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Philosophical Meanderings

The pursuit, not the telling

Wall of wheels by ianr

Wall of wheels by ianr

We had already put up the computers; we stood around waiting for the tornado drill.

I spun two wheels, one wheel on each of the skateboards parked on the desk by the door. The blue wheel on the first deck easily outlasted the white wheel on the other. You could hear the difference. The white wheel rattled as it spun; the blue one sounded like soft tumbling sand.

The kids left in class came over and started spinning the other wheels. We set aside the deck with the white wheels – they clanked around and quickly died.

But the blue wheels sang. We found one wheel – the left front one – that sounded like a little engine as it spun and spun and spun. We had to look at it to see if it was moving. It spun so fast for so long that – besides the sound – the only way we knew it wasn’t still was that it looked solid blue; as the other wheels spun you could see white streaks made by the wheels’ brand name. We put our hands under the wheel to feel the temperature change created by its wind. Something went extremely right in hammering in that wheels’ bearings and tightening the bolt on that side of the truck. We were delighted and amazed.

I said some things about math – about revolutions per minute (RPM), distance traveled, diameter, friction, and force. I said something about learning physics with just the wheels on a skateboard.

One of the kids said he wished that we could do that, so, of course, we will.

Maybe we can make a sensor out of our MaKey MaKey kit, a few flaps of copper tape opposite one another striking contacts as the wheel spins, typing a bunch of characters we can divide by time and two for an estimate of RPM. Then we can average a bunch of trials and multiply by the diameter to find an estimate of the distance traveled during each travel, the average distance traveled across trials, and an estimate of the entire distance traveled by that one blurringly fast wheel. Then we can compose a reflection about our work and produce a how-to. Then we can test the other wheels. There are months of doing and learning in a spinning skate wheel.

I joined another teacher’s math class to help kids trouble-shoot their self-assessment interims.

We’re trying to build a culture of self-awareness and reflection in our school. We’ve asked kids to write their own progress reports this year. Nearly all of our kids can write a clear opinion sentence, but we’re still habituating ourselves to recognizing and sharing our reasoning. I helped kids go down a few turtles in their thinking so that they could give examples of what they talked about in their interim responses.

We’ve been studying and practicing minimalism in our project-based learning class; a few kids in math class ran out of the attention we hoped they would give their tangrams. They had worked the patterns available to them and were looking to compromise on some other work for the day.

With the math teacher’s generous help and the extra sets of tangrams she brought over, the kids and I were able to imagine making their minimalist designs out of tangrams and tracing them in their notebooks as puzzles for classmates to solve.

Despite school’s insistance to the contrary, there are connections between us, between our classes, and between art and life – and these connections are all around us. It’s the pursuit of them, not just the telling, that makes them real.

I don’t think any of us expected to go into the day discovering these things to do and learn.

But we were open to what happened and to finding wonderment and meaning in the people and stuff in front of us. We were open – as teachers and students – to listening to one another, to asking questions about what could happen, and to saying, yes, we could do that. That would be okay. We were open to letting opportunity supplant our expectations of what a normal day of school should look like.

I think that is the genius loci of our school – by learning with one another we wind up consulting the genius of the place. We are made peers – and learn community – by learning together and from one another in several directions at once.

Insomuch as our genius loci depends on us, it is our own, but also, insomuch as our genius loci depends on people trusting one another to learn, it belongs to all of us who trust as much even inside our wary schools.

About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


5 thoughts on “The pursuit, not the telling

  1. What a joy when learners – particularly young ones – are enabled and encouraged to address their natural curiosity (not stifled as typical via formal education), thereby increasing their motivation for learning. And, for sure, contrary to suspicious “monitors” of ongoing efforts, these students will indeed learn; without question and without direct attention or preparation, these students will outperform traditionally educated students on those standardized tests as well. What a kick for the teachers as well …

    Posted by John Bennett | October 4, 2012, 11:20 pm
  2. Cool, Chad. What an amazing contrast to “Educatedtodeath”‘s recent post. You two need to talk! How is such a collaborative, open and supportive school culture built and sustained? I have a feeling your own pedagogical wisdom, and your passionate advocacy has played no small part. I want my kids in a school environment like that!

    Posted by Paul Freedman | October 5, 2012, 9:37 am
  3. Chad, This is wonderful to read and it sounds like you’re creating the culture you’ve dreamed of. Is it feeling good? Sustainable? Mysterious? Full of genius?

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | October 7, 2012, 9:40 pm
    • Good? Yes. Sustainable? So far. Mysterious? When things go wrong. Full of genius? On the students’ part. I’m still trying to connect the dots as they appear each morning.

      What are you up to?

      Posted by Chad Sansing | October 8, 2012, 4:10 pm
  4. Reflection is so important. We’re trying to give projects earlier due dates so that time is built-in for students to reflect on process and outcome. Their reflections are very insightful!

    Posted by Janet Abercrombie | October 29, 2012, 3:02 am

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