As the last bell of the year rings, students and teachers cannot wait to exit the classroom/ school and begin a vacation of two solid months! Yet this year is different, as we all left our physical schools around Mid-March, and have not yet returned. We are working through emergency distance contacts, with heroic stories of teachers, support staff, parents, community members, and students working on the platforms of home-based learning. We are all working to ensure we focus on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs before we can even begin to tackle Bloom’s taxonomy. We face many challenges, from the child who is struggling at home, to the community who still does not have the internet.
Yet as the year winds down, and some states have already canceled the use of the physical
school building, learning does not need to stop! As I write about in my book, Thinking about Teaching, there are so many wonderful opportunities to learn in the summer. This year is no different! We just need to be a little more careful and a little safer.
Our first, best learning experience is our own neighborhoods! Form my quarantined based
home, I have been so interested in how my neighborhood came to be. I am interested in when the different styles of houses emerged. Why are some two-story and others one? Why are there apartment complexes and townhomes? How did they build that road that flat? I am so interested in how humans influenced the environment and how the environment influenced humans I began to look at who owns property and how much the properties are worth. I then began to try and understand the cars in the driveways around me. What type of cars are people driving? Where do the cars come from? Imports or domestic cars, or elsewhere? What do the brand names mean, and what are the companies try to elicit from our mental image of the words Tahoe, or Outback, or Trailblazer?
Nature interests me! Especially as there are so many birds! I look out my window and I see at
least four different types of birds. I have tried to identify them by their colors, their songs, and sometimes by what tree they like to land in. I have seen Cardinals, Blue Jays, Robins, Wrens, Sparrows, and every once in awhile, a hawk. I was stunned to see turkey vultures soaring on the thermals on a warm day, watching them loop overhead. The vultures flew low towards the river valley I am near and swooped over the trees and low along with the parking lots and lawns of the area. As I watch the pigeons and doves and hear their coos and their squawks they ignore me or become quite upset as I walk by.
In my back yard, I see examples of mammals- from squirrels to chipmunks to the occasional
rabbit or even a mouse! The local neighborhood has a badger or an opossum, I am not too sure, and I should know the difference, as I am an Eagle Scout! The trees in the neighborhood are fascinating, as the leafy green ones are flowering, sprouting,
and the green leaves are returning. These trees, deciduous, have simple or compound leaves and fall into a wide variety of leaf patterns that help me identify what type there are in the neighbor. I also figured a great way to understand how to calculate the height of the trees is to use a bit of math, as I try and understand how tall the tallest trees are in my neighborhood (The two eastern cottonwoods in the back are the tallest at 65 feet). I also see the needle coniferous trees and try and identify what types of trees exist.
Back inside the house, I see a number of different places that I can begin to explore- now that I have time to investigate. I looked at my clothes and figured out what the country of origin is, and what materials make up their composition by examining the labels. I have realized that our clothing industry, or textiles are from around the world, and different types have different feels.
I also look at the food in our kitchen, and I look at the ingredients. I am trying to understand
how the food I eat aligns with a balanced diet. I often wonder what the ingredients in a meal start off as, and where they originated. I love the book, An Edible History of Humanity by Thomas Standage. The book offers a wide-ranging history of food for people, and how it came to exist. I am also trying to make sense of how the appliances, both big and small work. I have started to experiment with the toaster and seeing how to make the perfect slice of toast. I am also interested in how engineers determined that the same toaster should look the way it does, and the lever arm on the front pressed down triggers the heating element. I also wonder why the engineers didn’t think through what to do if a bagel became stuck…. Remember to Unplug!
Our summer of social distancing requires some imagination, and our home accidentally
experimented with potato sprouting! We purchased a bag of potatoes and placed the bag in the refrigerator. About a month later, it started to sprout! So we cut the sprouts apart, placed toothpicks in them, and put them in a paper cup, submerged about a quarter of an inch in water. Lo and behold, full-on potato plants are growing! White roots to the water, and green sprouts into the air. We are about to place the seedlings into cups with some soil from outside. We figure after the last frost we have something for a window box, or a back yard garden unless the bunnies get there first!
This year is a very different year, and while most of us would be zooming off to summer camps, or athletic camps, or STEM camps, or YMCA camps, or Scout camps, or summer school. What we may need to do, out of necessity, is experiment. We may need to read! This summer, we may need to slow down a bit and return to the 1980s and earlier childhood, of playing in a park or going for a stroll in the woods, with social distance in mind. If you use your phones this summer, use them to help identify that really amazing plant growing out of the crack in the sidewalk- the dandelion is a great plant- even under the harshest conditions, it still flowers! This summer, let us try to be more like dandelions, and less like an orchid, a flower that requires a ton of care and pampering. Hopefully then, this fall, when we are all
back to school, we can experiment, and appreciate the “unstructured learning” that happened over the summer. Our children, and to a point, we all need less structure, and certainly less worksheets, and way more experimentation!
Casey T. Jakubowski, PhD
A knowledge expert in the areas of leadership, ed policy, rural education, social studies, and teacher mentoring. He is the author of Thinking About Teaching, a book which looks at ideas, concepts and great ideas of teaching with concrete ideas, and big dreams.