#Blimage challenge: Darth Vader, flow and learning

After seeing the #blimage hashtag on Twitter several times and wondering what on earth it was, I found Steve Wheeler’s blog post explaining the #blimage challenge and is summed up below.

I’m always looking for new ideas to promote blogging for teachers. For me and countless others, blogging is a very important part of professional practice, and I have written extensively about its benefits for teachers in articles such as 7 reasons teachers should blog andThe truth about blogging.

In conversations recently with members of my PLN including Amy Burvall (USA @amyburvall) and Simon Ensor (France @sensor63) another method began to emerge. It’s a challenge/game that Amy called #blimage – a confection of Blog-Image. (Yes, we are now in the age of blim!) You send an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Just make sure the images aren’t too rude. The permutations are blimmin’ endless.

Steve provided an image to start people off or suggested using one of your own choice and I couldn’t resist so here’s my #blimage…

"I am your father"

“I am your father”

You could be forgiven for thinking that the above is a picture of a three-year-old holding a red stick, but you’re wrong – it’s Darth Vader. At least, he thinks he is.

This is one of many photos of my nephew in role as Darth Vader, who along with cars and dinosaurs, has become one of his main interests. When he’s pretending to be Darth Vader, it is really quite something. He is fully absorbed in the character: his little voice gets deeper (well, as deep as a three-year-old boy can get it), his language changes, his body language changes, his gestures change, his facial expressions changes – especially his eyes. What’s more he can keep it up for quite some time without, seemingly, much effort. Watching him in the zone like this makes me think of the concept of flow.

The flow experience, a term coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes a person completely immeresed in whatever activity they are doing. Their concentration levels are very high, they might lose track of time, they are acutely focussed on the task at hand and experience high levels of satisfaction. It’s no wonder then that getting into this state of flow becomes a type of instrinsic motivation: you do it again and again for no other reason than it is very enjoyable – not because you’re told to or because of any reward. The motivation comes from within. We have all experienced moments like that and I know I want to provide opportunities for pupils in my class to experience flow too. How can it be done?

In this edutopia article on motivating people to learn, Csikszentmihalyi describes school activities that are most likely to promote flow:

If you think of where kids have most flow in school, it’s mostly in extracurricular activities like band, music, athletics, newspaper. In addition, if you look at academic classes, they would report flow especially when they work on team projects. That’s the most enjoyable part of school. Next comes working on your own on a project and you can go down and the lowest one [in promoting flow] is listening to a lecture and audio/visual.

It seems that doing something you like doing is a big factor in experiencing flow, which makes a lot of sense, but here’s the thing: in reality, I can’t make every moment in my classroom a ‘Darth Vader’ moment. I can’t build a curriculum that taps directly into the interests of every member of my class. When I first started teaching, I had this idea that I should constantly try and do that, but it’s just not always possible. With the best will in world there’s certain stuff we have to teach and I can’t always find links to what every one of my pupils is really interested in, even if I was willing to make them tenuous, which I’m not. However, what I have found is that the flow experience doesn’t have to begin and end with extra-curricular activities or team projects. In fact, from my experience, I would dispute that point above and say that team projects have not resulted in flow experiences every time. So, if we can’t tailor everything to every child’s interest what can we do to foster flow?

  • Pitch the challenge just right. Csikszentmihalyi highlights that to get into the flow, the level of challenge has to match the level of skill of the pupil. If it’s too easy, they’ll get bored. If it’s unattainable, they’ll give up. If the challenge is just above their level of skill, so it’s within reach but requires effort, that’s motivating. That may well explain why many pupils can play the same computer game for hours on end, desperate to get to the next level, without giving up. That’s flow right there.
  • Clear, immediate feedback in relation to goals. Giving such feedback allows pupils to adjust their course, make necessary changes to their next steps and consider how they are moving toward their goal.
  • Ensure that behaviour and routines in the classroom are conducive to allowing pupils to get into that flow state. I’m not sure being in flow has to mean silence, but the lessons where I have seen children really in this flow state have naturally been more quiet as their concentration and focus have increased.

In fact, I wrote about a maths lesson I did on reflection and rotation a while ago. These two topics were never going to be ‘Darth Vader moments’ for my maths class, but because the challenge and level of focus required was just so, I watched them all descend into this flow state quite unexpectedly. That’s just one example that proved to me that getting into flow state isn’t only reserved for hobbies and personal passions.

And to finish, here’s a little clip of another ‘Darth Vader moment’ – so in the flow that he asks to go to the toilet in his Darth Vader voice…


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