Saturday, September 21, 2013

Teaching is an Art, Not a Science

Post by Dan Eizyk: Dan has been teaching Social Studies for 5 years; the last two years at Bettendorf High School.

Let me start off by saying something I have always thought was true- teaching is more of an art than it is a science. Last week I was approached by the Principal of my school to contribute to a blog in which I would share a teaching idea that would foster some discussion on how we connect with our young people- which brought me back to my prior statement. Swapping one living being with another, a plant for a student, might help clarify my point (or add some confusion). You see, in the real world, one cannot “make” a plant grow. You only put a seed into fertile soil, cultivate a nurturing environment, hope, and wait. Sometimes it works well, and you get yummy fruit. Other times you fail miserably and you are left with nothing, or worse, gross fruit.

In the same way, one cannot “teach” a student to have curiosity, to be passionate about learning, or to have empathy for their fellow human beings. You can, however, create an enriching classroom experience which is capable of cultivating these attributes, hope, and wait. Sometimes it works well, and you get awesome results. Other times, you get gross fruit.

Needless to say, I love my job, and am happy to share an idea which I believe has had positive results in one of my courses for the past couple of years, and which you too could try in order to get good results in a class...

“WHY does it even matter to me? That event was soooooo long ago, those people sooooo far away”

That’s right. It’s that kid. You feel your muscles tense up and your teeth grit ever so slightly as you prepare to give your special spiel to a (mostly deaf) audience who have heard the same spiel from their previous teachers. What if you could avert this ever-present doomsday scenario?

In Current Issues, I use a website called E-Pals ( to connect my classroom to other classrooms around the world, and it works wonders. Like a tech-infused, penpals on steroids program, Epals allows my students to correspond directly to a classroom in a region we are learning about in class. My students create videos to send to their assigned country, highlighting who we are, cultural facts and nuances, social norms, and other fun things we can think of. They in turn do the same, and we watch in amazement as our classroom takes a virtual “field trip” to Russia, China, Israel, Brazil, and Turkey. Students who have never even left the great state of Iowa get an eye-opening cultural awakening via their pen-pals.

Furthermore, on a daily basis, each student corresponds with their particular Epal, using a device such as their IPAD,smartphone, transformer laptop, and even my computer. Every day during fourth block, I have students asking me in the first five minutes of class if they can quickly send a message to their Epal in Tatarstan, Russia. That’s right. Students begging me for the opportunity to write. How can I refuse that?!

Through the sending of messages, videos, and pictures, each of my students builds a personal connection to a teenager miles away and worlds apart.They learn about different customs, practices, and ways of life. They learn to respect other cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities. They become ambassadors to their nation, and take on responsibilities they might not have been ever given in a traditional classroom- I do not monitor their correspondence, as I have never yet had an issue with inappropriate communication. I trust my students (this blog was proofread by a student, thanks Kylie), and I think this helps them reciprocate this trust back. Finally, students learn the answer to the question posed earlier- why it matters to them.

November, 2012

As upwards of 700 deadly rockets and mortars bombarded cities in Israel, and countless people were seeking shelter, often donning gas-masks, class was canceled for a week in Kiryat Bialik High School, located in Haifa, Israel. How did I know class was canceled? One of my students approached me and told me, worried about her Epal’s safety. You see, last year we were doing this project with a class in Israel when pandemonium broke out over there. In the ensuing internet blackout, I fed news reports from their teacher to my kids about their Epal’s well being. These weren’t strangers who were being attacked, they were literally their classmates, and in some cases, their friends. Needless to say, my lecture on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was closely followed. Students wanted to know. They wanted to learn. I tried to teach. To hope. To wait.

Here is a link to a brief article (in Hebrew, but easy to read with google’s translation tool) from our Epals last year. None of them got hurt, and they are all doing well now.


  1. Dan,
    Proud of you my friend. It is clear you are doing some outstanding things in the classroom with your students. Your willingness to take risks to connect our kids to real issues going on in the world is to be commended. Our kids are fortunate to have you as their teacher and the experiences you are providing them will last a lifetime. Great work Dan! - jimmy

  2. Dan, I still remember my Scottish pen pal from elementary school. Of course our letters spent weeks coming and going, but that did build a sense of anticipation into the whole endeavor. My peers were jealous, I recall, because my pen pal claimed his grandfather had seen the Loch Ness Monster as a lad.
    I was a bit dubious, but it made for excellent storytelling on the playground.
    Great piece by the way, Rodger

  3. Dan,
    What a great story and a great representation on how to connect our students! Your story is moving and your ability to create an environment conducive to learning is motivating. Keep up the good work!
    ~ Colin

  4. What a fabulous idea Dan...the whole epals thing....We constantly grasp for ideas to bring relevancy into the classroom. You have done just that. Not only are your students benefitting from the curriculum you are providing, they are learning far more important lessons about life and their world around them. Will share your ideas as a way to open the boundaries of learning.....thank you.