The Ecliptic is the apparent yearly path of the Sun and the approximate path of the Moon and planets. The ecliptic is tilted at an angle of 23 1/2° degrees from the celestial equator and intersects the equator at two points called the "equinoxes" (see diagram). The Sun passes the equinoxes around March 21 and September 21. This year (2020), the Spring or "Vernal Equinox" occurred on March 19. This point in the sky is called the "First Point of Aries," but is now actually in the constellation of Pisces. The "Autumnal Equinox" will occur at 9:31 EDT (1331 UT, or "Universal Time") on September 22, 2020.
My hope is that these astronomical offerings will interest youth in STEM and participation in our local opportunities, such as ETHOS and MAS (Michiana Astronomical Society).
George Drake, M.D.
Burnham's Celestial Handbook, 1978 Dover Publications
Observers Handbook 2020 The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
A telescope is a tool for observing objects in the distance, either in the sky or across land and sea. In this article, we will talk about telescopes for observing objects in the sky, to their natural beauty and to understand more about the nature of the universe in which we live.
It is useful to think of telescopes as "light buckets", whose main purpose is to gather as much light from a particular region of the sky as possible and to b.ing it into focus. For backyard astronomers, we are interested in observing sky objects in wavelengths visible to the human eye, that is, with an optical telescope (there are telescopes which observe other forms of light radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays, used by professional astronomers.).
There are two basic types of optical telescopes: reflectors and refractors, that are used by backyard astronomers. A third type, known as catadioptric combines the two.
To keep things simple, a reflector uses a curved mirror to collect the light and bring it to a focus at an eyepiece (see first figure at top of page). A refractor uses a lens, or a series of lenses, to focus the light at the eyepiece (see second figure at top of page). Combining the two types allows for a more compact telescope (shorter tube), but is a more expensive option (see figure at bottom of page).
There are many things to consider when contemplating the purchase of a backyard telescope, not the least of them, the cost (in dollars). For those interested in buying a telescope that is worth the expense, I refer you to the references at the end of this article.
A basic principle is to use your money on aperture (the size of the light-gathering mirror, or lens), rather than on magnification: seeing dim objects in the sky depends upon how much light is gathered. There are natural limits to magnification-at a certain point details, or resolution. exceeds the limits of the telescope equipment and our visual equipment (our eyes).
May you have clear skies!
[References: Night Watch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe Revised 4*' Ed. Terence Dickinson Firefly Books 2013 (Basic)
The Backyard Astronomy's Guide 3'd Ed.
Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer Firefly Books 2013 (More Advanced)
George Drake, M.D.
ETHOS Innovation Center Volunteer
Michiana Astronomical Society Member
One to watch!
Parents and teaching colleagues, if you have not had a chance to watch this TED talk by Nathalie Miebach, you need to take some time!
What are you looking for?
1 The first comes with a disclaimer. Cross-curricular and pathways can mean different things, depending on who you talk to about each of these. Watch the video, and then see if you agree with what I classify: "What it has the potential to be," and "a close second."
A close second...
My child does science, does english, and does math, and they do it in a way the three are connected. For example: we do an exercise where we see what will float, what will not, and what hovers in water. Then we read a story about things that float, and she answers questions about the story. Later, she does a math exercise about greater than and less than (bigger and smaller numbers).
vs What it has the potential to be...
My child does a science exercise in which we make observations, write down what we notice and quantify as we go. We make predictions along the way and write about our discoveries, coming up with new questions and support for possible answers. For example: We draw picture of our set-up, including various objects and a glass of water. We make predictions we record, and then start to make other observations of the materials before dropping any objects in water to make predictions. We represent the likelihood of sinking, for each object by stacking blocks, which we sketch on our paper and then write about our reasoning. We drop each in water and write about our new results and new questions we have, and what our observations may suggest about floating and sinking.
In brief - with "cross curricular," mix it up. Take time to write and document in many ways as you go. Children need to learn the interweaving roles of subjects. If a writing skill needs to be honed by the child, then let the experience flush it out and give it real purpose for the learner. Science provides a fun why we are doing this to an english exercise.
Nathalie is not separating art, mathematics, and science. She is combining them. And, the combination is impressive! As much as it may seem to document a phenomenon, to look at her work is to discover something new.
A close second...
Students register for "pathway classes" based on career interest and are grouped with peers who have been identified with similar career interests. They take classes together in which teachers add enriched material which are themed toward the selected career path. They take english, math, and science classes which each follow this theme during the year and work on various projects within each class. The last theme centered around an environmental issue which happened locally. Projects in the science class are related to the chemistry involved in the incident, and in english students do related research papers and readings. Even the math classes solve problems which are scaled down problems similar to the real world occurrence.
vs What it has the potential to be...
In the business and international studies school, a student enrolls in business communication ("english"), business statistics ("math"), sociology, applied chemistry and business graphics ("art") (did I leave anyone out?). The teachers meet periodically and design series of 2 week projects for students. The english teacher takes lead, as communication is job one, and the science and sociology teachers throw out an idea for an investigation based on a local environmental occurrence. During the task, documentation is intense, but the math teacher is meeting with students to develop the math skills they need to investigate further and run experiments mentored by the science teacher. And, the english teacher discusses how to best communicate with various stakeholders. Students research and write about the sociological impact, and use graphic arts to effectively communicate and sell their positions in an open peer reviewed forum. Through a series of ongoing documented experiments, they are able to better understand and communicate the occurrence and its financial and ethical impact on the local community and suggest next steps (including a budget).
In brief - stand-alones versus a teamed approach. Traditional approaches are hard to get past, especially when the instructors have their own expertise. Let the experience drive the curriculum, not the other way around. A guided experience should look more like a completed salad, than the ingredients in the fridge.
It is also important to remember the power (and responsibility) of communication. Documentation will slow down students on the front end, but give power, efficiency, and a realness for students on the tail end. Something they will be proud of upon completion. And never underestimate the power of art to take students to a new level. For students, creating a real and unique experience is very important. And the real and unique is a relative term from their perspective - their life experiences to date. Pathways should guide students to what they consider is an open investigation of the world.
An experience as unique as what Meibach is sharing is what we might expect from our students when guided to an open forum, from the tools of math, communication, arts, and science. I am always surprised at what new and novel idea students are able to come up when given the opportunity.
2 Something to consider. When looking at the work of scientist in the field, the best communications they share are artistic. Artistic ability is amazingly wonderful when used to convey the amazing design in the world around us. My first thoughts after watching the video, is could we line up a dozen of artistic pieces, capturing various hurricanes by Nathalie, and do trend analysis with visual inspection. What new revelations could we find in her visual representations we might miss on a flat screen.
At the ETHOS Innovation Center, we are working to ensure every student has these experiences on a regular basis, and gets to know the amazing wonder of our world. There is something magical about the ease at which a child can grasp the most complex in such simple and unmuddled ways! And, then these fun simple complexities have a chance to stay with them for life.
Written by John Taylor: John Taylor, MEd is the Director of STEM Education at ETHOS Innovation Center. Building on his discussion on what motivates learning in the ETHOS Blog, he ventures into the world of Pathways.
The idea of merging school and the workforce has been around for quite awhile. In my scant quarter century as an educator, I saw the likes of Tech Prep and then Project Lead the Way. Those before me related to me the power of Kennedy's "We choose to go to the Moon.." speech and its impact on education in the 60's. I kept their textbooks on the shelves of my classroom as a reminder of lessons learned, and often grabbed from these when designing lessons.
(Career centers across the U.S. have formed effective, but separate entities to make great things happen - connecting youth with gainful futures. Although, I don't plan on elaborating on this point, there are some great lessons to learn from the programs offered at these (often) regionally located facilities, generally used to support the trades.)
Often in the past, the effort to bring traditional school and work together has been about merging separate education entities to function side-by-side and support each other. It could involve a science class and an industrial arts (tech) teacher. I've been a part of a physics + math + industrial arts effort. 'Even traded classrooms to support the cause. For schools that were more adventurous, you added in a language arts (English) teacher. But, it was always a fight to make it work; always seemed like a good idea; but felt like something was missing.
I feel fortunate my grandfather was born in 1903. He had seen so many things come into normalcy. The same things we take for granted. Of course, TVs and radios were a big deal, but I was always fascinated by the more subtle,..
My mother relayed an occurrence to us when Grandpa shared a recollection with us about farming. She talked about the tractor and the new bailing machines. For those who don't know: straw and hay are used to feed livestock (cows, horses,..). It is grown in the field and then cut down and stored for use throughout the year. It is basically tall grass. When the first bailer came into the area, it was an item and shared between some of the farmers. This was a large amish community, so the tractor (at the time) was of no use to many of the (amish) farmers. Anyways, before the bailer, the cut grasses were cut and brought together in what are called shocks (google it - very beautiful sight on a hillside). With the bailer, you could hook up a wagon and go straight from field to barn with these new rectangular shaped hay bails. Great idea.
There was a problem with perspective.
After the first use of the bailer, everyone had a laugh at these fields with bails of hay stacked up throughout the field in shocks. They hadn't thought to attach the wagon. They made a easier job, many, many times more complicated by not seeing the bigger picture.
When it comes to school pathways, imagine a car and an engine being seen for the first time by some country bumpkin a hundred years ago. He could try to hook the two together with the engine on the outside, and even get it to move the car down the road. It might even look pretty cool. But it is a much better idea to put the engine inside the car.
Language arts (aka English) is the substance of a Pathways school.
Let's say that one again. Language Arts is the substance of Pathways. Although a science teacher, I will even say it is the most important component of each school. Next would be mathematics. But, don't strap the English courses onto the pathways schools. And, don't strap on mathematics, either.
One of the best implementations of Tech Prep I was able to experience, connected the tractor, the bailer and the wagon. In education speak, they put a science (physics), industrial tech, mathematics, and English teacher together. The math teacher developed mathematical principles with the students, which they used in their science and industrial tech class as part of a lab, and then the English teacher helped them write up the lab report. These students continued through these classes in a cyclical fashion in addition to specific assignments from each teacher. In theory, anyway.
This was a great effort at something new. Teachers reported the students even felt like they were really doing science. Sounds decent. Sounds like cross-curricular education. Sounds a bit like pathways. And, I'm sure it produced some great students. But, is the engine on the inside of the car or the outside?
I think the teachers in this arrangement might argue the science class was the most significant component, driving all other (supporting) activity. But, as a seasoned science teacher, I'm convinced English and math are the most significant components of any pathways school, in that order.
How can Pathways be different?
I added "can," because many will adjust the old practices to the new name. We may soon have a few different things called "Pathways," and in a worse case scenario: very few schools actually making the real dive into this new scheme.
Or rather, what is the potential of Pathways? Okay. Let's not open pandora's box, yet. Instead, look at a specific point: Perspective.
If a group of students are going to engage in a Project Based Learning (PBL) experience, we have to ask, "Why are we doing this?"
A student may respond, "To learn Biology." or "To cover English standards."
Well, yes. But, let's go a step farther.
"To be the _______ and make a significant push or impact on the world around us."
Pathways focuses on a high, key motivational level in students - Identification.
And schools are wise to push this farther to Service to others (to keep from pushing out a bunch of self-absorbed youth, rather produce productive young adults). And, service to others is a higher engagement.
So, the students are the engineers able to design new vehicles which roll down the hill at a constant velocity, as a safety feature - not slowing down or speeding up.
Which instructional coach has the largest impact on this team and their novel design attempts? Their English teacher. Communication is the most valuable commodity. For any modern engineer, you gain value if you can communicate. Their documentation should begin from the first thought. They may discover the cure for the common cold, but if they do not communicate it, they have accomplished nothing. Communication creates opportunity to develop value. Students need real experiences, and they need to know how to create real contributions.
Next? Mathematics. It is the motor driving any process they will engage in - and actually is in the mechanics of the communication piece (i.e. word count, spacing and layout, meter and dimensions,... - all math). It produces validity, allows predictions, develops trends,...
Oddly, the science and engineering are just the candy coating. The packaging of an engineer. In the 110% of the benchmark, they are the infrastructure for the substance of the English, and fuel for the motor of the mathematics.
For the budding future investor working on a project for the business pathway schools? #1 English. #2 Math. Applied to the science of business.
Health and occupation school? Same. #1, #2, The science of...
_______ (Fill in the blank with the school). Yep, the same.
Now, if you really want something special, then recognize the art! And, work to pull out, push in, and mix well the artistic parts of the student effort. Art in all forms makes any effort really worth doing.
I am a big fan of the work of Nathalie Miebach. She represent hurricane and other data through art. She is able to dynamically communicate the storms. What she does is in line with what I have seen from the best and brightest in high energy physics and astrophysics. But, she seems to do it better. I wish every scientist could take time to learn from Nathalie. Why have we allowed art to be a stand alone? In my opinion, it should be a component of every school of study as an understood way to enhance communication.
Add art to a business proposal and it takes on meaning and life. Integrate it into a composition for a health plan and it sings and becomes effective as a part of a marketing effort.
I would like to see Pathways done well. We owe it to our kids. And, we have to remember the big three: Language Arts (Communication), mathematics and art. And, we have to rethink the role of each in the future. Put the engine inside the car.
Here is a thought I often share to capture the essence of the Pathways school. What if, for most of their upper elementary and secondary school career, our students should stop taking English and Math classes. Rather, they took every year courses in Business Communication, Integrated Health Coding, Engineering Statistics and Applied Calculus, Art Applied to Enhance Health and Public Safety, or Presenting Natural Resources and Environmental Data Artistically.
It's time to rethink teaching content through separate subject "islands." Rather than separated course we would wish to integrate, let's put the "Why?" in education up front and consider this new paradigm shift.
At ETHOS, we work to support STEM efforts in the schools in our Region, and are excited by the move of local schools to meet the State push for Pathways schools. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes it seems to me, we live in a world dominated by extrinsic rewards and competition motivating activities. I think for most people, it defines most of what we do during the week. Go to work and earn a paycheck. Come home to watch tv and dream about who you could be or where you could live. Then go online or on the cell phone to play a game.
But, if we stop with just extrinsic rewards and competition, we have an incomplete picture. Those are just the first levels on a progression. And so, we continue to Identification or Self motivation.
I am amazed by the level of effort my teaching colleagues will put into the profession, when they are the teacher. When they own the teacher role. And we see this in other lines of work - or as these individuals may prefer to call it: professions.
There is a simple self test. Do you go to “work.” Or, has that always sounded strange? If it does sound strange, you may rethink calling it work. Because, maybe it isn’t. It was once said to me, “You go to work to get paid.” From this I inferred a difference between a work and a career. I stopped going to work years ago. For awhile I did - working summer jobs in college to help pay for school. Then I became a teacher.
Side note: Want to kill the drive of a self-identifier? Distract them with external rewards. Here’s an example: imagine the older daughter who generally loves tying her younger brother’s shoes. Offer her a reward. Give it to her the first time, then don’t the next. Do you think she’ll ever tie his shoes again? Watch the activity cease, and a bit of aggravation set in. When you look for it, you will notice occasions where functioning intrinsic motivation is undercut by introduced extrinsic motivation...
I enjoy working with individuals who are motivated by self-identification. It is very prevalent in the oldest generations. (One word of caution for this generation from my observations: a single identification and retirement just don’t mix well. Make a serious effort to find a hobby and/or service group.)
It makes me feel very comfortable at an office visit with Dr. Yoder. She is the doctor. Steve, who’s worked on our cars for years. He is the mechanic. Identification gives us comfort. And, it should. We live in a funny world, where professionals are sometimes expected to be perfect. An odd notion. Nobody is perfect. We should be glad there are individuals who operate at such a high functioning (motivational) level. Motivated by identification is a natural progression which sometimes leads naturally to one more…
Motivated by service to Others.
Wow. You meet these people, and you are blown away. These individuals generally live very full lives, in each year of their existence. Some work extraordinarily hard. Sometimes they are on fire with energy. Sometimes they are calm with compassion. Sometimes, they lose their lives. Most of the time, others find improvements in their lives because of the work of these individuals. When you run into people at this level, you feel blessed. I've had many, many students who would love to say, "This is me." Yet, it is a small collection of these extraordinary students I count in my hand. Yet, thankfully, many adults motivated by service to others have crossed my path. Thank you, each of you.
So far, I have given you just a bit more than a good education psychology course would introduce to you. But, let me add my twist.
What if you take the difficulty level, from too easy to too difficult, and place it on a horizontal axis, and stack these levels of motivation on a vertical axis? A lane of engagement seems to appear. A learning curve?
But, more about this relationship next time. And, how it relates to the new school career pathways.
More to the story.
To push through college financially, I worked a lot of factory jobs. Meeting a wide variety of people, I learned most didn’t really love their job. Some didn’t even like their job.
So why do it?
To understand their motivation it helps to dive a bit deeper.
In education, we talk about motivational levels. I like to think of the progression moving this way:
External - future - competitive with others - and, competitive with self.
Sometimes competition is misunderstood. When it comes to competition, it can be more than okay. Alright, here’s my opinion (take it or leave it). Even in a classroom. Even in a workplace. Among friends. In a family. It can be a very good thing.
Perspective is key. In a classroom, we all glanced at the grade on the paper next to us, to get a check on how we were doing. It caused an immediate emotional reaction. We were competing with others. When we recognize it as healthy competition to inspire us to do better, let's encourage it. If it relates to a feeling of self-worth, we have a problem. With students, this is generally an easy fix through communicating the role of competition. Communication. An amazing thing. Can we compete, so that all rise? Can it be a way to engage momentum and motivation - for everyone? Can it provide healthy feedback? Again, communication is key. (And for those of you competitor types who enjoy watching the demise of others - I’m sorry, you’re all losers, with some real insecurity issues! Issues that the rest of us wish you would get resolved.)
I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t sure about opening the conversation with students. Could they get past feelings of shame, about the low score? Would they want someone else to see the score, or would they identify as, “I’m a ‘D’ .“ The real question is, “Can we get others to be self-competitive?” It changes the game. An amazingly different student.
One more pause.. with self competitive versus with others competitive. A revelation of my own (in competitions) was the difference of the two competition levels on the game field. Self competitors are a more feared opponent. “Other” competitors enter the arena hoping they win. They are vulnerable to a loss. Self competitors are thinking how they will do it, and how they can improve. In a way, they are beyond the win. The latter are most generally the tougher of the two. They never really ever lose, they just get better. BTW: Self-competitors also do tend to win a lot. Not that winning is critical to them. It happens as a healthy consequence.
But there is more than rewards and competition.
Next time. For now, be the best you, you can be!
From the last wondering thought:
So,... if you have entered a work situation, or class setting as the stellar individual, everything coming super easy, and a year later are left wondering, “how has everyone passed me up?” Yep, your boredom undercut your motivation and they all did pass you up. The right level of difficulty keeps us at our best.
Too difficult - the downward spiral.
At the far end of the difficulty spectrum, is the place few desire to hang out. And, honestly, you shouldn’t. (Although, there is more to it than we can digest in this draft, in a later blog - “Why some people excel and others don’t as things get harder.”)
I think we all have been there. Shut down is usually inevitable. As a kid who could generally coast through life, my first real experience hitting a wall came at a summer “I DID IT” Iowa style intensive wrestling camp. It was basically a boot camp for high school kids. One of the many slogans was, “I know I’m going to heaven, because I’ve already been through hell.” It was likely the only camp where campers disappeared daily after parents came and rescued them.
But, thanks to J. Robinson and his crew, the majority of us survived. We learned over 10 days how to push through the “wall,” and win. Because we were forced to do it,... repeatedly.
Thankfully, perhaps, difficulty is fluid. Practice, communication, seeking help, all slide the difficulty level down. Think of the video game you mastered, and then grew bored with over time. A well designed video game always keeps pushing the upper difficulty level at a comfortable and addictive rate. Other factors move the difficulty level the other way: limited time, distraction, memory dump,...
A quick note: Some of us are a hair-trigger each way, between too easy and too difficult. It is good to be aware of your fickleness when handling difficulty. It is something that can be worked on, if you are aware of it. Life is more engaging for those of us with wide engagement lanes, where what defines too easy and too difficult is significantly different.
Our motivation is directly connected to how well we learn, perform, and engage. And this is true in many settings. There is an amazing researcher, who’s name I still cannot pronounce: Mihály Csíkszentmihályi in the mid 70’s described his thoughts on balancing our motivation and our engagement to reach a state of “flow.” Imagine times when you were caught up in an activity where you completely lost track of time. Mihaly would say you were in a state of flow. Activities which are too difficult or too easy do not make this happen. Some researchers have said not in the middle either, but a bit above center. We need a challenge, just not too much of one.
We need difficulty to engage. If we choose healthy doses of difficulty, we are more likely to engage.
It amazes me how many kids today do not know Michael Jordan. MJ is the poster child of self-competitive motivation and achieving flow. He always needed a challenge. As a highly talented individual, on the spectrum of difficulty - he always worked towards moderately difficulty. Even an average difficulty level wasn’t good enough. Annually improving himself in the NBA. Taking the Bulls to the championship round,... and winning, repeatedly. Setting record after record. Just Google “Michael Jordan NBA records.” Needing a new challenge, he tried the MLB. Then, coming back to the NBA, after time off and doing it again! Average was never good enough. That million dollar bet he made for a golf shot makes some sense, now.
Too easy not good. Too difficult not good. In the middle - maybe okay, but not as good as a good challenge we can handle. It makes some sense? But there is more to it.
I hope this has been of value. I often ask student, “Make sense?” More than a comment, a time of self-reflection, to help us find our zone.
More on this next time.
To investigate more of the work of Dr .Csikszentmihalyi and others: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26924995/
Within the last few months, the Board of Directors and staff have developed a strategy to catapult ETHOS into the future and have chosen Jim Finan to lead the way. While building strategic partnerships, developing program excellence, and formulating a regional model for growth, CEO Jim Finan will lead a reorganized team of dedicated staff members committed to STEM education and innovation for our community and region. He will follow the work of John Taylor who will continue in a newly designed role, Director of STEM Education.
Jim has a rich professional track record in forging relationships between stakeholders, community partners, and investors in all positions of his Economic and Business Development career. Prior to joining ETHOS in 2019 as Chief Strategy Officer, he managed Economic Development initiatives for AEP’s Indiana Michigan Power and for organizations within the South Bend / Elkhart region comprising St. Joseph, Elkhart, and Marshal counties in Indiana and Berrien and Cass counties in Michigan. He is experienced in fundraising, budgeting, management, and public speaking. Jim earned a Bachelors in business operations and a MBA from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. He is married to Ellen and collectively they have six adult children and eight grandchildren with No. 9 coming in December.
As an educator and a parent, I know for many of us, the most difficult student(s) to teach can easily be our own.
So, for many of you parents, teaching your own students at home, I feel for you. Thankfully, we can learn a few lessons from a kid’s show which featured a blue dog, “Blue,” and the dog’s owner “Steve.” Steve Burns is a modest guy, only a few years younger than myself, and with teaching skills he has helped many more than he realizes.
One of my first points of advice for new teachers,... “Watch Blue’s Clues.”
My advice for parents… “Watch Blue’s Clues.”
What are you there to learn? #1: Wait time. Steve was the master. As he spoke through the camera, intentionally breaking the fourth wall, there were those long pauses. Long pauses.
The dead air involved with wait time is endless! Initially. Then, it gets easier. We see its effectiveness and understand the timing. Allowing our children the comfort of time to actually think before replying. Empowering. Do you have a child who responds before thinking? Yep, you contributed to that immediate response. Time to practice wait time. Next time you ask a question, try to start over in your mind and search for multiple answers in your mind - or count to 10, if you get to 10 before a response. (BTW: If you get to ten, you count too fast!)
#2 play dumb. Then, turn the question around. Sounds simple? Initially, it is excruciatingly difficult!! …And, then it gets easier and becomes fun.
A couple problems we have to overcome:
As parents we like to be smarter than our kids. It can be tough to let this go. Good news: you are smarter. Bad news: Google has you beat. But, teaching our children to learn, think, and know how to find relevant educational experiences, is more important than content knowledge. So it just doesn’t matter how smart you are. Playing a bit dumb, takes us out of the primary learner position and transfers it to… our kids. Amazing.
So before the next time you ask a question verbally, try this once. Keep the question in your head. Then, restart your brain, and contemplate the question and its multiple answers - both right and wrong. Consider the amount of time which passed. Your brain operates much faster without speech, so double the time. Now you have an idea of the time your kids need to process - really process an idea or question. Even in an ongoing dialogue. Yep, it’s really a lot of time.
Blue’s Clues aired on Nickelodeon, with variants on Nick Jr. Also viewable on YouTube.
So, let’s start off this conversation about something we all think we know - after all, we spent a lot of time there: school.
Imagine: A young, new, clueless teacher walking into a classroom. Clueless, not on the content or the material to be covered... but, on the engagement of the students. Presenting the material, the students are asking no questions… The teacher wonders, "Am I going too slow? A lot of empty eyes out there, and no one is asking questions. Are they getting bored?"
The teacher increases pace, and runs through more and more exciting content, hoping to engage the students. But, rather than getting excited, the group seems less engaged, and eyes seem to wander. And,.. no questions,.. just stares. Students leave, and the teacher is still marveling how efficiently he covered so much content in such little time, and then wonders what he has left to cover the next day.
The period ends... the session draws to a close... and the students leave completely shutdown.
But, this shutdown is not caused by boredom,.. rather, the other extreme - by a month's content being dropped in their lap in a day.
They just passed through a bad twilight zone episode,.. Sadly, about thirty years ago, that was me. Not the student - the teacher. Some of us have experienced this in school. Some at work. Some in conversations with family at gatherings. My students experienced this when I started teaching on an emergency license, heavy in content knowledge, but with very little actual education experience.
We all teach. Sharing an education moment with others is not limited to “teachers.” And, one of the challenges each of us has to deal with is reading the engagement of the learner. Boredom and frustration are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they look the same! Too easy leads to boredom, and too difficult leads to frustration. Both cause the same effect - shutdown. For a foreman, reading the learner is needed when training the new hire. For the parent, teaching the kids how to take out the trash, or helping with math homework. Among friends, it is sharing cool things we saw on the web, or read in a blog :-).
Easy is shutdown
I remember as a kid, easy seemed like a good thing. It was why we got the sub distracted at school, right? Made it an easy day. Although, pulling that off did seem to take a lot of work. And, it was really boring afterwards. (Maybe we weren’t that smart!)
I had the ultimate experience with experiencing “easy” in the 80’s on what would seem like a great job. Just out of high school, I was ready to bank a huge paycheck - far above minimum wage (surprisingly, more than many high schoolers make today on their first job). And, it came with twelve hour days and a bonus. The money sounded great. But, when I showed up with the other new hires, the equipment for the line hadn’t arrived. So, we were all given an option, quit or start a slow dance with a broom across the floors of this huge, new open building which was missing equipment. And so it began. We swept,.. And we swept. About 4 hours later, our quartet had successfully completed the task. What now? Sweep again (or be fired!). Yep, we swept away,.. and again,.. and again for 12 hours and then headed home. Funny how much quicker it is to sweep a clean floor. What a crazy day. By the time we were done, the floor had been covered in multiple criss-cross patterns - you would think it was a golf course.
Day 2. Yep, no equipment for the line. Here we go again. Yep, there is nothing easier to do than sweep a clean floor. And, yep, it was borderline insanity! 12 hours! At the door of the facility at the end of the day: the sun was setting, and we were discussing who was going to stay with this job, or find something else. The money was good, so everyone decided to stay on.
Day 3. By this time an interesting thing happened. No, the equipment still had not arrived. But, instead of sweeping, guys are talking about quitting. Guys start finding places to hide to take naps. We were shutting down while pushing our brooms. With the same wood handle feel pushing across the same smooth concrete floor. It was too much to handle! Our actions were now defining insanity. But, if we were caught not working we would likely get canned. But, nobody cared. Nobody cared. It would be better than losing our minds.
On day 4, Finally! When we were put on the line, everyone was ecstatic, and we had learned a valuable lesson. We may have been the weirdos in the building, but we were excited to be working! Easy is akin to experiencing hell on earth. Something to be avoided.
But, frustration is an equally awful experience. I think we each have many of these experiences in our past. The ones we like to forget.
And, while we work out of frustration by perseverance, practice, and getting help, we ironically want to shut down. Which leads to more frustration…
A solution in the classroom.
So… after the first few days as a new teacher, I tried something novel. I asked.
As teachers, parents, friends, boss, mentor, we can ask. And, then, listen. It was essential to know the perceived difficulty level of my students. My students and I began discussing the two ends of the spectrum: Material coming way too hard - leading to frustration, and material which is way too easy - leading to boredom. In a classroom setting, both can be very bad, but appear the same. Did you catch that? They appear about the same. And at each extreme, students shut down. Colleagues shut down. Workers shut down. Friends disengage.
And, so I asked my students where they were... I polled them daily. What an eye-opener. It was an odd thing for a physics teacher to do, but it worked and it solved other problems, too. That loud student complaining ‘no one is getting anything you are saying.’ Yep, he is primarily a solo act. And the students who needed help, we connected, and they got it. One of the best things I did early on in teaching. (Anonymous polling is increasingly digital age easy.)
So,... if you have entered a work situation, or class setting as the stellar individual, everything coming super easy, and a year later are left wondering, “how has everyone passed me up?” Yep, your boredom undercut your motivation and they all did pass you up. The right level of difficulty keeps us at our best. (More about that next time.)
And, if you are having trouble motivating a youth or coworker… you may just want to ask about how tough they perceive an activity is, realizing verbally it may take a few asks to get an accurate picture - or pushes of the broom.