I can recall my very first lightbulb moment in teaching as if it was yesterday. I was teaching back home, in Brazil, biology for grades 12. The topic was cell biology – all these organelles of weird names and intricate processes that no student cares 100% about. However, trying to make things more digestible to one given student (whose parents worked in a factory), I started making comparisons – cells are like factories - mitochondria generate power, ribosomes bring the raw materials, the nucleus and the DNA act as the management, the RNAs are like the factory workers and so on. I remember like it was yesterday – the student’s eyes widened, and his face was brimming with the realization. That infected me. I had to get more.
These lightbulb moments (or simply insights, but lightbulb moments sound much cooler) are the cream of teaching for me. After getting my first one, I craved more and dove deep into metaphors, and out-of-the-box explanations, and even took courses on PowerPoint and image design. I was hooked and that helped me to develop a skillset for teaching. Thus… this article.
If you have never experienced that, this article is for you – seek it and feel one of the joys of the lightbulb moment.
If you already have experienced that, this article is also for you - let it serve as fuel to continue seeking more and more of the lightbulb moments.
How teachers should innovate and seek the lightbulb moment
As teachers, we all strive to inspire and engage our students, we all know that. However, in a world where every teacher uses the same basic strategy (that strategy being “regular teaching” just so we don’t get into that rabbit hole), how can we achieve more lightbulb moments? My suggestion is to innovate!
Innovation in teaching can come in many forms, such as incorporating technology or just thinking outside the box with your lesson plans. In my early teaching days, no one used projectors and PowerPoints. What have I done? Learned how to use PowerPoints and started using projectors. Nowadays, I’m advocating the use of Virtual Reality in the classroom (check my other posts about it) and it has been wonderful to see many lightbulb moments coming out of it. The key is to be open to new ideas and to constantly challenge yourself to improve. A bit of an obvious solution, but it is true. I use technology because I am good at it. You should use your strengths to seek the lightbulb moment. Instead of becoming a better teacher, use your transversal skills and become a better educator. And continue seeking the lightbulb moment :D.
How hard it is to achieve a lightbulb moment
Getting a student to have a lightbulb moment isn't always easy. It can take time, patience, and a lot of trial and error. Sometimes, you'll try a new teaching strategy or approach and it won't work. Other times, you'll have to be creative and come up with multiple ways to explain a concept until it clicks for the student. To be very honest, I used to achieve 5-10 lightbulb moments a year. Rare eh? Strategies I used before would not work properly so… back to the drawing board. There is also the student factor that we cannot control – they have moody days, they might not like your subject, they have something else in their minds… and most of the time all we can do is wait for the right moment to showcase what you have and possibly fail. That is disheartening but it should not discourage us from keep trying. I see this pursuit as a loop – I try to innovate to get more lightbulb moments and if I can't, I’ll continue to innovate. When I achieve one, I add another tool to my repertoire and the next challenge to achieve a lightbulb moment becomes a bit easier. It’s like a fencing duel… lots of feinting until you find an opening and strike.
The benefits of the lightbulb moment for teachers and students
When a student has a lightbulb moment, it's not just a victory for the student - it's a victory for the teacher as well. There's nothing quite like the feeling of knowing you've made a real difference in someone's life, and that you've helped them discover their own potential or understand a concept that will help the student in their lives (or the next exam :D). It's also a testament to your own skills as an educator - you've found a way to connect with your student and inspire them to learn. Thus, the main point here… empathy. I’m pretty sure you have heard how empathy is important in teaching right? It also works for the lightbulb moment. I became much closer to my students after a lightbulb moment. They respected me more for putting so much energy into them and I respected them more for giving their best to understand what I am trying to teach. And you learn a thing or two about how that particular student works. Something that can be used in a near future for another lightbulb moment.
For students, the benefits of a lightbulb moment are immeasurable. It can boost their self-esteem, give them a sense of accomplishment, and motivate them to keep learning. It can also open up new avenues of interest and spark a lifelong passion for learning. Yesterday I had a student who was struggling with a Lego Coding class. I knew that kid because he was in a few of my after-school clubs already. I know that he has a hard time focusing, and needs lots of step-by-step explanations and a bit of encouragement. That is what I gave him. After that, he would raise his hand to help me, I would start walking towards him, his eyes would light up and he wouldn’t need my help anymore. He was able to solve his problems after having many lightbulb moments of his own.
In conclusion, the "lightbulb moment" is a powerful and transformative experience that can change the course of a student's and teacher’s life. As teachers, it's our job to create an environment where these moments can happen - to innovate, experiment, and always be open to new ideas. It may not always be easy, but the rewards are well worth the effort. So keep striving for those "aha" moments, and watch as your students shine.
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