Wonder

This morning, I happened upon Michael Wesch’s post, a recollection, really of a conversation with Gardner Campbell.  Wesch ends with this, which captures, I think, not only Gardner, but an essence we all need to try to capture and maintain ourselves:

In short, Gardner is a great example of somebody who lives in wonder, and it is wonder that we need more than ever to inspire in our students. It starts with ourselves. If we don’t live with wonder, we will struggle to inspire it in our students. The stakes are high. Wonder allows us to see the world for what it is, and for what it might become, while also inviting us to recognize that we are its co-creators. The alternative is disengagement and alienation. Today’s world is full of seductive technologies that will magnify this difference. Those living in wonder can harness and leverage the bounty of information and tools to learn and create like never before. The rest will merely be distracted and seduced by its growing offerings of passive entertainment.

It makes me sad when my students aren’t engaged, don’t see the wonder in what we’re doing.  And I know that, it might be because I have lost that.  But, of course, there is an intricate dance that happens between teacher and class, so I know it’s not all me, but as the grown-up in the room, I sometimes need to tap into a deeper reservoir than is available to my students.  An example.  In 6th grade, I have students write HTML and CSS.  We do it together using notepad.  When we’re all done, we save the page as html and then we all open it in a browser.  They are amazed.  They go and change the colors and the font sizes.  It’s easy to maintain a sense of wonder in the face of that.

With 8th graders, it’s harder.  They are world-weary, tired of middle school, ready to move on to the next thing, frustrated they’re still doing “kid stuff.”  They don’t articulate this ever, but that’s my (and many of my colleagues’ sense of things).  I see moments where wonder returns.  But it’s actual work to maintain it.  I know sometimes I feel as world-weary as they do, where I want to let them just play games or whatever.  And frankly, sometimes, even when I do feel that sense of wonder about what we’re doing, and convey it, it doesn’t quite rub off on them.

But I do think we have to keep trying to inspire wonder.  Too often we frame things in terms of “needing to know” in order to succeed in the world.  That’s not appealing to most kids.  How about the idea that knowing how to build web pages, make a video, program a game is just cool and fun?  Maybe it will be useful, maybe it won’t.  Doesn’t matter for now.  I just think it’s cool that I can draw a ball on the screen and with one line of code, move it around–like magic.  Or that I can use my SmartBoard for a virtual Pin the Tail on the Donkey game, created with just 10 lines of code.  Or that my computer or robot can play a song, using a series of tones determined by hertz.  Or that a page with brackets and words that don’t make sense can appear as a colorful and informative page on the web, that anyone can see.  I just have to recapture that every day and inspire my students to recapture it as well, to give them a safe place to wonder about technology.

3 Replies to “Wonder”

  1. This reminds me of how lucky I am to teach first graders. They have a sense of wonder about almost everything. Plus, it is so easy to share a sense of wonder with them. I have kids still cutting out snowflakes two months after I showed them how because they are so fascinated by what they can create. I love it.

  2. It’s funny to see what you say about eighth graders, because one of the things I love about teaching 9th graders is that they do have that sense of wonder, more than the older grades, in my experience–maybe the shift into upper school helps them see the world so differently, and feel so inexperienced, that they can recapture it?

  3. I think that’s right, Jackie. Last year’s 8th graders seem to be settling in just fine as 9th graders. I think they just get a little full of themselves as they get closer to the end of 8th grade.

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