2017-11-09 / Opinions

Guest VIEWpoint

The vision that pulls students forward
By Brian Keim,
Laker Superintendent

Brian Keim Brian Keim I had a clear vision for how my catapult would work, and after some final adjustments, I was ready to give it a try. Dad’s shovel was perfectly balanced across the railroad tie in the drive, with my collection of stones resting on the blade, awaiting launch. Gathering myself, I jumped as high as I could into the air, aiming both feet toward the handle-end of the shovel . . .

Steve Jobs, the legendary Apple CEO once said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” That was certainly true of me and my homemade catapult. Whether we’re practicing free-throws, putting a new engine in a motorcycle, or picking up a new musical instrument, most of us would agree that it is much more fulfilling to do something we enjoy than something we have to do. It is just common sense, the way we are wired.

In education, we sometimes forget this fundamental truth and continue to pound round pegs into square holes. We mean well, but often insist on using safe, traditional methods of instruction that appeal only to the traditional learner, rather than taking risks and giving all students the opportunity to learn in ways that suit them best. Most students learn by doing, and will achieve more when they are curious about a topic and find meaning in their work. Imagine a class where a boy says, “I think I can build a better hunting bow,” and is then given time and resources to experiment with woods and composites, conduct tests on force and velocity, and compare the physical properties of a recurve, a compound, and a crossbow. As he stumbles into roadblocks, the boy approaches his teacher for guidance, maybe even a brief lecture, or perhaps he calls on an expert in the community to give him a few pointers and get him back on his mission. For this kind of student, is it likely that he will learn more deeply in this manner, or through a traditional text-and-homework approach? What about a young lady who learns about writing while composing a musical for her theater program, or students who want to build a robot to assist with chores at home? These curiosities should never go to waste.

While traditional book learning may work for some, we must recognize that real experiences are best for others, and can even help the traditional student learn more deeply. I know that was true for me, both inside school, and as a boy at play.

… as I landed on the handle of my homemade catapult, the blade-end did exactly what it was supposed to do - it flew upward, in a hurry. But it didn’t stop. After pelting my face with stones, the edge of the shovel sliced into my arm, leaving a souvenir that I still wear today. Fortunately, a gash isn’t the only thing my experiment left behind. It left a hunger for more experiments, more excitement, more learning - the kind of vision that pulls students forward.

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