Today, nearly 140 high school students descended upon the Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park. The building is monumental, consisting of several buildings sprawled across a large green lawn. The museum is even more impressive on the inside; it is a treasure trove of nooks to play in, every one of them educational. On previous trips to the museum I’ve surprised myself with my own over-eagerness to toggle every lever, to find out how things work. I am working on my doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of Chicago, and my every day learning is decidedly removed from the tactile worlds the museum creates in the name of studying science. Today, though, I tried to take a step back. I was accompanying ten high schoolers who had a specific set of tasks to complete.
In an introductory pep talk on Tuesday, Patrick Jagoda reminded us that standardized tests have driven students towards an outdated model of uniformity in education. Increasingly, students “learn tests,” not information. Today at the Museum of Science and Industry, the students playing The Source were given a creative set of scavenger hunt clues and free reign of the museum. I was struck by how difficult it was for all of us to make sense of the questions. In a museum so vast, each question seemed to have multiple possible answers. After a few failed attempts to solve the puzzles, we started to read the questions more carefully and easily found the solutions. I was amazed by both the imaginativeness of my students’ initial attempts to answer the questions, and the imaginativeness required to provide the desired answers. We all had to rewire our thinking to accommodate a kind of creativity not usually exercised in traditional classroom settings. We also had to learn to zero in on the relevant information in a museum so full of shiny, hands-on exhibits. (my co-mentor Phillip contributed amazingly to this-he is studying Public Health at Emory University, and was able to zero in on the scientific core of many of the demonstrations.) We all learned more than we needed to solve the puzzles, but the problems reminded me of how hard wired I am by the education I’ve received. I’m sure that the coming weeks will be full of more confusion, and more profound rewirings.