Trust The Children

Monday, February 04, 2008

Context Can Create More Meaning

I had a great teaching experience a few weeks ago. It reminded me again how powerful teaching can be when we are able to create context for what we are teaching. What do I mean "creating context"?

I was asked to train a bunch of scouts about knots and ropes. For anyone familiar with scouting, nothing gets a yawn and "do I hafta?" more than this topic. They have done it a million times. For boys whose dexterity is still developing, the challenge of making their fingers twist the rope just right isn't often confidence inducing. What came to my mind was a movie clip from the beginning of the movie "Vertical Limit" where 4 climbers lose their lives when safety knots, equipment and ropes proved insufficient to protect them. As the boys watched this "intense" scene, and witnessed bodies falling and people dying, a new found appreciation developed within them. After a few seconds of silence at the conclusion of the clip, I asked a question, "So how important are knots and ropes?" One scout looked up and said simply, "Life and death, that's how important."

With that, I said, "Then lets get into our groups and begin practicing the six knots you need to know for this course." Over the next 20 minutes, you have never seen more intensity, commitment and focus on knots. What had been mundane and boring, had now taken on more life and meaning. The difference? Context. They now saw knots and ropes in context of what can happen when they fail, when knots are not sufficiently or correctly tied. With that as a backdrop, they not only wanted to master knots for themselves, but also master them so they could adequately teach them to others. They began to realize that the lives of others might literally hang in the balance, if something as simple and plain as a bowline wasn't tied correctly.

Since this experience I have given much more attention to asking myself the question, "How can I could help students learn better identifying what truly might hang in the balance when considering this topic."

As I ask myself this question more frequently in my teaching, I am finding more answers. My excitement for "impact" teaching is increasing.

As in many other elements of teaching, the home schooling environment has as much opportunity, if not more than the public environment, for fashioning learning experiences of this kind. It might also be, that in the home, there is more freedom to ponder and quietly consider the deeper meaning of a learning experience. Consider for a moment how context can create more meaning.


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