The summer break is coming to a close, and I wanted to take the kids (and their friend) on one last true adventure before school starts back up. We decided to explore some caves. So we set out for the Maquoketa Caves near Maquoketa, IA in hopes of making something memorable – and we did. But for me, after some reflection, I realized the day had several aspects that relate closely to education and how the learning process could (and should) go.
Proper equipment is important…
Neither myself nor the kids have been to the caves, so we were unsure what to expect. But we knew we would need some equipment…
- Bug spray for the wooded trails.
- Flashlights and headlamps for the dark caves.
- Shoes for hiking and climbing.
- Food for lunch and energy.
The flashlights and headlamps were the most important. Most of the caves were smaller and not lit with electricity, so the lights that we provided allowed us to actually explore these caves and see some really cool features. There were a couple of other kids on the trail that didn’t have flashlights and headlamps, so they were able to explore. One even said as we exited a dark cave, “Man, we should have brought lights.” But our lack of experience also played against us when we kept bumping our heads against hard, sharp ceilings. A helmet of some kind would have been nice, and we made note of this for when we return next time.
If students aren’t properly equipped to explore, then how can they? What tools must a teacher provide to allow them to explore? Do these need to be regular tools or educational technology?
Create an environment where the teacher can feel comfortable saying “yes” more than saying “no”…
By the end of the day, after exploring 13 different caves and trekking five miles of trails, I realized that for the first time this summer, I found myself saying “yes” to the kids more than saying “no.” Can we try this path? Yes. Can we go down by the creek? Yes. Can we see what’s up there? Yes. Can we look over the ledge? No – too steep. Over and over I was saying yes to simple questions that basically fell under the umbrella of…Can we explore? Were there certain situations more dangerous than others? Yes, and of course this was taken into consideration when giving them an answer.
Teachers need to create curriculum, units, learning environments where they can be comfortable saying “yes” and let kids explore content.
I know this kind of goes against what I just said, but pure exploration with no direction can allow kids to become completely lost, which can lead to them feeling frustrated, scared, and confused. If I simply let the kids roam aimlessly, they may not have gotten to all the caves. So we relied on our map and signs for direction.
What pieces of direction can be provided for students as they explore a unit?
Explore twice for depth…
When we first started off on our adventure, we set forth through the biggest cave. Lights ran through the cave and there was a cement path, but we seemed to walk through fairly quickly in order to get to the other caves by the end of the day. But before we left, the kids wanted to go through the big one again. When we did, this time, we discovered smaller tunnels up higher that we could explore further. These were some of the coolest tunnels in the whole park. If we would have never revisited that first large cave, we would have missed them.
Don’t be afraid to revisit topics in order to provide depth to your content, especially if a student raises the question or topic again. Student-led exploration is always the best.
Some caves were wet, and we had to crawl through them. At one point, my daughter wanted to take her socks off because they got too wet for comfort. In the process of exploring on our adventure, the kids and I got dirty (and the after pics prove it). But in order to reach some of the coolest areas, we had to get dirty.
We hear this over and over in education…learning is messy, and it’s true! Sometimes reaching the coolest parts of a unit requires effort, being uncomfortable, and a fearlessness to keep pushing forward to finish.
A guide must be willing to get messy too…
I love exploring. I love caves. So of course I’m going to make every effort to show the kids how to explore. I had my own flashlight and got right in there with the kids to talk about stalactites and stalagmites and how water played a major role in forming the caves. But throughout the day, I noticed parents, who would stand outside the cave while the kids would go in to explore. I noticed some grandparents who lacked the physical ability to lift the kids up or help them down from certain rock formations. Instead, they would simply say “no” or give the kids rules to follow in hopes they would be safer. I couldn’t help but think, These kids aren’t getting the full experience. In order to help my kids and explore with them I have to be in good enough physical shape, have a working knowledge of caves, and have to be willing to model exploration.
As a teacher, what do you have to do to be the best educational guide you can be? How should you prepare yourself to get messy? Are you an educator willing to get messy, or do you find yourself saying “no” and creating more rules?
It was a full day of exploring and adventure, and it was certainly memorable for the kids and myself.
How does your classroom provide memorable moments for your students?
P.S. I realize this post doesn’t necessarily provide EdTech tidbits, but technology was used in capturing the day! Sometimes, EdTech isn’t the best tool, and I’m ok with that.