As a middle school educator, I have successfully weathered many odd obsessions and disturbances. Birkenstock sandals ensured my classroom smelled like sweaty feet. Britney Spears folders and notebooks ensured teenage girls wanted to be “not that innocent.” Pokemon trading cards left me confused and with a drawer filled with unusual Japanese art. And the advent of glitter meant that my classroom looked like it was attacked by a horde of maniacal fairies each and every day.
Which brings me to present day and the invention known as Silly Bandz. In only eleven years of teaching I have seen many collectible items. This one may be around for quite some time. Schools are doing what they can to nip this craze in the bud. They will probably fail. Rubber bands can be pocketed. Worn. Hidden. Will we strip search students for something as innocent and unassuming as multi-colored rubber band shapes? Or will the enlightened teacher make use of these strange, wearable (but otherwise useless) things and inspire students to learn about the shapes they represent?
Every year in middle school, I teach a Mythology unit. Most of it is Greek mythology, some spanning other areas of the world as well. And much to my surprise, on one of my regular routine confiscations of Silly Bandz, I happened upon one that had the form of a Griffin. Another was a Phoenix. Still another, Icarus. Apparently, the good people who created Silly Bandz have created a fantasy pack containing 24 mostly myth-based creatures.
Now in most cases, gaining student interest in Mythology is not a hard battle. When I was a younger tyke, I ate up Greek Mythology the way I eat presently eat Maple Brown Sugar Frosted Mini Wheats: With reckless abandon. But not all students love to read. Some, in fact, will play with Silly Bandz on their desktop, whiling away education time in their own fantasy-laced world. In this case, use their Silly Bandz as a learning opportunity. Enter their world.
Have each student bring some fantasy-based Silly Bandz. Hand out Mythology books or have students do research online for each of their fantastical creatures. One good site for this would be www.historyforkids.org. Hand out printer paper and have students trace their Silly Bandz onto the sheets. Label each of the Silly Bandz with a short description of the character, the plot synopsis of the story each is in, the country of origin, and the moral of the Myth each creature is a part. Next, have students exchange mini-projects to share with other classmates. Lastly, have students present their findings to the entire class.
Let us face the facts here. Birkenstock sandals did not present teachers with a lot of teachable moments. Nor did Brittney Spears, Pokemon, or glitter. Instead, they presented challenges to our very sanity. I still have nightmares of a fang-bearing Pikachu trying to chomp on my face… don’t ask, I would rather not talk about it. But Silly Bandz are a fun new item we can actually use! How often can we actually meet the students halfway, enter their own realities, and have them come away with new knowledge? Is that not the inspired dream of every educator?