I was part of a district leadership team attending a conference at Madden’s resort near Brainerd, MN in the early 90’s. Seymour Papert was the keynote speaker. Papert, the MIT creative genius behind the Logo computer language, carried all the stereotypical characteristics of a uncommonly brilliant man. The buttoning of his grey cardigan sweater was off by a hole. His hair was disheveled. He paused as he spoke, gazing into the air as he worked to translate his vast thoughts into common language. At one of these pauses, he said something I read as wrestling with the limitations human language has to express his thinking. I was transfixed. Interestingly, my colleagues bored, got up and left. He spoke of the power of technology to transform how we learn and how schools need to change to embrace the potential. He was a seminal figure in the world of educational computing and had many things to say. Yet, all of what he said went far beyond the presence of computers. It was less about computing than it was the fundamental drive within all of us to construct knowledge – to learn.
I make no pretense to associate myself directly with the genius of Papert, but I thought of him this week as we took the precious time to reflect on the recently completed fall semester in elementary science methods. One of my students wrote several statements in her notebook that brought a smile to my soul. “Teaching science is really much more than science – it is a way of teaching about life.” Our deepest learning runs alongside the core of our humanity. It is who we are as people. We are hard-wired to seek out learning. Effective teaching guides students on this path. It transcends the discipline. It is more than science, more than math, more than social studies, and more than literacy. “My whole way of thinking about teaching has shifted,” she wrote. Perhaps I was able to play a role in broaching this message I received from Papert so many years ago.
Teaching embraces the fundamental nature of our humanity. We don’t teach science, or any discipline, we teach about life. That night I went to bed with the joy that comes from teaching – from the experience of entering deep learning that can only come from a rich student-centered learning environment. I am happy to be a teacher.