I remember it vividly. I was in 4th grade. My classmates and I were all huddled together watching the first woman astronaut and the first teacher go into space. The Challenger was all we had talked about all week as we just finished a unit on space where we had created a diorama of the solar system. I remember painting styrofoam balls for reach planet and how I had them connected with string and paper clips from the top of the box, while tenfoil covered the walls. More vividly though, I remember the Challenger exploding before our eyes, teachers crying, and a feeling of hopelessness wash over many that day. For days after I heard on the news about the faulty o-ring that had possibly caused the unfortunate accident and of the loss of these great heroes, including S. Christa McAuliffe, a teacher.
Over Spring Break my family got the opportunity to travel to Florida and visit the Kennedy Space Center, home to NASA. It was exciting to see the launch pads, the rovers that had been on Mars, the shuttle, and learn about the future endeavors and great things to come. So much innovation! So much more to explore. But I also got to see the memorial for the teacher lost long. I have to admit, I got teary. In Christa McAuliffe's memorial case it displayed her words, "I teach. I touch the future."
You see, at that time I wanted to be a teacher. Ever since I was in kindergarten I wanted to be a teacher, actually. I wanted to light the spark in a child's eye when learning would take place. I wanted to touch the future. Now almost, 20 years later in the field of education, I still want to touch the future.
Like space exploration, I feel like in education there is so much innovation! So much more to explore. Are we looking at all these possibilities and using what we know?
At that time Pluto was the 9th planet, which now we know from further exploration that Pluto really is a dwarf planet. At that time, I was reading from the same basal text book like all the other children even though we were at various reading levels and had various interests, which we know from further research that books that children choose and are at their just right level help them achieve and learn more. At that time, dioramas were being used as "projects" even though we know "projects" are quite different than "project based learning" which is way more effective.
One thing I loved about the whole experience at the Kennedy Space Center is that they kept learning and growing and every "voyage" they learned something new. I wonder if we do that in education enough. With every class of students, do we try some new research based practice, and then learn from it? Or do we do the same lesson over and over again throughout the years thinking that we are still being effective.
This is a worry I have as a leader in education. I have seen innovation where students are empowered in their learning, setting goals, keeping e-portfolios, recording/photos and documenting their own learning, working collaboratively in groups to bring about change and service in their community, assessing their own writing, publishing it with great audiences, using their math skills for real purpose projects like creating a coffee shop in a school... but then I have also seen the opposite. Children given little choice, doing worksheets and busy work, asked to recall information, reading in a basal, writing to a prompt with little choice and no audience...
My hope is that education begins to rely more and more on truly touching the future. Our future needs our belief. Our future needs our exploration. Our future needs our care most of all to take risks to ask these questions, to pursue their passions, to use their skills to make a difference in this world. Our children, our future, our the next great scientists, doctors, engineers, teachers, artists, activists, and changemakers. Let's touch them. Let's touch them by learning from each voyage, supporting them at school and at home, so they can reach their full potential and truly reach for the stars!