Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Teach Like a Pirate: Courage to Say What We're All Thinking

Ahoy you sea-dogs and landlubbers alike!

I'm about a quarter of the way through Dave Burgess's book:  Teach Like a Pirate.  This book was hard to put down last night, but I am looking forward to continuing it through what will be a monotonous grad class tonight.

About Dave

Teach Like a Pirate

However there was something that resonated with me almost immediately as I read.  Burgess points out the strong connection between referencing pop culture and teaching.  Some teachers may frown on this as tacky or worthless, and they are wrong.  Additionally, caffeine and chocolate immediately enhance any lesson (obviously).

So I thought about it for a minute or two and I thought I would list some of the sillier things I have done, references I have made, or attempts to integrate my students' culture into my curriculum.

1.  There are several Family Guy episodes (notorious for their random references) that apply to history.  Try that one some time.  Well first, you have to watch.  Then just say "hey you remember when Brian and Stewie were doing _____________, that's what we are really talking about right now.  This is how it happened."

2.  Call of Duty!  They've made like 5,000 of them now.  Each one focused on a different war or part in history.  You want to talk about D-Day?  Well about half the games have a playable level where you storm Omaha or Utah Beach.  Just say "Hey remember in COD 2 in that first level where you hit the beach?"  Or you want to talk about the Chernobyl disaster?  Ask them about the level in COD 4 where you're in an abandoned city.  Mention the Ferris Wheel you wait by for the helicopter to extract you.  They'll know what you're talking about... even if you necessarily don't.  And the best part is that you can youtube people with the time to record themselves playing these games.  So if you don't have them, you can watch them, just to make the reference.  And this one works on more girls than you would believe.

3.  Find parodies.  From SNL to TV to movies to music, historical figures and events are parodied.  If the kids get why it is funny on their own, then they probably understand something about who that person was or what that event was about.  Just be careful that your audience can watch whatever it is, and that you don't have an administrator or parent who will go to red alert.  Here's a good example for the War of 1812:

4.  Anytime you have to talk about how outrageous the government was in doing something to someone, make the analogy to pizza, soda, facebook, or texting.  Imagine if the kids had to pay a tax on every text they sent.  Everyday, multiple times.  Now carry that feeling over to the American colonists paying taxes on their tea and everyday goods.

5.  Communism not setting in with your kids?  Give them all a bunch of candy (capital).  Then let them play a trivial game (rock, paper, scissors or Tic-Tac-Toe), where the winner gets a piece of the loser's candy.  That's competition in the market, and we call it capitalism.  Let someone win big, and then step in as the government and level the playing field again for everyone.  That's socialism.  Let them get upset that they just got robbed or revel in the fact that someone saved them.  Most will have gotten a bit of candy back, and you just created a candy proletariat in your classroom that will want to maintain the equality on their own, without me (the government).  Oh, P.S.  that's Communism.  This one was not my idea, so here's props to where I got that one from:

Communism Candy Lesson

6.  Use bad movies to teach good history.  If you haven't seen Pearl Harbor, watch it.  Then use it to explain to kids that it really wasn't a love story.

7.  Wrestling fans?  Buy a title belt from Walmart and then use it in a competition.  Middle schoolers love showing off and gloating to their peers.  You know you're awesome if you're the champ.

8.  Justin Beiber is Candian, as is Carly Rae Jepsen.  The boys from One Direction are British, as is Adele.  Selena Gomez is Hispanic.  Nicki Minaj is a Trinidadian, Rihanna is from Barbados, Shakira is from Colombia.  There's a geography lesson or project waiting to happen.

9.  Speaking of geography and map skills, let the kids create a city, state, or country.  Let them give it a theme.  I graded countless sports, boy-band, video game, and tv/movie-themed maps.  For older students, ask them to also devise the government structure.  Wanna be king?  Emperor?  President?  Prime Minister?  Or perhaps you and a few friends want a good old-fashioned oligarchy...  Who cares if the names are silly?  I mean someone named their town Santa Claus (sorry Jay Cutler)

That's it for now.  Time to go to school!

Mr. J.


  1. Great post! Thanks for sharing your cool ideas. Teachers have to connect to students lives and engage them. Just live Dave Burgess claims in his book, if students are engaged they aren't learning. We are lucky that we teach social studies and there are so many connections we can make through pop culture. Thanks again!

  2. One of the articles I read for Sappington today was all about student engagement, great ideas here to increase engagement which really does impact learning!!

    1. The kids also really like the songs Melissa and I play in class that are parodies of songs they already know like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1SCwjOHFHg about the Boston Tea Party and Taxation

  3. Sounds like you and I are in the about the same place in the book. I am enjoying it as well! Love your examples of how you have "stepped outside of the box" so to speak with your kids! Call of Duty...wow! :)
    Creating Lifelong Learners