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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Beware of the Copycat Trap!

On Tuesday afternoon in Dickson, Tennessee I delivered a new version of my popular talk Ten Common Challenges Facing Educators (learn how to bring me to your conference). In my new version of the talk I include the warning to "beware of the copycat trap."

The "copycat trap" refers to the scenario in which you find a neat lesson plan or other classroom activity on Pinterest, on Twitter, on a Facebook page, on a blog, or even Teachers Pay Teachers and think that it will automatically work well for your students if you simply copy the same steps that someone else used.

I first started to become aware of this trap after I published Life on Minimum Wage in a blog post many years ago. That was an activity that I created specifically for my students, but shared as a model that other teachers could use if they modified it to meet the needs of their students. There were some items in the activity that were specific to the students I had in my classroom that year. Shortly after publishing Life on Minimum Wage and for years since I have received emails from people who tried it and said that their students didn't get engaged in the activity. That's understandable if you used the activity exactly as I used it because my students live in rural communities so their frame of reference for many things and their favorite hobbies are, in many cases, quite different from those of kids in cities and suburbs.

The Internet is a great place to find lesson plan ideas and other resources to use in your classroom. Just beware of the copycat trap when you go to implement those ideas yourself.

My copycat trap idea is partially influenced by reading Paulo Blikstein's Digital Fabrication and ‘Making’ in Education:The Democratization of Invention in which he discusses the pitfalls of the "keychain syndrome" in maker spaces.