Wednesday, January 3, 2018
“In Search of Wonder”
There are moments of wonder that inspire and stir the soul throughout one’s lifetime. One such moment for me was descending into Thimphu Valley, in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. It is not an experience for the faint-hearted. As the plane twisted and turned, I could see the airplane’s wings almost seem to brush against the pristine snow-covered mountains. Another such moment was when I was a child. In northern Afghanistan, I witnessed Buzkashi, a type of wild and ferocious polo game, on the first day of spring. The snow had just melted, and the terrain was suddenly covered with a carpet of flowers. These wild horsemen, with their muskets slung over their backs, raced their horses, their thunderous hooves filled the air with noise. Here at school a moment of wonder I help facilitate is during our Mountain Man unit in fourth grade. Our class “happens” upon a cache hidden on our campus. The children are amazed and delighted to come upon a “historical” artifact that contains items directly connected to what they’ve been studying in the classroom. They even get to hoist those very same muskets, now antique and inoperable, that my family acquired in Afghanistan, in order to experience what a mountain man felt as they hunted animals.
One might ask, what do these experiences have to do with learning? Everything, actually. If a teacher can create lessons that instill a sense of wonder, that draws a child into being fully present, the students are able to make connections, see purpose, and use their imagination and creativity to become active participants in their own learning. Students are motivated to learn when they realize they are developing their skills, but also when they are excited by discovering and experiencing the world in brand new ways, not just by reading a book. History can seem distant, but if it is brought directly into their lives, they can appreciate the feeling of adventure that arises when exploring new realms.They can feel akin to what early settlers and pioneers felt when coming to a new land. Other ways we bring the wonder of history alive is through food. Biscuits baked over hot coals in a Dutch oven, as well as making apple pies, preserves, and jerky are all opportunities to make children feel connected to the past. During lessons designed to inspire wonder, it is often self-evident that the students are engaged, but the true measure of its lasting impact is when they come back years later and excitedly recall the activities, foods, and projects we’ve worked on.
A moment of wonder from my own childhood lingers with me still and inspired me to become a teacher. In first grade my class made apple jelly for Christmas presents. I distinctly remember the sensation of pouring hot wax over the jelly to seal it and the teacher then placing the jars in a long row on the windowsill. They gleamed with a ruby red glow that filled me with joy and excitement. To this day I fondly recall that moment in my life, it’s part of the influences that set me on the path to becoming a teacher and finding new ways to inspire a sense of wonder in my students each year.
Fourth Grade Teacher