WIDWID #93: The Dawn of Recognition

Perhaps my favorite part of teaching is “The Dawn of Recognition,” that moment when a student grasps an understanding of a problem or a concept that had previously eluded comprehension. It’s as though the clouds part and the sun shines through, instantly transforming the sky from gloomy opaque grey to vibrant transparent blue.

It can happen in any setting:
– a math student masters an order of operations (remember “Pardon My Dear Aunt Sal?”)
– a guitarist finally nails that tricky lick;
– a lacrosse player executes a textbook pick & roll
– a basketball player finally follows all the way through on a foul shot after I’ve told them for the 10th time, “Imagine you’re reaching up and over to drop the ball into the Grand Canyon and then your hand is gliding off over the pond like a graceful swan.” (Doesn’t work for you, either, huh?)

As a history teacher, I always sought the teachable moment with Marbury vs. Madison (1803), the Supreme Court case where Chief Justice John Marshall established the concept of judicial review. It’s a confusing case and the kids typically feign understanding until Marshall’s ultimate decision completely fakes them out. (Long story short: Marshall seizes major power by choosing to do nothing.) Then we wrestle with it until the light bulb goes on in the first kid’s head who then illuminates his/her peers. (“What our out-of-touch teacher is trying to say, is……”) Great stuff!

Yesterday my son and I drove to the Hyde Wilderness School in Eustis, Maine (next door to Sugarloaf USA) where 78 8th graders from the Hyde-Bronx charter school are spending a week camping, canoeing, journaling, hiking, seminaring, and learning wilderness skills. Harrison and I parked ourselves by the “Leap of Faith,” one of the more challenging elements of the high ropes course, and watched the action. (Actually, H-Bomb took three turns before the Bronx kids showed up.)

Saddat Bediako donned helmet and harness to go first. (See picture) With his peers watching in nervous anticipation, Saddat ascended to the top platform (30+ feet up) and worked up his nerve to jump out and away from the platform for the sole purpose of tapping a ball suspended in mid air before being belayed safely to the ground. All eyes were on him. He performed the task just as instructed and clearly felt good about it. Meanwhile, Kelsey Conway (See Picture #2) looked skyward and thought to herself, “Yeah, that could work. Let’s do this!!!”

Onward, Malcolm Gauld