Friday, September 12, 2014

Fuller, Feynman: Curious Characters Under Study.

Students in my 10th grade gifted honors classes are doing a quick study of Buckminster Fuller and his efforts to create a mass produced home that would, among other things, exchange the internal air every 6 minutes, withstand fires, tornados; whose foundation was based upon a central mast and suspension structures, that could be shipped around the world easily, that could be purchased for (in 1946 dollars) the price of a Cadillac.  Fuller's Dymaxion House contained amenities and ideas so forward thinking that, after actually going home and digging into Fuller's ideas all on his own (no homework was assigned)  one of my students came into class on Wednesday and said, "Mr. Heidt, I just don't know why we're not all living in these houses now, or why we're not driving his amazing cars."

I'd started the week with a short slide show about Bill Levitt and the creation of the Levittowns, the first planned suburbs that eventually became the model for most all the suburbs in America for the next 40 years.  These are the kinds of suburbs (most with townhomes or McMansions instead of the Levitt cottages) that many of my students live in.  So I'd set them up, used the principle of contrast to allow them to see the future that is/that "became," and set Fuller's ideas off against that.

It worked amazingly well.  To have students wondering why this just didn't happen, why the currency of a good idea was not enough to sell America on his genius, that's something I don't get to see everyday.  I wish I did.  But that's the drug that keeps me teaching, that aha! moment.

In my 9th grade classes, students are learning about the challenges that Richard Feynman faced as a
Feynman and C-clamp demonstration
member of the star studded Rogers commission in trying to figure out the cause of the Challenger disaster.  Those students are dealing with procedural challenges, a more difficult situation than the tangible situation faced by Fuller, but they are grasping it very well, the bureaucracy of the situation, and the insatiably curious nature of Feynman, a curious character.

We're examining the characters of these two men--biographically speaking we're reading their stories and trying to understand them as characters dealing with conflicts--through the lens of Carol Dweck's notion of mindsets.  We're trying to understand the manner in which they faced challenges, dealt with dilemmas, and overcame obstacles by reading, within their dispositions and personalities, aspects of fixed and growth mindsets.

For students in an English class, this study opens the door to deeper understandings of characters and personalities. Indeed, understanding people better was one of the main reasons I became an English major in the first place, as the study of character always lead me to better understanding of those around me.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Stranger in a Strange Land

One of the most stressful aspects of moving from the Middle School to the High School this year has been the culture shock.  Sure, I was expecting the basic, "Oh...So that's how they do it here," as well as the time it'll take to get acclimated to the layout, the numbers of students, the way people are spread out all over the place.

Wait a minute.  Maybe I wasn't expecting that.  I've only been there a day.  It was a day where I did most of the talking because I have a design project with a deadline I have to run with my students.  So today as a procedural day.  Do this, read this, take that, we'll get to that later, here's how you navigate that...It was that kind of day.  Not my favorite day by far as it's generally sedentary, especially when you have to move through a number of things in a finite time.

But just in this day, and in the meetings yesterday preceding today's opening, I get the feeling that this high school, ranked in the top 10 in the state by at least two different measures, isn't much different from the HS I went to (because, ha!  This is the HS I went to).

Don't get me wrong.  The HS where I now work--the very same HS in whose halls I first kissed a girl--is fantastic at getting kids into programs, making sure they meet the grade, etc.  The rankings aren't lying, so far as I can tell.

But the kids still move somnambulantly, gravitate into their cliques, and tolerate most of their classes, while idolizing or vilifying the rest.

Is this ever going to change?  What is it about the architecture, the system that morphs us this way?  Or is it not really the system but rather just human development.  I'm guessing it's somewhere in the middle.  But I'd like to spend some time figuring it all out.  Cause for the life of me, I don't feel like having to relive HS all over.