Monday, September 1, 2014

Like A Lightbulb

Over the summer it was one of my goals to get out of the house. I remember many summers sitting around doing nothing, complaining about being bored, and this was not going to be one of them. When I was given the opportunity to go to a family friend's lake house, I did not pass up the opportunity.

This is a place that I have enjoyed going since I was little. The water is usually a murky green and filled with algae and all sorts of other living things. (I've been told that the algae is great for your hair and skin.) When I am there, we usually embark upon some sort of project to improve the house or maintain it. You see, our family friend is blind, so he has trouble doing some of the work on his own. (He has great stories of his visits to hardware stores asking for help picking chainsaws and other large tools.)

On this trip, we would spend some time working on a project that I had never done before: the community pump house. In order to supply the neighborhood with clean water, they draw water from a pipe from a pipe running into the lake. The water was then run through a state-approved filtration system before being distributed to the homes. We would be installing and wiring some components to help automate the process. Although I had very little wiring experience, I did have some and we were expecting it to take two or three hours to finish the project. Opening the wiring box and removing the covers revealed this adventure.

There is another wiring terminal on the right not in the picture.
I'll admit I was a bit overwhelmed at first, but willing to take on the new challenge. I began determining where the new wires were coming from and was able to label them and connect a few to the correct places before running into trouble. One of the switches would need to be wired to a power source in order to work, but my instructor had never seen the panel before and wouldn't be able to help me, so we had to call the person who designed it...and lives in another state with (apparently) incorrect wiring diagrams. Working through it, I had to decipher engineering jargon and new concepts. After a few hours of playing with wires, testing switches, and being told "It should be just like wiring a light socket for a light bulb." we decided that time would be best spent moving on to another project. (There may have been a loud "POP!" in there, too.)

This experience made me think back to my own classroom. Some of my students enter knowing exactly what to do and can do well from the first instruction. Others, however, lack the necessary foundation and need extra support before they can be set free. These students will be frustrated and challenged and may be ready to give up before achieving their goal. Sometimes we plan great activities that should work out a certain way but do not end up going as we have planned. Are we going to get frustrated and discourage the students or will we take a few steps back and provide them with a stronger foundation to help them learn more effectively? I've learned that, no matter how great the activity, if they are not ready for it, they are not likely to benefit from it. As teachers, we need to know our students' abilities and help them thrive from there. Just because we are ready does not mean that our students are. This does become challenging with such diverse groups of students, but I believe it is possible to find a way for collaborative exploration that fosters learning and challenge for each of the students.

Do you have ideas for differentiation or stories of times that you have learned from? Share them below!

Oh, and for those who are curious, the reason that we were having such great difficulties was because of a blown fuse hidden behind a section of one of the terminals. That may or may not have been my fault...

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