Thursday, December 8, 2016
A Sense of Wander
I recently stumbled across an article about how pushing kids to find their passion and pursue it relentlessly is harmful to kids. I don't know if it's harmful so much as, well, let's just say "not all that useful."
In our own school district, the 5th graders do a "Capstone" project as part of crowning their achievement at the end of their elementary school idea. This is a fine idea. It's a nice way to celebrate and commemorate the end of this particular little era in their lives. What the pilot teachers discovered, though, was that the "Passion" projects students choose in September (at the ripe old age of 10) were of little interest come January* and by April, forcing students to grind out this glorious Capstone project was, for most of them, an exercise in educational flogging. This isn't to say that Capstone is a bad idea. It isn't. But forcing most kids in September to choose what they're going to love for an entire school year is...not practical.
In my own classroom, finding passions is easy. We've started a unit on paleontology and the kids are so excited. Today, A. loves rocks. Flint is awesome. So are geodes and diamonds and minerals and everything igneous. Next week? It'll be plants of the Cretaceous. Or Ice Age Mammals. Or wolves....
We spent today "Wondering and Wandering." It's an old phrase, and sometimes I can't stand it, but when the "What do I already know about Paleontology" part of the chart is blank except for a sticky note that reads "I thik it has to do with dinosurs," then asking the kids to pick what they are passionate about studying is a fool's errand. How could they possibly know?
On a related note, there are many times when I work with students who I know are gifted, but damned if I can find the gift. I poke and prod and throw all kinds of different challenges at them to see what might stick, and sometimes it's just....nothing. Can't find it. It's immensely frustrating for me, and, I presume, for the kid. "Here's this adult who is supposed to know things, and she never, ever once gives me anything actually worth doing, much less doing well" he thinks. Or, I think he thinks that because I honestly have no freaking clue what he's thinking.
And then, after two years of me fruitlessly attempting to get him to show a spark of anything, we start a unit on Chemistry. It's April. For two years, this boy has done...nothing. Five minutes into "100 greatest discoveries in Chemistry"**this kid comes up to me, eyes wide, and asks if he can borrow the copy of the periodic table I have taped up. He wants to find every element Bill Nye mentions and see what it is. See what it's next to. He want's to press this table into his brain and learn this. This. Chemistry. He is sitting up, close to the screen. He cannot wait to see what comes next. It takes my breath away.
Maybe this will be his passion forever. Likely not. But with luck it will lead him to the next thing he has to learn. I can only hope.
We spend so much time preparing our kids to be career and college ready. Ready to take on a major and then a career that will keep them productive, taxpaying citizens for life. Maybe, though, we ought to spend a little more time teaching them how to wonder and wander. How to appreciate the vast breadth of things there are out there to know. How to find what is true, and what is simply, still, just unknown.
With any luck, I can get it to take their breath away, too.
*Or October, for some kids.
**featuring Bill Nye. Not the "science guy" though. Aimed more at highschoolers or adults who are just interested in things. I recommend it.