This summer, I’ve been mentoring some students who are teaching themselves how to skateboard. Some of this has taken place in my driveway and in the road in front of my house. Because of my proximity to it, and because I’m impressed with anyone who can roll up on a skateboard (not to mention those who can actually do tricks), I have observed this with interest. Surprisingly, in them I have seen a vision for my classroom.
These guys are motivated–they skate because they want to, and they work hard to get better because they want to be better. They are not motivated by grades or a test. They skate for their own enjoyment. I want my students to explore science for their own enjoyment. I want them to take their exploration home in the same way that the skateboarders continue to skate even when they aren’t at a skatepark.
These guys aren’t passive learners in a “one size fits all” skateboard class. They actively seek out mentors to “teach” them the tricks they want to learn. They find most of their mentors on YouTube. I want my science students to actively seek out the answers to their own burning questions about science which means I need to inspire the motivation I mentioned earlier.
The one place where I have been helpful to these skateboarders is allowing them to use my digital camera. When learning new tricks, these skateboarders video their attempts, playing them back to analyze what went wrong and what went right. They don’t need a teacher to offer formative assessment; they are comparing themselves to “experts” and then making adjustments to improve. I want this continuous improvement cycle in my classroom.
One of the best parts of watching these guys get better at skateboarding is celebrating each small improvement. If they only felt successful when they reached the level of Tony Hawk, they would have given up long ago. Instead, they find success in each trick learned or improved. This is evident in the smiles and the pride found on their faces. Those looks may be the thing I want most in my classroom. As students feel empowered as scientists, as they make small improvements that are celebrated, their motivation will improve, and science will begin to look more like skateboarding.