It seems like every mission statement I’ve read includes language about supporting the students to become “Lifelong Learners.” This may show my true colors, but if I have to do anything LIFELONG-- it had better have some element of fun!
I just returned from a trip to Park City, Utah where I rediscovered mountain biking. My son found Trailside Bike Park online and convinced the rest of us that we needed a break from the paved trails. It was time to “take it up a notch” and we did. After three + hours at the park, I’m the only one that left with a couple of bruises, but boy did I have fun.
“Bruises are fun?” you ask.
Well - Yes.
I have to tell you about the first trail I tried- and in name alone, you will know it’s a total beginner thing- “Ya Ba Da Ba Do.” It started with a ride up the trailhead, something that my hand full of spin classes had not fully prepared me to do gracefully. Along with trying to hide my heavy breathing, there was a lot of self-talk as I approached the trail alongside my husband and four kids.
I decided to trust that when the map said “beginner” that it included 40 something-year-olds who had not done much trail riding at all for the past 20 years. I was smart enough to let the kids go first and then give myself ample space.
The beginning bumps and turns were enough to remind me why I loved this sport back when I was young had more cartilage to protect my knees. The clear, hard path was enough to build my confidence and help me stay in an upright position long enough to remember how to do it and about the fifth or sixth time down I fancied myself looking pretty tough as I laid off the brakes and caught maybe an inch or two of air.
Truth be told - I was nervous, uncomfortable, and definitely in the middle of a stretch goal. Peddling up that hill each time was hard work and I never totally felt sure of myself.
On the other hand, the people around me were super suppurative - offering a lot of encouragement and plenty of space. Some of them even asked me questions and by the end of the day, I actually knew some of the answers. A group class road by and I was able to watch, follow, and then copy what they were doing. What might be called “cheating” in the classroom is more like “survival” on the bike trail and I fully indulged.
Eventually, the kids decided to try something more difficult and my husband went back to the car to get water so I was left alone to do the trail a few times on my own. Pushing the pedals up the hill was not getting any easier, but riding down was and I eventually realized that I was also ready to try something else.
I carefully interviewed the kids as they came down a much steeper set of trails. The “Bronto Jam” seems to be my speed and the kids enthusiastically rode up a - let’s call it a mountain - with me. By this point my legs were tired and the trail twisted and turned in a way that limited my ability to anticipate what was coming next. I took one curve too tight and unable to get my foot out of the pedal cage, landed on the ground. No blood, so I got back in the saddle and kept going. I was pretty happy with myself as I road into the base and found my family of fans waiting for me. So much so that I agreed to try the Tar Pit jump line before heading out for the day.
I am not going to infer that there was a whole lot of air under my bike or that I landed any great tricks. But I felt fast and confident and not even a little bit old as I flew down the Tar Pit. It was totally fun.
Today back in Wisconsin I’m convinced that I can totally take on the Kettle Moraine trails as soon as the bruise on the back of leg quiets down. I just spent the day riding on a mountain… what could these hills possible dish out that I can’t take?
Back to #LearningShouldBeFun... I can’t help but realize that my mountain biking day was a metaphor for fun learning. It was self-directed, challenging, and intrinsically motivating. I enjoyed the support of those around me, but eventually, I figured out how to do it independently and kept increasing my confidence.
The question for is… “How does this inform my work with kids?”
Here are a few ideas..
Give them some space to try things out.
Stretch goals should be challenging, but not impossible.
Offer them a map, but let them self-direct and adjust to fit their needs.
Positive, supportive feedback is helpful - judgemental assessment is not.
Be flexible with time - not everyone is going to head to the next challenge at the same pace - and that’s okay.
When the goal belongs to the learner - it’s easier and more likely to get back in the saddle after a fall.
There is joy in finding success and that will lead to continued practice.
The learner can be pretty good as self- assessing and setting the next goals.
Supportive, authentic audiences can add to the journey.
Learning to Mountain Bike is a lot more fun in real life than it would be in a lecture - even with the bruises.
Lots to think about within that metaphor for sure. How about you? I am a am I the only educator out there determined to make learning super fun? How do you do it? I’d love to hear your ideas, as well as, your own metaphors… anyone else crazy enough to try mountain biking?
Please share in the comments or at #SchoolYardJunkies. Can’t wait to see your #AMAZING!