Unpredictable Environments

One of my favorite times of the year is just around the corner.  Morel mushroom season.  For those who don't know, morel mushrooms are an elusive wild mushroom that can't be domesticated and are therefore a seasonal delicacy for those who are lucky enough to find them during their 3-4 week growth period.  The defining quirk of morels is their random growth patterns.  They tend to grow well near elm, ash, and poplar trees, but sometimes they pop up in the middle of a tree-less patch of grass or even a gravel driveway (I've seen it).  The unpredictability can make morel hunting frustrating, but it is also what makes it rewarding.  As I reflected on the nature of morels, I couldn't help but compare it to learning.

Morel growth is random, surprising, and inconsistant, and so is authentic learning.  I don't mean memorizing facts.  I mean that moment when a student makes a real, lasting connection to what he or she is learning, it clicks... an 'ah-ha' moment.  These moments are the cherished treasures of educators.  This is why we teach.  Unfortunately, these moments randomly occur in the same inconsistent fashion that morels grow.  So how do we create learning environment that increase the likelihood of these types of authentic learning moments?

While there is no good answer to making the inconsistant consistant--you have to play the odds, like hunting morels.  Since morels can grow anywhere, hunting them down can be maddening, so I play the odds by stopping at every elm, ash, and poplar tree I see as I walk through the woods.  Similarly, I try to play the odds by creating a culture of learning in my classroom with some of the following measures:
  • Reward good questions, not just good answers
  • Make creative, critical thinkers (students) famous by sharing their thinking with the class
  • Provide multiple opportunities to show understanding--digital, physical, verbal, written, etc.  
  • Be supportive, but encourage independence
  • Award an informal "Genius of the Day" for good thinking
  • Provide many opportunities for authentic creation rather than inauthentic regurgitation 
  • Model and emphasize real learning as part of your daily language
  • Develop sincere, individual relationships with students
  • Get feedback from your students about your room, lessons, and class overall--let them be heard
  • Have high, yet reachable expectations
  • Have passion for EVERYTHING you do--if you don't have it find a new job
  • Cover everything you do in a thick layer of enthusiasm--its infectious and makes everything better
I am continually surprised at the odd times that students have a moment of authentic learning, as I am surprised when I found a dozen morels growing in an empty grassy lot last year.  Both unpredictable environments can be frustrating, but also highly rewarding when you play the odds.  

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