Thursday, December 15, 2011

Discovery is infectious

I absolutely love learning.  You could almost say I'm addicted to it, actually.  I never get enough of discovery and new experiences and the epiphanies that go along with them.

At this moment I am halfway finished with my MAT in Museum Education, which means that in seven months I will be entering the workforce.  I suppose the only thing that will change at that point will be that I will (hopefully!) be getting paid to learn, rather than paying tuition for my education.  I can't imagine a more exciting career than one in which I get to learn by teaching and spread discovery every single day. 

Seventh-grade students learning the states with a paper puzzle I made for them.

I just finished a semester-long internship at a public middle school in Washington D.C.  My absolute favorite day there is shown in the picture above; my students were learning the geography of the continental U.S., so I made them a paper puzzle of the states.  On that day I handed them the puzzle and a labeled map of the continent, then sat back and allowed them to work it out together.  They collaborated, one reading the map, several others finding the right pieces and moving them into place.  Everyone participated.  There was no arguing or distraction, everyone was incredibly focused. 

As they fit the pieces together, sometimes they would note that a relative or friend lived in that state, and we would talk about it.  The kids shared stories, memories of trips, or details about their out-or-town family members.  The conversation evolved to local traditions involving food, culture, history, and politics.

When I looked at the clock as told the kids it was past the time for them to go down to lunch, they said, "no, we want to stay and learn more!"  It was amazing, and it still uplifts me to remember it.

I try to think back to that day whenever I'm planning other educational programs.  The beauty of that exercise was that the kids owned it; they were the ones running the activity, it was hands-on and engaging, and their personal connections to the subject matter made it relevant to their lives.  Each discovery of a state name or location led to stories or memories, which led on to more questions and eventually new discoveries.  It's infectious, and it quickly snowballs into an energetic and positive experience when you get it right.

I'm continuously looking for more ways to make that happen.