Spring Forward: Circadian and Cognitive Shifts – Nicola Simmons

The spring clock change. For me, it’s a time of shifts and re-framing, some of it good, like stargazing for another few weeks on my early morning walk, and some of it challenging, like waking up an almost 14 year old daughter who’s sure it’s not time yet. There’s no question that it also disrupts our patterns – sleep patterns and cognitive patterns (Kamstra, Kramer, & Levi, 2000; Kuhn, 2001)(if you don’t have a teenager you may have noticed these changes in your colleagues or yourself!). Maybe it’s partly spring fever (or early April foolishness), but for me it’s also a time that prompts me to look at things differently, to imagine possibilities that sometimes have others questioning my sanity.

What really got me thinking about getting outside the box this week was a story that same daughter told me about her school day. Apparently two of the boys in her grade eight class had been “goofing around” in increasing volume and intensity until it finally got to the point that the teacher asked them to leave the class. The problem? They wouldn’t listen to the teacher. Now I’m not including this as an example of today’s discipline problems, but rather for the solution my daughter suggested after several unsuccessful attempts by the teacher to get them to settle down. Her idea? She said to the teacher, “If they’re not going to leave, then why don’t we?” The teacher agreed, and they spent the rest of that period in the hallway, having, as my daughter reported, an excellent and uninterrupted conversation! The outcome of this was that it reinforced for my daughter and her peers that problems can be re-visioned as possibilities: the outcome of the cognitive shift about what teaching caused them to learn more than just the planned lesson.

So, my musings on this week’s morning walks have been about re-imaging teaching. I began to wonder: If getting outside the classroom box – both literally and figuratively – was that effective, what else might be possible (and what impact might it have?) I started thinking about teaching ‘experiments’ I had seen, where professors were pushing the limits of the craft of their practice to see the effect on student engagement and learning. How about teaching without the professor talking? What about teaching with everyone’s eyes closed? What about a class with no planned content? What about assigning every student an A – but asking them to tell how they’re going to earn it? (For an interesting video about this, see Zander, 2006.) What are your possibilities for spring?

Kamstra, M. J., Kramer, L. A., & Levi, M. D. (2000). Losing Sleep at the Market: The Daylight Saving Anomaly. The American Economic Review, 90(4), 1005-1011.
Kuhn, G. (2001). Circadian rhythm, shift work, and emergency medicine. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 37(1), 88-98.
Zander, B. (2006). Gurus: Benjamin Zander. Teachers TV. Online at http://www.teachers.tv/video/5086

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Nicola Simmons

As Research and Evaluation Consultant, Nicola Simmons supports the design and implementation of research about teaching and learning at UW. In addition to co-ordinating the Teaching-based Research Group (TBRG) and LIF/PIF grants program, she assists faculty members with research-related activities: grant proposals, ethics proposals, conference proposals, and publications. Nicola pursues her own research in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), doctoral student and new faculty identity development, reflective practice, and qualitative research methods and ethics, and holds a number of research grants related to program evaluation. Nicola is also a graduate advisor and teaches part-time in the Faculty of Education at Brock University, where she received her PhD for her study What’s different under the gown: New professors’ constructions of their teaching roles. Nicola and her husband, who live in Burlington, have a musical son and a horse-crazy daughter. Her hobbies include making willow furniture and judging science fairs.

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