Engaging. Flexible. Educational. Theatrical.
If these four 4 words describe your classroom, then you have a lot in common with a Blue Man Group show.
My family recently had the opportunity to experience a Blue Man Group performance at Universal CityWalk in Orlando, and I was struck by the stark parallels between the Blue Man Group and many teachers I know. While on the surface the two could not be more different, they use similar thought-provoking strategies to incite learning.
During the performance, there was not one minute that we were not on the edge of our seats, waiting to see what was coming next. From the mind-blowing music to the sidesplitting audience interactions, each part of the show had us captivated and engaged in discovery.
As teachers, we need to make our classrooms both exciting and rigorous – the two are not mutually exclusive.
Our goal should be to create an environment in which students feel challenged, yet safe enough to interact and share, just as audience members had to feel comfortable enough to dance and play along with the show. Dave Burgess asks teachers, “If students had to pay admission to get into your classroom, would anyone be willing to pay to get in?” This singular idea has transformed my mentality as a teacher.
I had to ask myself, “How does my classroom compare to a Blue Man Group show? How could I make it even better?”
Sitting in on the unique Theater Talkback experience, I heard Jordan, one of the Blue Men, telling a group of students how important flexibility and cohesiveness was in the show. He said, “We have a loose framework to allow us to focus our attention on audience interaction.” For Jordan and the rest of the Blue Men, keeping the audience engaged is more important than sticking to a script, and teachers see that need in their classrooms daily.
A beautifully designed lesson means nothing if the students are not able to connect with the content in a real, tangible way.
Like Blue Men, teachers need to be in tune with their students, reading their emotion and body language, along with their words, to pick up on the slightest hint of misunderstanding. Once the desired effect has been created within the audience, or with our students, Blue Men and teachers alike can refer back to the template, “landing on the same foot” and continuing on with the show.
The teacher in me was, of course, on the hunt for #MathMoments and possible lesson components during the show. I was happy to find that it was full of exciting elements related to music, science, technology, and mathematics. In addition to their show, Blue Man Group also offers a Theater Talkback experience that allows students to ask questions to an out-of-costume Blue Man, making the content even more applicable.
To top it all off, digital curriculum that coincides with the performance is available for teachers to use with their students. Finding opportunities to make what we teach relevant is essential to getting our students to buy into the importance of education.
After the show, we were given the exclusive opportunity to get face-to-face with a Blue Man. The blue, grease-based paint was still fresh on his face, making his facial expressions even more vibrant. I thought about how incredibly talented these men had become at expressing a world of emotions without using a single word.
Of course, they weren’t simply born with this talent. The final product we see on stage is the result of hours of practice and feedback, discussing how each eyebrow shift, shrug and blink could portray a different emotion.
Teachers, sometimes unknowingly, give off messages with each expression they use.
When I’ve watched recordings of myself teaching, I was shocked to see my lack (or sometimes overuse) of facial expressions and gestures. The audience can clearly read the varying messages being portrayed throughout a Blue Man Group show, but can our students tell our intentions through our expressions?
If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to consider your “theatrical presence” in the classroom. Record yourself teaching and watch how you interact with your students, particularly when you aren’t speaking. If you feel like taking it a step further and embracing a growth mindset, invite a colleague to give you feedback as well. In making small adjustments over time, you too may be able to teach like a Blue Man.
JUST FOR TEACHERS
Blue Man Group has partnered with the Florida Education Foundation to create a special admission rate just for teachers! For a discounted price, teachers can purchase up to six tickets, with each ticket resulting in a $2 donation to the Florida Education Foundation. Click HERE to find out more information about this offer.
“PHOTO CREDIT: Caroline Talbot Photography