It was 10:30, and way past bedtime. But, it was Friday evening, and they just finished watching one of their favorite Pixar movies, Brave. I told them that it was time to go to bed, but their dad had a different idea. “Boys, come here. I have something to show you first.” Intrigued, we all gathered around him at the bottom of the stairs.
“All of you need your iPads.” What was this all about? The boys rushed to the charging station, grabbed their iPads, and ran back to their dad, eager to see what was in store. He proceeded to show them a new app, Skyview, that he put on all of their iPads without them knowing it. “A long time ago, people used the stars to find their way to get places. Through this app, we can learn about the constellations they used. Let’s go outside to see them!”
Out they went, iPads in hand, dark night sky, the stars above. Each little guy pointed their iPad to the sky, and the constellations illuminated on their iPads. The next 30 minutes were filled with awe and excitement, the faces of discovery lighting the night. There are no words to describe the faces of wonder as they discovered planets, the patterns of the stars, and how space was all around us. Countless moments of “Look at this!” and “What is this thing?” were shared. Mom and Dad moved among the boys, answering questions, pointing to objects, describing what they were seeing on their screens.
In our living room, an impromptu astronomy lesson took shape. We grabbed a globe, I stood as the sun, and my boys learned about the term orbit, the planets that orbit the sun, and the other objects that fly through space. And when our astronomy lesson was over, the boys rushed back to their iPads, finding the orbits and horizon on their screen, beginning to understand the great space around them. Inevitably, it was time for bed, but the wheels were still turning in their heads, and science just got very cool and real.
Wonder & Discovery
There were no standards posted. No textbook sitting around. We didn’t create a hanger mobile or hand out a worksheet with the planets. We are not going to take a test and analyze the data. Dad had a learning experience in store - discover what constellations are - and my children took that experience to a new level. He certainly did not intend for me to tear his “lesson” apart, he simply wanted his children to explore.
This experience would not have been as amazing as what it was without the technology in each of their hands. It definitely would not have been as powerful as it was if he had showed them pictures in a book or pointed to the sky to talk about it.
The key to this experience was my children’s ability to explore on their own, ask their own questions, wonder and discover on their own, with us by their side the entire time. A tool enhanced the experience, and peaked their interest even more with its vivid images and descriptions. The app could have very easily been used in a different way, modeled by one with direct explanation as a whole group. Instead, the tool was quickly shared, and the power rested in the hands of the children, giving them time to explore and discover, building questions and facilitating discussion. These are the moments, the authentic experiences, that are remembered and treasured. And these are the experiences we need more of in our schools.
How can we build more wonder in our classrooms? How can we create experiences of exploration and discovery on a greater scale?
Today, our schools are often driven by standards and testing accountability. Our curriculums are still founded in the pace and topics of textbooks. And while these elements are not necessarily terrible, our entire purpose in education has been driven by them rather than the wonder of our kids.
We provide experiences for our students to discover and explore topics, and the important piece of this is to get out of the way! Today, many of our children have tools in their hands to explore and wonder, inquire and discover, and it is our role to now stand aside and let this happen. With simple reframing of our classrooms, the content can come to life in their hands, and we simply guide them through it. Imagine the discussion and motivation within a classroom where the students are continually discovering, not just being “told” what is and was and what will be.
Our roles as educators need to change to facilitator, not expert. Build a community of self-guided learners and the standards and testing will take care of itself. Allow children to inquire and explore, and we have built life-long learners, not compliant workers seeking the one and only right answer.
There are so many TOOLS. It is through our approach that wonder and discovery can be the norm in our classrooms.