There’s a thin line between entertainment and education

November 20, 2013 

Dave Stitt is probably best known at Peninsula High School as the chemistry teacher who sets his desk on fire. He has been a math and science teacher at Peninsula for eight years, and he’s always leaned toward the eccentric.

Humor and theatrics are an important part of his method. He also turns off the lights and plays the “2001: A Space Odyssey” theme while he passes out the Periodic Table of Elements to show his students it’s the best day of their lives.

“If (my students) don’t find me approachable, they’ll never learn from me,” Stitt says.

Stitt is one of many K-12 teachers who has incorporated fun into his classroom, but he says that, in order to do it successfully, the element of education always has to be just as present.

“The art of teaching is blending the two together, where you are prepared, and you are engaging at the same time,” he says.

In today’s world of flashing screens and iPods, entertaining is partially what the education system needs to be — sometimes just to keep up.

However, as Stitt says, “If you get people too whipped up into a frenzy (in the classroom), all they remember is the frenzy, and not the concept behind it.”

At Western Washington University, Stitt says one of the most helpful classes he took to be a teacher was called “the Drama of Teaching,” which taught future teachers how to present themselves in front of a classroom.

“It was basically a drama class,” he recalled. “We learned how to project voice, increase intonation and do effective pauses.”

Stitt has used all of the styles — and more — to help engage his students.

“As a teacher, I’m really trying to sell (my students) stuff,” he says. “I’m trying to sell them on the idea that this is stuff they want to learn, not just something they should learn.”

Striking that difficult balance between being educational and being fun, all while holding the poise of a mentor, can be a difficult thing.

The most important thing about teaching, however, isn’t so much about memorizing facts and formulas as it is encouraging kids to be curious and to step outside their comfort zones.

Stitt admits it’s uncomfortable to learn, but getting students interested enough that they aren’t afraid to make mistakes is the type of behavior teaching strives to instill in them, and it internalizes a quality that will help them immensely as they grow up.

“A lot of kids will remember that I lit my desk on fire,” he says. “Not a lot of kids will remember why I lit my desk on fire.

“But, if I can get them to remember that it was fun being in class, I found that they are more comfortable asking questions. And if they’re more comfortable asking questions and feel that it’s OK to fail (and try again), I think that’s where the learning comes through.”

Kate Vargish is a past guest columnist for The Peninsula Gateway.

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