One of the true joys of teaching is watching kids truly learn something. The moment a realization hits them, a concept is fully understood, or a difficult problem clicks is so rewarding to watch.

In movies and TV, the scene usually has some soft lighting, a quiet classroom. A gentle teacher lays a hand on a child’s shoulder as they say softly, “Oh! I understand now.” The teacher smiles indulgently and says something inspirational like, “I knew you could do it, dear.”

Like most things portrayed on screen, it doesn’t happen that way in real life.

When kids figure something out, they get what I like to call ‘lightbulb face.’ You can literally see the proverbial light bulb go off above their head, and they go slack jawed and wild eyed, usually letting out a dramatic gasp or “Ooh! Ooh!” They pop out of their seats like popcorn.

Sometimes, it’s even more dramatic. This week we were reviewing fractions, specifically looking at fractions of a set. “If I have 50 cookies and you eat half, how many did you eat?” segueing into “What is 1/5 of 200?” This is a tricky concept to fully comprehend. As they were working in partners to solve a problem I posed, one girl suddenly stood up so fast her chair crashed into the table behind her, slammed both hands on the table and literally yelled “Oh my god!” Everyone froze and stared at her, me included.

She stared back for a minute, then pointed dramatically at her paper and said “This is like division!” From the tone of her voice and her expression, you’d think she’d just discovered Atlantis. She was that struck by the sudden realization.

The “aha!” moments aren’t generally¬†that dramatic, but they’re always rewarding.