the type of talk a teacher loves to hear.

Then... it happened. I came out of the bathroom with another pitcher of water. I slipped. I fell backwards, foot kicking up to the ceiling, falling... falling.... flat on the floor. My pitcher of water went sailing, splattering students, desks, the ceiling and the floor. There was an awkward moment of stillness and then a ripple of giggles began, spreading across the classroom. There was a great deal of merriment because there is nothing funnier than seeing someone your teacher fall down on the job.

Not too long ago I met one of my third graders from that class. She is now an adult, with children of her own. She and I reminisced a bit. Then she said, "Remember the time you slipped and fell?" That's all she remembered from the lesson. Not counting. Not measuring. Not multiplying. She simply remembered that her teacher was human, with human frailties, and could laugh about it. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. In its own way, that's worth a million!


  1. It's worth a million millions! I'm glad you weren't hurt, but I have to admit, it must have been funny to see.

  2. Actually, I think these kinds of things are all they remember! LOL At least it helps me take it all less seriously when the going gets rough. My kids were so kind last week about my mom...and they are 3rd graders too.

  3. Great memory! I can almost here the stifled laughter:)


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