Get serious. Play more.

A quote by a man named Lazer from the 70s got me thinking about science education today.

book coverI love the conversations that happen in The Hub. A few months back, Troy Livingston and I were shooting the breeze and somehow got on the topic of teaching science. Troy recommended a book to me called “Teaching Science to Children” by a guy named Lazer Goldberg. I told him I would read any science book by a guy whose first name is Lazer. The book was first published in 1970, but the content within it feels timeless.

Toward the beginning of the book, a paragraph that jumped out to me as being visionarily prophetic. So much so, I might insinuate that Lazer Goldberg may be viewed as a influencer of science education reform efforts in similar ways that Dr. Martin Luther King was influential to the civil rights movements. The following paragraph gets me fired up about science education in ways that remind me of the reasons I entered into the field in the first place.

“What is wanted is the will to organize a climate for children’s science learning. In such a climate children continue their play. The games whose rules they learn elicit their most intense participation. There is no shame attached to error and failure, and fear has been cast out. Interesting errors are admired, and perceptive questions are applauded. Task governs time, and there is freedom to make, to think, to remake, to chat, and to dream a little. It is a place where dissent and independence are honored, where thought is not deprived of feeling nor art of thought. Above all, it is a place of diverse activity—social, intellectual, artistic, manual. It is a place where children transform bits of their environment and in the process transform themselves.”

I believe that the climate of science learning described here could be applied to any discipline and learning level without sacrificing legitimacy. If we are going to be serious about improving, we need our working and learning environments to be open to more playful energy.

It might seem counterintuitive, but let’s get serious and play more.

If we hold on firmly to our ideas, our practices, our ways of living in this world, this is ironically the quickest way to lose them. If we, instead, play with and hold loosely our ideas, practices and ways of living, this is the only way we find them, grow and move forward toward a brighter future.

Teacher trust

 

TurtleI would do so many things differently than I did those first years of teaching.

I made so many grave mistakes.

I have a vivid memory of a 10th grade Biology lesson I was giving one day in the late Spring when my students were fidgety and seemingly unable to focus on what I’m sure was an incredibly engaging lesson (insert sarcasm font here). It got to the point where I had to stop the lesson and go off script which wasn’t my forte, especially when opening up a difficult conversation with a class of 35 students in the room.

I remember being genuinely nervous, but realizing how important it was for me to express my concern about how the class was going as I felt like I wasn’t getting through to any of them that day. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I expressed my concern in a very honest and frank way. I opened it up to the room on the spot to provide some ideas on how we could make it through the rest of the year without me blowing a gasket. I also admitted that I needed to figure out a way to know I was doing my job as a teacher better.

I think this vulnerability I stepped into in a way that was clearly not planned is what really grabbed their attention to the point where it was eerily silent in the room at first. I remember practicing to wait and embrace that awkward silence to let trust develop and courage for people to speak up honestly with it me not passing judgement or taking offense to the fact that my teaching approach was clearly not working. Ideas started flowing from the room on how we could address the challenge together.

Of course, things never got perfect after that, but I do recall an enormous shift that took place even toward the end of the year where me and my students had a better understanding of each other. That moment catalyzed deeper trust for everyone in the room to speak up or connect with me personally when things just weren’t working for them.

I will never forget that the courage of honesty in moments like those (rather than losing my cool) was constructive for building the essential trust there must be between a teacher and their students.

Now to the daily challenge of putting this courage to practice moment-by-moment.

The Story Behind Ranger Davie (2 truths and a lie)

Canoe in water by Pahala Basuki
Canoe in water shared freely on Unsplash.com by Pahala Basuki

Dave is often referred to as Ranger Davie due to the honorary doctorate he was awarded in Natural Resource and Wildlife Management while studying remotely in the late 60s from Penn Forest State University’s Distance Learning Department. He accomplished this by single-handedly (his other hand was gruesomely severed by a reclusive wolverine) fishing in his canoe for a year in an undisclosed wetland in the Northern Boreal Forest of Canada.

While Dave continues to disappear on the weekends to impudently manage various state and federal parks across this great land, during the week you will find him helping faculty and administration with learning experience design projects at Michigan State University.

Dave is both a musician and photographer. He and his wife live in Jackson, Michigan. Together they own Meadow Lace Photography and have three young boys.