Thinking Outside the Classroom: The certainty of change
There’s this parable about change in which the lobster outgrows its current shell. In order to escape the cramped confines and continue growing, it must shed the shell and wait for the new one to harden. During this critical period, the lobster’s soft body is totally exposed, but it knows it must grow through this vulnerable time if it wants to grow. The moral: change is scary, but it’s also necessary for growth. I looked out my window recently to discover that it was finally snowing. It seems like every day for the last few weeks the weather report has promised it would happen, and then we started our days scraping ice off our windshields and ended up peeling off layers of clothing as the temperatures rose. These in-between days of rain-that’s-frozen-but-not-quite snow, 40-degree temperature swings, and roads that turn from wet to icy have felt a little unsettling. It was on such a day a couple of weeks ago that a group of ninth graders from Aurora arrived at Keystone Science School. You might know a 14- or 15-year-old like one of these – reticent bordering on sullen, distrusting of authority, faces daring adults to engage them. As an educator, these types of students can, if you’re not careful, make you feel like an evil dentist, pulling one tooth after another as you try your hardest to share your enthusiasm. Until, that is, you remember that these young people may be in a wholly unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment, spending perhaps the first full days of their lives outdoors.I spent a day with a group of these students on the Meadow Creek Trail, researching the effects of the mountain pine beetle. Most of them complained about the hiking and begged to return to campus as clouds started to roll in. But they also diligently counted plant species, exclaimed with interest as they peeled away bark on dead trees searching for evidence of beetles, and eagerly pointed out blue stain fungus on downed trees. A few admitted that the view of Summit County from above was “tight” (a compliment, apparently). Indeed, in this new environment, they learned – and even smiled – in spite of themselves.A teacher from the high school told us that one of his students literally had to be pulled from her mother’s car the morning they left to come to the Science School. At lunch on the last day of their program, he asked her if the experience had been as bad as she’d anticipated. “No,” she answered, “Much better than expected!”To me, this is some of the most important work we do at Keystone Science School. Yes, we teach students about scientific inquiry and problem-solving, but we also provide a setting for new experiences and personal growth. For many students, their time at the Science School is their first opportunity to spend time with classmates and teachers away from the comfortable confines of school, and may also be their first time actually setting foot in the wilderness. Like that first icy storm of the season, new experiences like these can feel uncomfortable at first, but if we suspend our disbelief and open our minds, appreciation inevitably creeps in, and may introduce a whole new world of possibility.Times of change in the natural world are reminders to open ourselves to the vulnerability of change and reflect on ways we can act as agents of change in the world around us. Instead of growing frustrated with the limbo period between the mountain biking and ski seasons, challenge yourself to try something brand new, or get involved in making change in our community. Change will happen whether we like it or not – it’s our reaction to it that determines its outcome.Shaina Maytum is a program instructor at Keystone Science School. She can be reached at (970) 468-2098. To learn more about our programs, visit http://www.keystonescienceschool.org.
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