I witnessed something truly wonderful on our field trip this week to the New York Hall of Science. One of my students, who is generally disengaged, disinterested, and defiant when it comes to school, showed himself to have a niche I never knew he had.
The Hall of Science is a really fun place. Everything is interactive and highly stimulative. My students happily trotted from station to station, jumping, pulling, turning, throwing, bouncing, pedaling, watching, and wondering. When we got to the bottom level, I was thrilled to see it was empty. For quite a while, they were the only ones at the bubble tray (pulling bubbles over their heads), building molecules, and casting shadows.
A gate in the middle of the room marked off a place where three employees were setting something up. I cringed as the student described above – the disengaged, disinterested one – made a beeline for the middle of the gated area.
To my surprise, though, the employees engaged him, and three other students (with a para) joined them. I didn’t know what was going on and returned to the group of which I was in charge.
When I returned 20 minutes later, I was amazed. There was that disengaged boy, with the employees having supplied a tub of meter-long rods and a huge bowl of rubber bands, putting the finishing touches on his first design. He beamed. “Look! It’s a telescope!” My group decided they wanted to get involved, so they retrieved their own rods and rubber bands and began to build. I was fascinated by their joy over something so simple, considering everything else around them, but mostly, I was intrigued by the previously disengaged student.
He proceeded to build a square, all by himself. Next, I noticed him sitting on his knees, carefully holding a vertical stick in place at the corner of his square. He diligently twisted the rubber bands around the ends of the rods to attach it and then methodically moved to the next corner. He did the same thing there. Wearing a determined, serious look that I’ve never seen from him, he continued to the next two corners. Before long, he had four vertical rods attached to the base of what was becoming a cube. He continued working on it until the cube was in place (if not a bit wobbly). We talked about how he could make it sturdier, and I pointed out other kids were putting two sticks through the cube on a diagonal. He grabbed two sticks, laid them out, and said, “Can ya hold that, Mr. Ray?” I did, and he continued to build.
Now that we’d been there for over 30 minutes, some kids began to get bored and asked me to take them elsewhere. I did, and when I returned, what was once a cube had become a house – a cube and a pyramid joined together into a free standing structure almost as tall as him.
He received no grade for this effort or product, obviously. He got nothing but internal satisfaction. He felt as proud as I’ve seen him all year. It was special. He felt like a genius.
Yet what this student has “learned” and “can do” is all going to be judged by a test in a couple of months.
He struggles to write. He reads well below grade level. On a recent exam in which the questions and answers were read aloud, he chose “A) ruler” as the best tool to find the weight of a bag of potatoes. I know he knows it’s a scale. The test he took says otherwise…
Importantly, though, I know now he’s an architect, an engineer, and a scientist.
Doesn’t that count for something, too?
Thank you again for all the support – your reads, retweets, shares, and comments. This is my 150th consecutive day with a new blog post!