On Super Bowl Sunday, I shared a teaching tip inspired by the Seattle Seahawks' "12th Man" concept. In a nutshell, the fans in Seattle are so loud, have such a powerful presence in the stadium, and give the team such a formidable home-field advantage that it's almost as if the Seahawks have an extra player on the field - a 12th man.
I first saw the potential of applying the "12th Man" concept to the classroom a few weeks back while my 30 students were studying fractions. I wanted to call the children's attention to the fact that learning how to find a common denominator was an incredibly important skill to master because it would enable them to add and subtract fractions with unlike denominators, find equivalent fractions, and make comparisons. In short, I wanted to make a big deal out of finding a common denominator.
Very dramatically, I announced that this skill is so important and will have such a powerful presence in our room in the coming weeks that it's almost as if (you guessed it) we have a 31st student among us. After hearing of the "12th Man" in Seattle, the kids immediately loved the idea of having a 31st student in our classroom and loved the connection between an academic concept and a real-life example from the world of sports. For the rest of our fractions study, every time we returned to the skill of finding a common denominator, the kids paid extra close attention to what I was teaching, and their proficiency with the skill was impressive.
That's what I was going for with the "31st Student" concept. I wanted a novel way to give special attention to one concept so that children would form an emotional connection with that concept and appreciate its significance. And that's what happened. I knew that finding a common denominator, though, would eventually run its course as a featured idea, and the novelty would wear off. So this past week, as the kids began to publish their California History Research Projects, I introduced our second "31st student" - professional publishing. At the time I announced our new "31st student," I also unveiled a special surprise - our new class flag modeled after the one hanging in Seattle during home games. Every day this past week, when it was time to begin our Writing Workshop period, we would wave the flag, and I would call their attention to the various aspects of professional publishing that I wanted everyone to remember throughout the week.
Once again, the novelty and sheer fun associated with the "31st Student" concept raised the level of attention that the kids paid to their publishing, and their books look absolutely beautiful. Once this project is behind us, I will search for our next "31st Student" and continue doing so for the remainder of the school year. Because this idea is so flexible, I can make our "31st Student" an academic concept, a habit of character, or any other valuable idea I want to emphasize, and I can keep the idea going for as long as we need before shifting to the next. I will also solicit ideas from the kids. Consider adding a "31st Student" flag or poster to your classroom if you're looking for a fun, simple way to highlight the importance of a single idea.