Reblogging my article from LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/teachers-snowflake-moments-erin-noxon
Teachers and Snowflake Moments
Ever look at snowflakes? Actual snowflakes? I hadn’t as a child. I grew up in Florida, in the southern part of the United States. In the city I lived in, it never snowed. Once, when I was in Kindergarten, they had a “snow event” so we could all play in snow. All it was was a pickup truck load of ice, which we all played in until we were soaked, and then of course Travis hit Jesper in the head with a particularly large chunk of ice and we all had to go inside so they could get yelled at.
So I didn’t really see snow until later in life when I was probably 9 or so, and I went to Michigan to visit my grandmother. She always wanted to come down to Florida for Christmas, so it wasn’t until I was older that there was a year when she wanted to stay up there, so we came to her.
My mother caught me standing in the backyard staring up into the snow. She came out to talk with me and the conversation started like this. “It’s pretty, isn’t it,” she said.
“It’s okay.” I said, “but I’m waiting for a snowflake.”
See, I had seen “snowflakes” on TV before. In kid’s shows. Like in, for example, the classic Rankin/Bass Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I had also made snowflakes in school, you may have made some when you were younger, too.
Image by Amy.
So, I knew what snowflakes looked like. And I was waiting for them.
My mother looked at me, puzzled. “Snowflakes are falling all around you.”
I glanced over at her, “Uh… where?”
She took my small hand and flipped it over, catching a small piece of snow on my navy mitten. “Here,” she said, “Look at it.”
I looked at her with a half smile, “Mom, that’s a piece of snow, I want to see a snowflake.”
“Honey, look closely, you can see all of the little snowflakes inside the piece of snow. Snowflakes make up snow.”
I stared down at my hand. I squinted closely. All I saw were lumpy bits of ice. “No, mom, I want to see one of the big ones, like the big circles that fall down around the snow.” She looked at me, still confused. “You know, I said, like the ones you make out of paper.”
Now she was amazing at this point, as she held it together and didn’t show any amusement at all as she carefully explained how there were no “big” snowflakes and that all snowflakes were tiny. She promised me when she could find the chance she would find a magnifying glass and we could look at them closely. Then she patted my back and quickly went back inside, I am sure to giggle at bit, but not in front of me at my expense.
I was disgusted with the world. How dare they make cartoons with big snowflakes. How dare teachers make us create paper lies and then hang them around the classroom every year. How disgusting. Then I started to feel upset with myself. It was obvious really, I had seen live action movies where it was snowing, but I just hadn’t thought about it. Basically, I knew already that snowflakes weren’t 10 cm across and were just tiny crystals, I just had never thought about it.
I didn’t think about this memory for a long time, probably because it was embarrassing, but it still stayed there, embedded in my mind. And then, then I became a teacher myself, and I started to watch my students have snowflake moments all around me.
So what is a snowflake moment
Essentially a snowflake moment is the moment when you realize you have been thinking the wrong way about a concept for a long time, and your brain has to negotiate that new information into your brain to change your worldview, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. In many cases, you actually knew the truth, but you just hadn’t thought about it. then you put all the clues together and you have to change the way you think. It involves some sort of misconception, that you have to correct, so that you won’t continue to be confused or ignorant into the future.
Admit when you have snowflake moments yourself
People all around you are having snowflake moments all the time. You never stop having them as long as you have an open mind and keep learning. I have had many myself that I can recollect. My coworkers have them around me, because of my current field, a lot of them involve their ideas of what “the cloud” is. But sometimes they are just basic thing that they never put together in their brain before. One turned to me other other day with, “Oh my gosh, did you know that the ABC song tune is the same as ‘Twinkle twinkle little star!'” There are just so many facts in life that sometimes we miss details, details that might be important later in discovering the world around us.
So, if you have a snowflake moment, admit it to yourself, and keep going, learning about the world, and keep fighting ignorance.
Snowflake moments in the classroom
A student was laughing once and shared with me their Spanish textbook. “I don’t get Spanish, I guess, because I think it says here that in Argentina, Christmas is in the summer. I must not understand this yet.”
I glanced at the book and then back at him, “But it is summer in December in Argentina, so Christmas is in the summer. Remember, we talked about the tilt of the Earth…”
He blinked. “Oh yeah…” He stared down at the picture in silence for a moment. “But… but what about in the movies, it’s– it’s always snowing everywhere when Santa Claus comes by…” Before I could jump in he kept going, “But that’s probably because those movies are made in the US and it is snowing here… huh…” After a moment he looked up at me and said, “At least I can speak Spanish…” and then he wandered off. I had just watched him realize something that he already knew, but put it in context with other thoughts and realities in his brain. He knew that summer happened opposite in the Southern Hemisphere than in the Northern, however another part of his brain had never put that in the context of Christmas. Then it all came together.
Once a girl student asked me after class about a “private question,” she said. “Miss, why is it that if a baby grows in a woman’s stomach, the stomach doesn’t digest it. I mean, we are studying about the stomach and all, but, like, how does the baby live in there.”
I looked back at her and said, “Well you are right, a baby wouldn’t survive in there. Luckily, the baby doesn’t grow in the stomach, it grows in the womb, or uterus.” She and I looked down at the human anatomy diagram we were looking at.
She blinked, “Oh yeah…” Then she looked up at me, “Then why did my mom, and why do a bunch of other people say that ‘she has a baby in her stomach’ when someone is pregnant?”
I smiled at her, “Well, maybe they don’t know, or maybe they just think it is easier for a kid to understand if you say stomach.”
“But that is just confusing Miss!”
“I know,” I said, “I know.”
Another one I have heard more than once is that blood is blue. Which it never, ever is… unless you are an octopus. But adults tell children all the time that blood is blue. I have even heard other adults say that blood is blue. They tell me that it turns red when it hits oxygen. I keep from smiling and then ask if they have ever given blood in those airtight bags at a blood donation center. What color is it when it is in those bags? “Huh… red…” they realize.
Is blood ever blue? by Mental Floss
So, as a teacher it is your job to help create as many snowflake moments as you can, an then guide your children gently through them.
But doesn’t it take time? And can’t it be confusing?
Of course, dealing with all of your students’s snowflake moments takes lots of time. But these are the kinds of teachable moments that will last a lifetime.
I had a teacher who was the lead teacher in another grade level call me one day and say, “Hey, for this age kid, we can just teach mass and weight as the same thing, right?”
I managed to control my anger and said, “Absolutely not! They should never be taught that. Mass and weight are different. If you teach them it is the same, someone later (and probably me since I was the grade after his) will have to un-teach it.” He grumbled and then told me there was no easy way to teach that.
I volunteered to go over to one of his classes during my free period. “I have an ingenious weight loss program,” I announced to the kids. “Become an astronaut! If you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you will only weigh about 16 pounds on the moon! Awesome, right? But just don’t go to Jupiter, because there you will weigh about 236 pounds! And, when you are traveling between places, in deep space, you won’t weigh a thing!”
One kid raised his hand, “But, will you look really skinny on the moon?”
I sighed dramatically, “No, unfortunately you will still look the same, because the shape of your body, the amount of matter that makes up your body, your mass, well, that won’t change unless you actually go on a diet or exercise and lose some mass. But! Your weight will be a lot less because your body won’t push down on the scale as hard since the moon’s gravitational pull is less than on Earth.”
We had a short conversation, and then eventually one student asked, “Then why do all those diet commercials say ‘Lose weight’, shouldn’t they say, ‘Lose mass’?”
“Yes, they should,” I agreed.
“Maybe the adults that make them don’t understand the difference,” he wondered aloud.
Then I smiled, “Maybe,” I said, “but don’t you be like those adults, make sure you know the difference.”
It’s not hard to correct a misconception or to teach something correctly the first time. It takes an extra minute to have the conversation, but it is worth it to make sure the knowledge is with them for the rest of their life.
The most important thing you have to remember is not to laugh. Some snowflake moments can be hilarious. You really, really want to laugh out loud at the false truth that the student has been believing this whole time. I think back to my mother, hearing me talk about giant snowflakes and how she kept her face serious that whole time.
Because, if she had laughed, that episode would have been a burning embarrassment upon my memory, and I probably never would have spoken so freely or without being guarded again. If you laugh, you demean, and then that student or person will not be as likely to share with you ever again.
A college friend and I were listening to George Strait’s “Ocean Front Property” on the radio while we worked and she suddenly looked up at me. “You know, I never understand this song.” I looked up at her with a questioning face, “I mean,” she said, “I get all the other references, like, if you believe this I’ll sell you this… but I don’t get the main one, the Arizona one.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well,” she said, “because you can buy ocean front property in Arizona.” My face must have been a study of confusion because she said, “No, no, seriously, I looked it up. Wait, wait, I’ll show you.”
I racked my brain, trying to think of how the ocean could possibly touch Arizona anywhere, while she rummaged around and came up with her planner. “Here,” she said, “see!” She proceeded to show me the map in her planner, which looked like this:
Map modified from a map by ClkerFreeVectorImages
My eyes bugged, I know, but I held it together. The only thing I could manage to do was to touch my finger to the map and to run it back and forth between Texas and Cali and say, “Mexico.” Then I mumbled, “Canada,” as I dragged my finger across the top. I then waited, clamping my teeth together.
“Huh,” she said, eyeing the map, “Are you sure?”
I nodded as I slowly got up to get my keys, “Yes,” I murmured. “I have to go out for a minute, I’ll be back later.”
“Okay,” she said as she stared hard at the map, “Huh, Mexico,” she was saying as I walked out. Then I ran down the hall until I got to the outer door before I burst into hysterics and didn’t stop laughing until there were tears in my eyes.
Bite the inside of your lip, hold your tongue, think other not-funny thoughts fast, but don’t laugh. Wait until you are done, then wander off, get out of the situation and laugh until your sides are sore.
But make sure you correct it. Later I went back with a printout of all of North America and left it on her desk. She and I never spoke of it again, but we were still friends. I doubt we would have been if I had laughed in her face.
Help your students
Talk with your students. Don’t assume that they understand. Their background knowledge most likely has holes in it; they haven’t all experienced the same things. They might never have seen a snowflake, for example. If you are talking about boiling water, show them boiling water. If you are talking about the color maroon, show them what it looks like. If you are talking about the US, please show them a map that doesn’t make the US look like an island continent.
Smile, and guide them. Don’t laugh at them, but share them later, so you can chuckle, just make sure the teacher’s lounge door is shut when your doing so. And keep up the fight against ignorance. Help them unlearn false truths and guide them into the proper ones.
Guide them gently through their snowflake moments.