Who said High School Musical can’t be educational?

It has been a few weeks since I’ve written a blog and it feels like so much has happened already. I visited Italy and Romania, my parents came and visited me for a week, and I celebrated Thanksgiving with my fellow ETAs in Prague. That’s not even mentioning the everyday cultural events and activities that I have been invited to, the very lovely evenings I spend learning to knit and crochet, and my foray into the large variety of sports available to me here.

I am now well-settled into the routine of teaching and co-teaching, developing lesson plans, and building interesting activities that I hope provides value to the students. I have created lessons on topics like American popular culture, American food, Halloween festivities, Regional American accents, Diwali, Environmental Activism, Thanksgiving, and most recently, American history. I have used materials like clips of past James Bond actors, High School Musical dance scenes, and Taylor Swift song lyrics to spark conversations and illustrate examples of the topics at hand.

I have tried to think of ways in which the material can be engaging and the approach different each time. Some lessons have been resounding successes (from my own internal metric). For example, I built a lesson around the idea of Stereotypes after one of the teaching magazines had an article about The Insincere American Stereotype. This is generally how I start lesson planning. I will sit with one of my co-teachers and look at what the students are reading in educational magazines, Bridge and Gate, that month and if there is a topic that I can shed more light on, I run with it.

For the Stereotypes lesson, I wanted to find a way to get the students to really discuss and contemplate why stereotypes are problematic and detrimental to society. The lesson plan was as follows:

  1. I started by going over the article with the students— going into detail why some Americans may come across as insincere and how that relates to the level of service received at restaurants and cafes. Basically, servers + needing tips due to a lack of a living wage = lots of friendliness and care
  2. I then moved on to asking the students to define exactly what a stereotype is (in English, of course) and then encouraging them to think of the different categories of stereotypes, the different ways that we can judge and put people into boxes. Ex: nationality, gender, race, religion, jobs, hobbies, socioeconomic status, age, etc. They provided examples of common stereotypes (“Women are bad drivers,” “Politicians are corrupt,” “Young people are irresponsible”). I asked them to think of why stereotypes are problematic, giving the example of why it would be bad if I were to believe all stereotypes of Czech people before visiting the country, and then letting any experience I had simply reinforce my prejudgement.
  3. Now comes the most interesting part of the lesson: the Sinking Boat Activity. I wrote on the board 13 professions: nurse, doctor, lawyer, scientist, firefighter, college student, child, babysitter, taxi driver, migrant worker, senator, unemployed person, teacher. The activity goes as follows: You, along with these 13 people, are on a boat. The boat is sinking and you are all going to die. But, there is a lifeboat! However, the lifeboat only has five seats. Which five people will you save?
  4. The students have to choose individually the five people they would choose. I then put them into groups where they have to discuss, argue, and come to a common conclusion of which five people to save. I asked one representative from each group to write their five choices on the board.
  5. Then I put together the classes’ final list of five. Naturally, there are some opposition arguments as to why some people should be on the boat over others. But I have the class vote on the remaining choices and ultimately, we decide on our final five.
  6. Now, I break down the lesson. I ask the students why no one chose to save people like the unemployed person, the migrant worker, the babysitter, and the taxi driver. Why the doctor and the firefighter are “more important” or “deserve” to be on the lifeboat more than the others. Why we automatically made assumptions about how the unemployed person is probably “lazy,” “an alcoholic,” or “homeless” despite the fact that he may be actively out looking for a job? Or that the unemployed person could be a housewife too? Why the people who were left behind (migrant worker, unemployed person, taxi driver, babysitter) are arguably of the lowest social status, make the least amount of money, have the least education, work replaceable jobs, or have unflattering job reputations (lawyer and senator)?
  7. It comes down to “Who do we value in society?” What was interesting to me was comparing the final five people chosen in every class. I even began to incorporate the results into my lesson— asking the students how in 13 classes that I had done this exercise in, the final five choices were largely the same and how that could be possible considering the students are of different age groups, backgrounds, and life experiences. The answer: Stereotypes. How many movies or TV shows have you seen where the doctor or the firefighter is the hero? And how many have you seen where the unemployed person or the migrant worker is the hero or even has redeeming qualities at all? Society has taught us from an early age who is worth saving and if all of us were on the boat, we would choose the same people to save.
  8. Bottom line and main takeaway: the premise of the exercise is innately flawed. We shouldn’t be making determinations about who should live and who should die based on someone’s job. If you felt weird or conflicted about making these decisions with such limited information, that’s good. That’s how it should be. Because the whole point of this is to WANT more information, to not be satisfied with assigning a stereotype to someone based on how they look or dress or talk. Don’t let the first impression or judgement of someone be your last. Understand that stereotyping is very difficult to escape from, but it requires intentional thought and work to make sure that you are keeping your mind open to learning something new and changing your perspective as you interact with people in your life.

Safe to say that this the most successful lesson I’ve done thus far. It kept students engaged and active, built vocabulary related to jobs, and left them with a meaningful message. I did this lesson with thirteen classes, and somehow, it was successful each time.

The results of each class are as follows.

Class 1: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, Nurse
Class 2: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, College Student
Class 3: Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, Nurse, College Student
Class 4: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Babysitter, College Student
Class 5: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, College Student
Class 6: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, College Student
Class 7: Child, Doctor, Nurse, Scientist, College Student
Class 8: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Nurse, College Student
Class 9: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, College Student
Class 10: Doctor, Firefighter, Nurse, Scientist, College Student
Class 11: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, College Student
Class 12: Child, Doctor, Firefighter, Scientist, College Student
Class 13: Child, Doctor, Teacher, Scientist, College Student

Not all lessons have been as successful as this one, but there is something to be said for learning from experience. With each class that passed by, I noticed how I could adapt and improve the lesson to be more efficient or more meaningful for the next group.

I like to experiment to see which activities have the potential to become mainstays in lesson planning— Kahoot, Jeopardy, Board Relays, Buzzfeed Quizzes have all been fun to implement and seem to be good to encourage some healthy competition. Confession: Beer Pong (without the beer but with grammar review exercises) theoretically sounded like I could make it fun and interesting and I was really excited about it. But I underestimated the difficulty threshold; instead of having a fun activity filled with review, I had students trying (and failing) to throw the ping pong balls into the cups. Murphy’s Law was naturally on my side on that one.

It’s been wildly interesting seeing how classes interact with the materials or the lessons that I put together. Most days, it feels like a puzzle that my brain is constantly trying to rearrange to insure that everyone is getting the most out of what I have to offer.

Here’s to seeing what comes next!

3 thoughts on “Who said High School Musical can’t be educational?

  1. Interesting. I wonder why they chose to save the college student, potentially because this person would be an educated, valued member of society one day?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s