For my birthday, I treated myself to a walk in the woods. I started out in life as a botanist and birder and I don’t get out to remember my roots often enough. (All puns intended.) I started off on one of the university garden’s well-paved trails until I noticed a path that swooped off into the woods. It looked interesting and I was in a mood to explore, so I walked into the woods.
And I walked.
And I walked.
I found some very interesting old trees, saw some birds I hadn’t heard in a while, and shared the company of a small herd of deer whose way in the woods paralleled mine. But after a while I realized I had no clue where I was or where I was headed. I started to feel a little stupid, wondering why I was out on a hike in sandals and short sleeves. As the trail twisted deeper into the woods, my imagination took over: What if there were bears? (In Edwardsville? Seriously?) What if I fell and twisted an ankle? (Silly! Just use the cell phone…or not. Left it in the car.) I even found myself calculating how long it would take to find the body if I had a heart attack.
In short, I scared myself.
When I got to the end of the trail, I had no clue where I was. As I sat on a comfortable old log to contemplate my next move, it struck me how my adventure was a microcosm of human nature’s drive to learn and explore. We see something interesting, we wonder, we feel compelled to find out more, and sometimes we scare ourselves – Curiosity’s “Seven Minutes of Terror” being the most recent example.
It made me think about those daring souls who first ventured into space, as well as the nurturing of the explorers of tomorrow. We can’t take our students on that “ultimate field trip” to Mars – we have to settle for giving them virtual experiences instead. Still, we can get them out of the safe bubble of the classroom and instill in them that drive to do more, be more, and see more. Even if they never get to explore the far reaches of cosmic space, at least they can learn to explore the space around them. It’s part of our job as teachers to challenge our kids to take risks and dare them to scare themselves.
So here’s my challenge to all of you teachers: scare yourself! Get out of your safe teaching bubble and do some daring teaching. Take your students out into the world and entice them to take on the attitude of adventure. You don’t have to go far; it doesn’t have to be expensive. Fifteen minutes sitting on the playground blacktop holding an earthworm is scary enough for some kids. Each experience expands their comfort zones, increases their curiosity, excites them to study science, and awakens the explorer within.
In your classroom this year, follow the lead of the Curiosity Team and Dare Mighty Things.