Tips For Imaginative Educators #10: Humanize

Every learner is unique. Effective teachers know this and they work constantly and creatively tomeet the needs of all the students in their classrooms. Effective teachers also knowthat amidst the great diversity within theirclassrooms, there is something that all learners share:emotional responses.

Every topic you teach connects to anemotional human experience.

Shared human emotions createthe plane upon whichknowledge becomes most meaningful and memorable.

Every topic youteach has attached to it the real emotional account of the person who discovered it, named it, battled to make sense of it etc. You can make the knowledge you teach more memorable by allowingstudents toexperience that emotion too.By connectinghuman emotions with the content of the curriculumyou canmaximize learning and student engagement.

Youcan make a mathematical or scientific equations more meaningfulto students if youacknowledge the hopes, fears, or passions of the people–or person–who first discovered or used them. Share those stories. You can make historical concepts more meaningful by evoking the human emotions of those involved.Imaginative educators fill their classroom/learning spaces and moments with human experiences, faces, and emotions. Theirteaching contexts (classrooms, living or family rooms, learning centers) arefull of ghosts.

Picture the ghosts ofgreat mathematicians floating amongst students inimaginative math classes, the stories of great scientists gliding past students in science labs, orstudents surrounded with thestories of great authors and poets as they discover their own creative strengths.

Three Examples

#1 My firstexample showshow the humanization of meaningcognitive tool can frame teaching about different mathematical equations. Click hereto see whatgreat mathematicians said when asked to identify what they thought were the most beautiful equations. (Spoiler alert: pi won). (*This article also shows how math teaching can engage students by evoking what isheroic about the topic–in this case mathematical equations as beautiful. Learn more about the heroic quality cognitive toolhere:Tips For Imaginative Educators #8: Identify The Heroic)

#2 My second example for SS/History teachers is taken from anImaginative Education unit on the Industrial Revolution.

Thisis an example of a possible beginning for a unit on the Industrial Revolution that introducesextraordinary people involved in the industrial era.It is one way we might provide students access to the emotional significance of the Industrial Revolution. What can be seen at the heart of the Industrial Revolution – indeed, at the heart of all technological change – is imagination. It is the creative energy and ingenuity of people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, James Watt and Samuel Slater who chose to envision possibilities for improving the known world. Students are connected, in a powerful way, with these men of hazy photographs, strange clothes and serious expressions by means of their imagination, the creative energy, optimism and passion that led them to ask “why…” and “what if…”

In theexcerpt for download available hereyou can see the following cognitive tools at work:Humanization of meaning,mental imagery, and heroic qualities.

Sneak peak:

There is something magical—or just odd—about really old photographs. Imagine you are holding one. You’ve been rummaging around in an old trunk in your grandfather’s attic and you come across it. It feels old to the touch. The paper feels dry, cracked. You can see how old it is, worn at the corners, the image fading. The image itself seems so OLD – so unlike anything you know or have experienced. At some level you feel light years apart from the person in this photo, our lives today so different in so many ways… But at some level you feel a connection. You feel that you are not so different from the person in the photograph.

You’ve found three images.

First, an old photograph taken sometime in the middle of the 19th century shows a rather odd looking man with a very odd name. Let me introduce Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Brunel appears a small, stiff, top-hatted Victorian wearing a crumpled black suit and dusty boots… (get the whole documenthere).

#3I recently discovered a wonderful enactment of thehumanization of meaningcognitive tool. Perhaps you’ve heard of a “library” whereyou meet (“sign out”) anactual person rather than a book? The Human Library Organizationrepresents aworldwide movement for social change. Itsaim is to changestereotypes and challenge misconceptions through the sharing of real stories and the face-to-face interactions of real people. I love the headings “meet our books” and “want to be a book?” Bring engineering to life throughthe emotional experiences of an engineer. Bring a face to issues of social justice throughthe struggles of a refugee. Seek the emotional human angle.

Summing Up

In summary,to employ the humanization of meaning cognitive tool, you want to bring the human dimension to life in your lessons. Puta “face”to the topic you are teaching. Final tip:We are, of course, hoping to create engaging accounts that intrigue our students…so don’t offer them the life stories of people they already know about—the already famous and popular. Instead offer them the less-well-known. The odder, the more eccentric or unbelievable the better.

Imagination doesn’t play favourites–it is involved in the learning of all the topics of the curriculum. All ages.


This “human” element in learning is absolutely essential, Gillian! I know it is crucial because as an educator I myself must find that human/emotional/personal connection to everything I teach and learn. Why would we think our students are any less passionate or not searching for the same types of connections as their teachers are?

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