When I was in third grade, I became fascinated with dinosaurs. Woolworth’s used to sell small, rubber triceratops, tyrannosaurs, pterodactyls and all the rest, complete with names, sizes, and sometimes their prehistoric era on the bottom. Every time we got near the store, I was begging my Mom or Dad for one more to add to my collection. I checked out every book in our small town library on dinosaurs, paleontology, Roy Chapman Andrews, etc. I followed every lead and link suggested, so soon I knew about the eras and epochs — Jurassic and Cretaceous, I knew about the LaBrea tar pits and the early, giant mammals trapped therein, I knew about excavation techniques, and I knew where and why dinosaur fossils were most likely to be found. I presented my hobby as a “learning project” in third grade, stunning the teacher with my knowledge sufficiently that she invited in the Superintendent to watch me do it again. I went to other classrooms to present – some kids wanted to have certain ones “fight” each other in their rubbery glory, but I would clarify and point out that the mastodon and the allosaurus lived in different time periods and probably
I remember very little from any of my classroom experiences in high school which alone says something. Other than playing basketball and baseball, and having our own 6-piece dance/rock-n-roll band – I played guitar – I do remember three things which are the only things that stand out: wood shop, my presentation in sophomore English on jazz, and my research paper for senior English. Wood shop was something my Counselor advised me not to take as I was in the ‘college bound track’ in my high school, George Washington High School in Alexandria, Virginia in the days of segregated schools (it’s now a Middle School). From our third floor I literally could look across the railroad tracks at Parker-Gray High School for the ‘colored’ students. When our schools were finally integrated in the 1960s, the new high school was built — T.C. Williams. In wood shop I loved working with the lathe, and made several projects that were particularly challenging and of which I was really proud ‘ I even have one of them to this day, a ‘string lady,’ a doll-like figure turned on the lathe. There was virtually no one from the college track in my class, and
I am an educational consultant and writer, and the most powerful learning experiences I have are when the folks I am consulting with/learning with have chosen to be part of the group, agree on the nature of the problem, and there is a high degree of trust among group members. I’m working now in a troubled middle school that won’t make AYP this year and might be closed due to underperformance. Many of the teachers and all the school leaders got together at the beginning of the year, though, and decided they would work on problems of instruction as a way to deal with their underperformance. Because everyone agreed this would be fruitful, and people have developed a lot of trust with each other about discussing hard things, we are really seeing improvement every day, even in test scores! But all three conditions: trust, agreement on the problem, and choosing to participate are ingredients of making this a powerful learning environment. Thanks for asking!