Drop It!

photo 5I could just see his head over the top of the gym’s roof. Holding a pine cone, he called down to his class, asking them to take out their phones to time the impending fall. The pine cone’s; not his.

The pine cone dropped, thirty teenage faces watching its progress. It plopped on the ground and their eyes returned to the head atop the gym. After a moment of instruction, they took another measurement on a plummeting tennis ball, did a bit of calculation, and were ready for the real show: Eggs.

Egg drops are a part of the curriculum in physics classes around the country. Savvy teachers know that they’re part math, part engineering, and part showmanship. At their best, events such as these provide students with hands on learning that prompts them to work creatively and collaboratively to solve a problem. Students who embrace this opportunity, and come up with designs beyond the second YouTube example, find themselves challenged in a very real way to apply the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom.

What I got to see at last week’s egg drop was a celebration of science and ingenuity. I saw students cradling their wooden and plastic structures as they headed out to the drop site. As we walked, they told me about planning their contraptions, building them, weighing them, and testing them out. The genuine pride students brought to their projects was inspiring, as was the palpable excitement they felt as they prepared to drop.

photo 4This energy alone would have made me consider the day a success, but once the drops began I got to witness a different kind of inspiration. Students gathered below the wall where the projects would drop, a curious half circle of teenagers, all eyes glued to the falling objects.

When an egg survived, they cheered. When an egg exploded, they consoled the engineer and tried to come up with an egg related pun. “Look on the sunny side,” one offered. “It was egg-citing anyway,” another said.

Throughout it all the teacher talked about the scientific method and learning both from successes and failures. His smile and support reassured them all that things would be okay, even egg-celent.

As James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” At that egg drop, many students stepped through to better understanding. Their teacher encouraged them to take chances, be creative, and embrace the challenge.

photo 2 (2)The importance of learning through experiences cannot be celebrated enough. Whether it’s a mock trial in history, atomic models in chemistry class, a poetry slam, or building a robot, when students are presented a challenge and given the freedom to create solutions they learn.

I’m proud to be part of a school and a profession that asks students to think critically and act creatively to develop solutions. To see the passion they bring to their own learning can’t help but inspire.

For anyone dubious about the state of education, I’d wish they could have seen those eggs drop. Even when yolk dripped onto the sidewalk minds were opening, understanding was emerging, and the students’ cheering was egg-ceptional.

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