16 September 2010


SPACE PASSENGERS. Everyone needs a dream. I have a list of ambitions/fantasies -- to conduct a symphony orchestra, to kayak the Grand Canyon, to learn to operate a backhoe, to learn the tango, to become an aviator -- and to be an astronaut. Naturally, some dreams are more realistic than others, and some dreams are realized in smaller degree. But the act of dreaming is vital to my well-being.

While I'm probably past the age for being on the frontiers of space exploration, there is hope. Boeing has announced plans to fly tourists in space (in earth orbit only -- it is too early for visits to Saturn, alas). The concept of commercial passenger travel into near space is not new. In fact, for several tens of millions of dollars, you too can hitch a ride on a Russian rocket bound for the Inernational Space Station. More affordable space travel is something aerospace companies have been developing for some time. Boeing's announcement is likely the precursor of things to come -- and with competition will come falling prices for passage. My fingers are crossed.

LEARNING II. Remember my post two days ago, in which I discussed the styles of learning and teaching? Here's a great example of my philosophy -- make it fun, and they will come. Middle-school teacher Al Doyle in NYC has incorporated his kids' own passion, video games, into his teaching, with very positive results. Read the article for a chuckle of recognition -- the passions of children never cease to delight me.

My own resources were far more limited. As a science and math teacher at a small private school with constricted funding, I had no lab equipment, no visual aids (other than a chalkboard and a TV on which to show relevant movies or taped TV shows), and texts that had been out of date since the Crimean Wars. Enter imagination. Enter enthusiasm. Enter creativity. After each week of brief (but brilliant) lectures off the top of my head, and animated discussions in which I encouraged any and all questions, each Friday was review-and-fun day. One variant which my kids loved was a home-made version of "Jeopardy!". Lacking a bank of TV monitors, I fashioned a mock-up using poster board and 3X5 card pockets (the kind you once found attached inside the front cover of library books). The format was familiar -- columns of categories, and rows of questions within each category, the questions increasing in difficulty and value as they went down the board. A given class was divided into two or three competing teams, and when a question was chosen and I read it aloud, each team raced to confer on the correct response and a representative would dash to the blackboard to write (legibly) the answer. The winning team earned candy rather than cash, which suited them fine.

The excitement in my classes often became so loud (the crowd at the Super Bowl had nothing on us) that the lead teacher would poke her head in the door, expecting to have to break up a riot. We would honestly try to tone it down to avoid disturbing neighboring classes, but damn, it was fun !!

Speaking of other classes, I'm a firm proponent of cross-disciplinary learning. I often consulted with the teachers of history, English, health, and government, and included questions from those classes in the game. No subject exists in a vaccuum. It enriches any student's experience to see how physics relates to biology, how history relates to literature, or how math relates to just music or sports or economics -- how all subjects touch the students' own lives. Fun is entertaining, but relevance is everything. I led haiku exercises out on the lawn for environmental studies students, taught math students how to sing harmony in the old Rice Krispies song, and held chess tournaments for all. It was demanding, draining, and absolutely delightful.

Thankfully the school director was very generous in allowing me to organize field trips -- to area wildlife preserves, Philadelphia science museums, to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. We all remember the non-ordinary -- those experiences which lie outside our daily routine. My question to myself in any situation was, "How can I juice this up?" The absolute finest moment in a teacher's life is when you see that little light bulb illuminate over a student's head, that "aha" or "ohmygod" moment which makes me grin to this day.

Now if only our society valued and paid its teachers like it does entertainers or sports stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment