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Tips For Imaginative Educators #11: Get Controversial

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Engage Their Inner Rebel.

Adolescence contains the makings of a perfect storm. At a time when young people are establishing a sense of self and getting a grasp on how the world works, they also have limited freedom. There are rules. Everywhere. They have “written” and “unwritten” rules to follow at school, at home, in society at large. Navigating these rules is a large part of growing up—and many young people rebel as part of a healthy development process.

The storm clouds are building at my place. My eldest daughter will soon be a teenager. While I’m very eager to see where these years will take her, I’m also slightly apprehensive about what’s coming.

Should I run for the hills? Install deadbolts on the doors? Sign up for some extra therapy sessions? 

Of course, rebellions come in all shapes and sizes. When I was a teen I constantly disagreed with my parents. I sometimes defied their authority. I actively questioned and challenged rules. I objected to certain regulations of the schools I attended. I often felt I didn’t have a voice. Looking at me back then, few would have guessed I was such a rebel. I certainly didn’t make major waves; I rebelled in quiet ways. I was subtle. Some adolescents are not so subtle—either way, this inner rebel is a source of emotional connection for all adolescents and can be engaged with any subject matter to increase learning.


Educational Implications

Are you actually suggesting a heliocentric model of the universe?

Tell me Nicolaus Copernicus didn’t ruffle a few feathers with that one.

Every topic has within it an aspect that has been a source of conflict or dispute for someone, somewhere. There are disagreements about all kinds of things. There are always different positions or perspectives provided by different people. Historical events have many interpretations. There are many small (and not so small) “revolts” against beliefs, events or activities that we can bring into focus for students. Your students can side with the “rebels”, voicing alternative views or exploring alternative perspectives. What “ideal” solutions exist for these problems?  What beliefs and values inspire the conflict or controversy? Why did these issues engage people’s emotions historically? Why do they now? 

There are also “ideals” within every topic—visions of how the world should be or should work without constraints. Who held those ideals?  (Be sure to bring those human stories into your teaching—your students will thrive when they can experience the knowledge you are teaching on the plane of shared human emotion: Tips For Imaginative Educators #10: Humanize)

I’m sorry, Pythagorus. You believe the world is round?

Thanks for taking us there mathematically Pythagorus—or so they say. No matter what, your voice stood out.

You likely already know what controversies, disagreements, or disputes exist within the topics you teach. If not, then google it—there are many ways to tap into the revolt and idealism” cognitive tool.

The pedagogical point is this: a sense of rebellion is a powerful cognitive tool we can engage in teaching young people. Students in the teen years can relate to people or initiatives that revolt against the norm or that seek an ideal. Seeking examples of “revolt and idealism” in your topics will engage your students’ emotions with subject matter.

Are you new to this series of Tips For Imaginative Educators?  Check out the entire series here.


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Gillian Judson (@perfinker) teaches/writes/researches in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University in B.C., Canada, co-directs the Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG), and coordinates Imaginative Ecological Education (IEE) research and practice. Her work is primarily concerned with the role of imagination in all learning.  She also investigates how an ecological and imaginative approach to education can both increase students’ engagement with, and understanding of, the content of the curriculum but can show it in a light that can lead to a sophisticated ecological consciousness. 

Gillian writes on a range of educatonal topics but especially about imagination, creativity, wonder, story, and ecological/place-based teaching practices. She is author of the books Engaging Imagination in Ecological Education: Practical Strategies For Teaching (Pacific Educational Press, 2015) and A New Approach to Ecological Education:  Engaging Students’ Imaginations in Their World (New York:  Peter Lang; 2010). She most recently co-authored a book called Imagination and the Engaged Learner: Cognitive Tools for the Classroom. (New York: Teachers’ College Press; in press). 

She has also edited the book Teaching 360°: Effective Learning Through The Imagination (Rotterdam: Sense Publishing, 2008) and co-edited the books Engaging Imagination and Developing Creativity in Education (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press; 2015) and Wonder-Full Education:  The Centrality of Wonder (New York: Routledge; 2013).

She started a blog in 2016. Learn all about imagination-focused practices (K-post secondary) at imaginED: education that inspires.

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