Giraffes. I take a giant stuffed one, named Spottacus, with me to class to teach each day. It’s perplexed my colleagues, enchanted students and become a mascot for “striving for the highest” and “sticking your neck out”.
A little history of how this all came about- I am a performer, all of my degrees are in performance. But life is full of magical moments, little hiccups that push a person into using their talents in a way that one might not have anticipated- for me that is how I fell into pedagogy.
My performance background allowed me to see that education is entertainment at the highest level. And that if I could find ways to unite the right and left sides of the brain while teaching, students would improve their retention of fact based material and they would stay present in the moment (a true challenge in the world of multi-tasking).
Since then I have found that the giraffe can be a prop to act out music history events. When we study the Flight of the Walkuries, the giraffe flies around the room rescuing the fallen students as they pretend to lay wounded on the ground. This week we acted out the Erlking. The giraffe was the running horse as the mythical being came after father and son. It makes learning fun and interactive.
Spottacus has become their friend, a way to interact on an personal level without becoming intimate. The students fight over who gets to carry the giraffe to class and return him to the studio. There is a regular discussion of the props worn by the giraffe. Which outfits best fit the fashion for the season and suit the lecture. It is a time that their voice can be heard, their opinion voiced- opening a door for dialogue.
To all those that have voiced criticism- my students rarely fall asleep in class and I have not needed to curve an exam, even though the material is some of the most difficult they will experience in their music degree. To me, teaching college is like kindergarten on steroids. Why shouldn’t learning be as fun as play time was when we were children?
Here is the video that inspired the original adoption of Spottacus. It felt like an example of so many of the projects that I was grading.