One day about 4 years into teaching I walked out of my room and into the math office, which was actually carved out of a corner of my room. The teacher working there turned to me and asked, what is this frufra stuff that you do? I looked at him funny and asked what he meant. What he meant is exemplified by the video that I attached here.
I did not at the time know the answer. Every day I start by introducing myself and my subject. I then ask for any questions comment thoughts or ripe tomatoes. During this time anything, well almost anything, goes. The rules of frufra are:
- You may ask any question, give any comment, or make public any thoughts you would like.
- Frufra is done when it ceases to be a whole group discussion.
- There is a third rule, but it is a secret.
At the beginning of the year it is short. Some days it is short. Other days it lasts for a whole class period. Everyone is equal, and students quickly learn what topics will inspire more conversations and which ones less. I was struck by Vivian Gussin Paley's Article in Harvard Educational Review titled On Listening to What Children Say when she says, "Whenever discussion touched on fantasy, fairness, or friendship, participation zoomed upward." (page 124) This is very true. We all like to listen to stories that have their basis in reality. Students need this as well. They learn from their peers and what grabs attention.
I get a lot of questions about physics. This is important because I teach physics. I get a lot of questions about science. I get questions about life and school and family and myself. I get stories about brothers and sisters and dogs. About sickness and health, movies and sports. Johanna Kuyvenhoven says in her book In the Presence of Each Other, "Letting go of the conversation meant unpredictability." (Pg 74) But that is the key. Being open to what is on the group's mind each day is essential to gaining a places of openness that Parker J. Palmer says in To Know As We Are Known is the key to a place for truth seeking. "We must remember that we not only seek truth but that truth seeks us as well." If you are not open to this how can you know what it is?
I think that frufra also keeps me as a teacher informed and able to stay on top of the rest of life. It keeps me balanced to know what is happening around me in the world as my fellow learners are seeing it. Palmer talks about the importance of knowing what is happening in other disciplines as part of the spiritual journey of a teacher. "One discipline is the simple practice of studying in fields outside one's own." (page 114) What better guide to the world that my students live in than the students themselves? While I realize this is not a discipline, it goes towards my ability to translate between the culture of students and the culture of physics.
I remember vividly 5 years ago when a girl asked a question at the top of her voice, "Mr. Peterson, do you have a girlfriend?" The room was silent. I smiled and she began to freak out. I had been dating for about 2 months the woman who would be come my wife. They asked all kinds of questions and the class was done. Everyone wanted to know all about Rebecca. I told them about my hope for the future and my excitement about the gifts God provided for me. I shared with them the story of my life, and they could think of their own lives in terms of the gifts of God. Kuyvenhoven correctly says, "All problem solving abilities, from physics and math to social studies and environmental science, depend on such senses of possibility." (Pg 147) The hope and the promise I could display in the story of my life would show up that year in the problem solving and inquiry that my students would do. Stories help us to imagine the possibilities. Stories come out of frufra.
Stories, transmission of culture, learning from each other, becoming equal learners, creating an open community. Frufra ties together the people in the room to become learners seeking truth.