Creating the Magic in the Classroom: Lessons from Dr Chris Emdin

Let me start by introducing Dr Chris Emdin, the teacher of this topic; Dr Emdin is a US based professor of science, mathematics and technology. He holds a PhD in Urban Education and is also a Hip-Hop Archive Fellow at the WEB DuBois Institute at Harvard University. He has contributed to a number of projects that comment on social issues and play in the education space; These include #HipHopEd– a social media movement, “Edmin 5”– a series written for the Huffington Post and Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generationan award winning bookIn summary he is awesome and what is even better is that he does not keep his awesome to himself. So neither should I (… keep his awesome to myself I mean).

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Let’s start with the magic… what is the magic? Dr Emdin describes it as the ability to create the context for a trick to be so well presented that it is perceived as unbelievably real, resulting in the need to understand how it came about; so in the classroom it is about creating an environment where the content is so well presented that learning and understanding it is a must. Now most of us in the education game know that there are just some topics that cannot be made exciting in it’s simple form so how do you dress it up to make it the perfect prop for your magic act? Edmin explained that it is important to study what is happening outside of the space of the classroom and learn the human behaviour that is a part of the learners lives. He encourages sitting in the streets, observing, interacting and researching what you are not familiar with.

Once you have identified what it is that would best communicate your content to the learners you need to create a pedagogy (method/practice of teaching) that replicates this. For him it all came together in the form of Hip-Hop but his methods can be applied to most art forms or forms of play and communication, if you apply your mind. He gave the example of what he calls Pentacostal Pedagogy, using the methods of the church to teach in class. In this you would identify “call & response” or “engaging the audience to give verbal confirmation of the content” as a teaching methods that would replicate that of the church. Similarly if using hip-hop as the basis of your pedagogy you would teach the etiquette of engaging in a cipher and use that as the rules of discussion/engagement in the classroom, for example: do not cut someone mid-verse, start your answer based on the last thing said by the previous individual, feed off each others energies and so on.

Then it is time to apply. Identify a group of students in various classes to form a task team. What this team needs to do is help you refine your method. They do this by workshopping with you after school, with the parent’s permission obviously. There are a few key things for this to work:

  1. You can’t only choose students that like you (I know you were thinking it). A diverse group is the best because then you can moderate and adapt to the classroom setting. You will reach more people this way.
  2. Do not make the group so big that they end up dysfunctional. Having a small task teams also gives you the opportunity to really engage with the feedback given and actually work on it.
  3. Remember that they are there to give you feedback; this could be negative or positive. Give them the space to be open and honest with you.
  4. If you are concerned about some students in the class being upset about favouritism, tell your task team they are on a top secret mission that will be dissolved if you hear any complaints from other students because then they have blown the mission (teachers exaggerate all the time you might as well have fun with it… Okay maybe not this dramatic but you understand what I’m trying to get at)

Once you feel a little more comfortable with what you have developed take it into the classroom. By this time you are sure about your magic act and should be able to inspire the class to participate in the space you are creating. This may seem like a close to impossible task with everything else on your to-do list as an educator but as Dr Emdin puts it “to really activate the magic is free.” The key thing is that it needs to be deliberate and there are various aspects that you could look at in this. Let me leave that list for the next post… For now you can start consciously engaging with the social context that surrounds your students and the classroom.

Also check out some of Dr. Chris Emdin’s stuff:

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