Tides are, ultimately, incomprehensible to me. Oh, I can do the math, figure out the forces, even calculate the tonnage of water moved (give or take a few million) in the Delaware Bay, but my brain cannot truly imagine all that water.
A page of numbers ultimately means nothing.
This does, though. If I stand in knee deep water at low tide, it will be a foot over my head at high tide. I've watched the tide come in and retreat. I've played while it ebbed, fished while it rose, ate while it ebbed again, napped when it returned--not sure I've not done anything that matters within the sound of the surf.
So how do we teach awe? Do we force a child to memorize daily tide heights? Make her watch the beach for 6 hours? Talk about the moon and the sun and the Earth's relative positions?
You cannot teach the tides unless you know the tides. You cannot know the tides unless you live at the sea's edge. A ghost crab knows the tides, but none of them are certified.
We cannot know the tides, but we try anyway.
We cannot teach what we do not know, but we try anyway.
So you want to do a unit on the tides, either because it interests you, or because the course curriculum says you must, or because the state has decided that knowing the tide gets our children a leg up on those Asian children who are stealing nonexistent jobs, or because an expert determined that tides are a good source of renewable energy or because....
Whatever the reason, a child will not be interested until she watches the sea gobble up a good chunk of land, and even then, there's a good chance she'll be more interested in the dead purple urchin at the shore's edge.
Whatever reason we might choose to teach tides does not matter to the student. That knowing tides might lead to some career in the future otherwise destined to a child in a faraway land means nothing. That the state requires exposure to the subject means nothing. That a teacher happens to love tides might matter a little bit, but less than we like to believe.
Are tides worth knowing? I think so, but not in any way that can be efficiently measured.
We need room for awe in the classroom. Awe takes time.
My sophomores run to the back of the room before the bell rings, tending pale green bean plants, now gaunt for lack of real soil. Peat moss, water, and light only carry a plant so far.
Maria's plant "died" last week. I thought it was long past watering. I offered her another bean. She ignored me and watered Fred (or whatever name she gave this particular bean plant--she has gone through a few of them).
Fred's doing fine now, maybe a little pale for lack of nitrogen, but he should thrive once transplanted into the ground.
Sean Nash recently challenged me to build a course:
Build a pilot, Dr. Doyle. Build a microcosm within your larger system that allows those near you to see what happens when your philosophies do on the the students you work with on ground level.
We just really can't say we don't like what the typical track through the system is doing for kids... if we don't offer an alternative for comparison.
Mr. Nash is right. I may use our astronomy club as the jumping off point. I might even dabble in the classroom. Our district is embracing Understanding by Design--we are expected to use craft our lessons around essential questions and enduring understandings--a daunting task, but a worthwhile one. (Good teachers have been doing this for centuries anyway.)
With a little luck and lots of work, my kids will have an equal shot at nonexistent jobs, Arne Duncan will shower money on my district for meeting measurable standards, and the Marias in my class will find suitable replacements for Fred (and Robert and Joe...) the Bean plants.
A problem remains.
Some things worth knowing cannot be quantified. Awe cannot be measured. Awe takes time. Awe is inefficient. Awe defies scantrons.
No one is going to get rich these days writing a pedagogical method teaching objectives that cannot be measured, though plenty of people are going to get a nice check from the 44 billion dollars Arne's waving around on his "Listening and Learning" Tour.
44 billion dollars buys a lot of measurables, but not a lick of time.
So, Mr. Nash, if you're looking for me, you'll find me on the ferry jetty in Cape May on Saturday, watching the tide rise, watching the tide fall. Some folks would say I'm just wasting time.
I'd say I'm living.