I graduated school. I completed K-12, then a decade of college. I took all of the core classes and tried most electives, even cooking. Why can’t every class have, making and subsequently eating, chocolate cake be a final exam? I walked across the stage at the end of sixth, eighth, and twelfth grades and shook hands with someone. I have the pieces of paper and knowledge to prove it.
Yet here I was, in a fourth-grade classroom, participating in a science experiment as though I had no clue how electromagnetic fields worked. (Which was remarkably easy for me to fake, with my rudimentary knowledge of electromagnetism and all). I stood with a group as we hooked wires up to batteries and paper clips and some sort of switch with a tiny light bulb attached. I cheered when the lightbulb came on just like they did. It was like I was in school again. Learning a lesson that I taught.
Five students, not a science fan amongst them, followed my lead and explored the circuit like it was a Minecraft level. Eventually I stepped back, switching from student to teacher, but still a learner.
It started on a whim, part lightbulb over my head, part frustration. This group excelled in a lot of subjects. They listened, mostly. They were friends, mostly. They worked well together, mostly. Except for science. For some reason, science period was when they tuned out. It was frankly the only time of day I ever had any issues redirecting them and keeping them on task.
A New Approach
Fortunately, I knew them well enough to know their strengths and at least one weakness. You guessed it, they hated science. Which is why I decided to sit down with them and learn with them. I can’t speak for how they saw me, but I think they at least respected my knowledge of the subject. As a weather, nutrition, and fitness nerd, I often gave little tidbits of information on those subjects, relating them to science whenever I could.
I figured I’d model learning for them. I would try to approach it from a student’s perspective. Like someone that didn’t already learn the content some hundred years ago or whenever it was, we went over electromagnetism and circuits in school.
My earnest approach to learning that was probably helped by the fact that I must have missed any and every day of those lessons when I was in whatever grade I was in when I was supposed to learn about it.
They were reluctant at first, and at second. They eyed me warily like it was part of the assignment. Like they would receive extra scrutiny because I was in their group. But that started to fade. As we worked together, really together, not them following me, they took ownership of the project. They started leading each other. They started leading me, telling me where to put a wire to make the light brighter and why my paper clip straightening skills were subpar at best.
It was the fastest thirty minutes I ever taught. I was sad when it was time to wrap up. In fact, we used so much time that we could not come together as a class for a quick review session. That had to wait until the next day.
On the next day, my group, the group that hated science, were the ones that raised their hands the most. They were the ones that answered questions and asked, even more, questions. They were the ones with the biggest smiles when we opened up the science crate with the materials for the next lesson on electromagnetism.
Weird how some of my best teachings occurred when I was busy learning.