Great teaching is like a bowl of M & Ms…

My wife had book club at our house last night.  When I sat down at the table to get on my laptop this morning there was a bowl of M&Ms sitting on the table that apparently never made it to the living room for her guests.  I just reached in for one more and realized that I had eaten ever one.  Try an experiment–sit in front of bowl of M&Ms and try to eat just one.  Chemists at Mars Candy Company have worked extremely hard at coming up with the perfect recipe that does not leave someone satisfied after just one…or two…or a bowl.  Without boring you about the science of sugars, they have created a recipe that make you want more and be able to eats lots of them without ever feeling satisfied.  Even after a couple of handfuls you still want more.

So I wonder if a student’s experience in school should be more like eating a bowl of M&Ms…

If a teacher creates a unit that allows the students to feel as though they have completely covered the topic, does that lead to the death of new learning on that topic.  I lead tours on root cellars in the 1830’s at Old Sturbridge Village. I have found that when I give a very “complete” tour there are no questions at the end.  I love talking about how people utilized root cellars and the “science” behind them and if I don’t keep myself in check I can go on and on and everyone leaves satisfied.  But when I have to rush through it or if I am short on time and I leave lots of stuff out there are tons of questions and lots of stragglers continuing to ask questions as the next group is entering.  I have also noticed that when I give an “incomplete” tour a lot more people leave saying “I have to try this at home.”

Maybe we shouldn’t be evaluating teachers simply by what their kids can do and know. How about at the end of a unit we ask a single question–Do you want to know more?  I am more interested in that answer than if they know why the Battle of Saratoga is important.  The phrase “life long learner” has had its meaning changed to creating students that “can” learn new things.  We should be graduating students that “want” to learn knew things. Mystery and curiosity is that secret ingredient that should be used in recipes for great units.  They are the ingredients that allow for learning to occur outside of the school.  A student who possesses all of the knowledge, but lacks any curiosity can succeed in the future.  But they will have to fit into a future that is created by our curious students. An intelligent student will know all of the answers, but in order to gain wisdom they must possess the curiosity to ask questions.

This year I need to figure out how to make each unit not end the learning on a topic, but act as a beginning.


  1. I totally agree! As a 1st grade teacher much of what I teach is more skills for future growth in learning than content which will be outdated by the time they would be of an age to apply it. My goals beyond reading, writing & learning life skills , really have more to do with creating a thirst & drive for more. It’s great to know how to read; but what will you do with that? I think the new illiteracy is a nation of readers who choose not to read! A life-long reader, writer, & learner is what I’m looking for; that’s worthy of my pouring all my passion into:)

  2. I think that both knowledge and curiosity are important. It is not enough for students to *want* to know more—they must also be capable of learning more on their own, which often requires some framework to hang new knowledge on and some practice at research skills. It is true that too many schools get hung up on memorizing factoids for exams, and neglect both the desire and the ability of students to learn more.

  3. Thanks Paul –
    This is a great reminder that we have to be careful not to do something “to death”. I’m a public school librarian, and often see evidence of topics that have been ruined. It’s easy to recognize; just mention the topic and the light goes right out of the kids’ eyes!
    I think one of the challenges in this area, is that so much of human interest is tied to personal passion. If a student isn’t interested in, let’s say the topic of native people, it’s quite challenging to create a unit that is going to leave him or her wanting more. It’s not so hard when they’re young (grade six students, for the most part, are still interested in almost everything), but by high school they seem to have lost that curiosity drive.
    Thanks again for the thought provoking challenge.

  4. We have a class in our Middle School called ‘Investigations’ which was created by the former principal – the aim of it is for the students to investigate… things (for want of a better word). Units can last 2 weeks or a semester, or even more if the class dynamic so chooses. It is a great class because the direction of learning can go wherever the students want. Teachers of investigations classes can be any teacher as we all bring our own areas of expertise and we also learn along with the kids.

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