"Hand a manual or suggest a course to 15-year-olds and they think your a dinosaur. They want to turn the thing on, get in there, muck around, and see what works" (Wagner 181). This is a great line. But I'm not sure its really true. I'm not a 15 year old and yet this is still how I like to learn. When I read about the great chemists, physicists, geologists and engineers that are responsible for cracking open the ideas we currently have of how chemistry works I can't help but think that a lot of the things they did happened while they were just mucking around. I think that the problem is, in a way, the reverse of what Wagner is writing about. We all naturally want to get in there and get our hands dirty, but a combination of harsh criticisms from others (friends, co-workers, teachers, bosses, etc.) is making us less and less willing to take the risks inherent in mucking around and making us want to wait for precise instructions so that we don't have to deal with the backlash of criticism if we end up "doing it wrong." I see this in my classes now. The students I am working with right now that are doing the best in the class are also the ones that require the most maintenance. They want to be told exactly what and how to do everything to get an A in the class, keep their parents happy, and keep participating in whatever extracurricular they are most passionate about.
Where Wagner is hitting the nail on the head though is that being able to muck around is exactly what our students need in order to get truly self-motivated. My "great" students right now aren't really all that interested in science or their own learning. They are just a lot better at playing the game of school than their peers (or myself most of the time). I feel, as it seems Wagner does, that if we can recenter our curriculum on the experiences that we can give to our students then we can get them enrolled again in the curiosity required for true learning. And one thing that would look like, at least to me, would be taking away the shackles of our cookbook activities and letting students just muck around.
Closing the Gap: Schools that Work
I would love the chance to work at High Tech High. I really enjoyed the chance to listen to their "principal" talk about the goals and thinking of their school. I think that the idea of project based learning is exactly the type of mucking around that I want to give to my students. I am also impressed by the focus that they out on liberal arts fields. While the school is named High Tech High they are not ignoring the potential that exists in non-STEM related areas, something I find admirable. I really liked what Wagner wrote about how HTH handles school arrival. Students get to class on their own without a principal or security guard yelling "Get to class!" Seriously, I feel like the schools I am in are really dehumanizing to our students and treat them like a terrific inconvenience, at best, or inmate, at worst. It would be nice to work at a school that treats students with respect and gives them the tools they need to earn that respect from each other and themselves.