It was a Saturday, this summer, and I just came into the house and saw my son Connor (11) sitting at the kitchen table with a laptop, a notebook, pencil, and a bird’s nest in the middle of the table. He was leaning into the computer, his hand furiously writing notes in his notebook, that he didn’t even notice me enter. I walked over to him and did what any mother would do, I asked him with a flare of incredulousness and loud emphasis, “Connor, what are you doing? Why is there a bird’s nest in the middle of my kitchen table?”
What happened next has stayed with me since. He looked up at me and replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “The nest fell off the vines we took off the side of the house and there were no birds, so don’t worry Mom. I brought it in here, so I can study it. I wanted to learn more about it, so I’m researching how bird’s make a nest and trying to find out what kind of birds might have made this.” What followed was a long conversation where Connor eagerly shared what he learned about the nest, along with his hypothesis based on the materials, and a notebook of lengthy notes of information he found.
Let’s contrast this with another conversation I had with Connor a month later.
“Hi Connor, how was school today? What did you learn?” Connor’s response, “Oh, it was good.” I was thrilled with a strong “good” response and inquired further with a little excitement, “Good, that’s great! What was so good about it? What did you learn? Something new? Did you do anything fun?” Connor, gave me a funny look, a roll of the eyes, and said with a tone that only a 6th-grader could master, “It was FINE, Mom. You know, it is just school. It is always the same.”
Now don’t get me wrong, Connor does like going to school and he does well, and learns a lot. His teachers have been great, and they work extremely hard to create the best learning environments they know how to. That’s what we all do, right? As educators we all work hard every day for our students and always have their best interest in our hearts and minds; however, I keep coming back to that nest.
The image of the nest was still with me when Will Richardson, in his keynote speech in our district, asked us to really take a look at what we know and believe about learning and whether our practices in school reflect those beliefs. I wondered, what conditions in school would foster the same eager excitement, inquisitiveness, passion, initiative, research, and self-directed learning that I found at my kitchen table in the middle of a hot Saturday afternoon?
What if we created similar learning experiences where:
- Inquiry and discovery is alive
- Student voice and choice play a role in what we are learning
- Learning is grounded in real-life application and problems
- Learning is messy and non-linear and as one learns, new doors of learning open in the process
- Students have the tools and skills to be able to learn how to learn
Therefore, one day when a nest falls into their lap….learning will be more than fine; it will be exquisite.