More Engaging Than Snow

I’m very lucky: in our classroom, we have a beautiful double window that spans a large percentage of the back wall. I love it! Our blinds are almost always open, and the natural light is such a wonderful thing to see each day. At my old school, I also often had these beautiful, big windows (minus the one year that I didn’t have any windows, but that’s another story 🙂 ), and the blinds were constantly open. In fact, the only time that I ever closed the blinds was when it snowed. Why? Because the minute that the snow started falling, that’s all the students could focus on. They had to go and see it. They had to watch it. They had to talk about it. It often became a huge distraction. And then there was today …

It was just after second nutrition break, and after introducing our Math/Science problem for the day, the students were working together to create their toy boxes or shelves.


2015-02-18_19-16-02As I was moving around the classroom to work with the different groups of students, I caught a glimpse of what was happening outside. It was snowing — lots and lots of snow. And I couldn’t stop looking at the snow. Every time I stood up, I had to glimpse outside. Every time I moved groups, I had to take one more look. I even commented to our visitor, a Science Technology Coordinator for the Peel District School Board, about the snow. We both noticed it, and we both thought about the drive home (with my parking skills alone, this should come as no big surprise 🙂 ).

The amazing thing though is that none of the students noticed the snow. The didn’t stand up to see it falling down. They didn’t go and look over at the window. They didn’t comment on it. In fact, one child said to me at the end of the day, “Wow, Miss Dunsiger! When did it start snowing?” This boy’s comment really got me thinking. I know that the snow can be magical, and sometimes, this student interest may spark a new inquiry. That being said, I love when a classroom problem engages students enough that they’re not drawn to what’s happening outside the window. 

  • How do we create this type of engaging classroom environment (in all grades)?
  • Is it possible for adult learners — even snow scared drivers like me 🙂 — to be just as engaged? How?
  • Is this the type of environment that we want to create? Why or why not?

Maybe for some of us, we’ll always have to close the blinds. Maybe sometimes it’s okay to multi-task. Maybe sometimes what’s happening outside can create our best questions and wonders of all. And maybe sometimes, with just a little extra work, our thinking and learning at the time can actually have our full attention. What do you think? 



4 thoughts on “More Engaging Than Snow

  1. You absolutely are in need of one of my favourite poems, and one that I recite, year after year, for my students the first time this happens. 🙂 And you will understand it completely, because really, when I think about it, it’s talking about engagement (and I just found it in one of James Cowper’s blogs – he got to hear the poet speak it, and I’m totally jealous!)

    Here’s the poem: (Taylor Mali)
    Undivided Attention
    by Taylor Mali

    A grand piano wrapped in quilted pads by movers,
    tied up with canvas straps—like classical music’s
    birthday gift to the criminally insane—
    is gently nudged without its legs
    out an eighth‐floor window on 62nd street.

    It dangles in April air from the neck of the movers’ crane,
    Chopin-­‐shiny black lacquer squares
    and dirty white crisscross patterns hanging like the second‐to­‐last
    note of a concerto played on the edge of the seat,
    the edge of tears, the edge of eight stories up going over—
    it’s a piano being pushed out of a window
    and lowered down onto a flatbed truck!—and
    I’m trying to teach math in the building across the street.

    Who can teach when there are such lessons to be learned?
    All the greatest common factors are delivered by
    long‐necked cranes and flatbed trucks
    or come through everything, even air.
    Like snow.

    See, snow falls for the first time every year, and every year
    my students rush to the window
    as if snow were more interesting than math,
    which, of course, it is.

    So please.

    Let me teach like a Steinway,
    spinning slowly in April air,
    so almost-­‐falling, so hinderingly
    dangling from the neck of the movers’ crane.
    So on the edge of losing everything.

    Let me teach like the first snow, falling.

    Mali. Taylor. “Undivided Attention.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

    • Thanks for the comment and for sharing this poem, Lisa! I remember now reading this earlier blog post by James Cowper, and I do love the poem. It makes me think about the need to create our own engaging lessons that make any subject just as exciting as the first snow falling. And yes, snow is incredibly interesting, and maybe there’s nothing wrong with taking the time to look out the window, but I do hope that what’s happening in the classroom continues to draw students back. Wishful thinking? Yesterday made me think that this is entirely possible. I’d be curious to hear what others have to say.


  2. Thanks, Aviva. Looking at the poem this morning, and thinking about inquiry in particular, I was taken by how much fun it would be to turn the hanging Steinway into a lesson. What did the counterweight look like? Would there be a better way? Why did it have to be done this way? I enjoyed the chance to revisit a piece of writing that is precious to me, and seeing something new. Yesterday morning, as I double-shovelled the drive because the snow was coming so heavily, I thought about different kinds of snow, and how I react differently, because I am a walker. Thanks for the think. I think inquiry has eaten my brain. 😉

    • Thanks for the reply, Lisa! If something’s going to “eat your brain,” I think inquiry is a great thing. 🙂 I love how you looked at this poem differently. Thanks for sharing your thinking and drawing my attention to a great piece.


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