String Theory pedagogy in a piece of string

How much time do you have?

How long is a piece of string?

I always carry a piece of string, especially when I travel. A colorful one. One that's rungi chungi. Rungi chungi means colorful in Nepali, where I first began my penchant for wandering and simultaneously strengthened my passion for education. I'm a career educator based in Seattle. Of all the things I've taught, or teach, you might say that EXPERIENCE is the one unifying force. String has a way of pulling us all into a hands-on, minds-on learning experience.

My rungi chungi string.

This is my string theory:

No matter what language, culture, or age, I believe all people can learn.

Phenomenon: Long before the new Next Generation Science Standards proposed that good teaching begins with good phenomenon, experiential educators have been using a hook, and science teachers used discrepant events to foster inquiry. No matter what new fancy educationaleese you call it, it's the things that make you go hmmm.

All smiles at a Maasai Boma Kindergarten, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania

Curiosity: Curiosity is what it means to be human. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”--Rachel Carson, ecologist, writer, and one of my heroes. And not just children; we all love the sense of awe. I love to help people find that.

curiosity and awe

Engagement: "If you want them to ENTER the world of Science, you need to be a least a bit ENTERtaining."--Matteus Hager, Norwegian math and physics educator. The thing with this string trick, this phenomenon, is that it is so unexpected everyone begs to "do it again." Just to see if they "heard you right" and "try to figure it out." Even though I've done it hundreds of times, I'm still excited about it. I've heard my own enthusiasm is contagious. Thumbs up from everyone.

Thumbs out = do it again

Repetition: Do that again. That is precisely how we learn. Repetition. Repetition repetition. Delivered a few times on letter head from The Department of Redundancy Department. Delivered another time from a friend, a colleague, the community. Teaching comes not only from teachers but from community coaches. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Show don't tell: I speak politely in many languages. Please, thank you, hello, how's it? Good. Si Vous Plait, Murakoze, Konichiwa, Habarigani? Bueno. Yet, I'm fluent in learning, and sometime silence is the best language of all. I don't mean distance, or retreat, but rather attention with deep listening, looking, and lots of laughing.

Sometimes learners haven't yet learned to speak.

Fail Forward: This is my new philosophy for the old Try Again. No one masters anything on the first go. So try again. And again. Focus on the parts where you've missed the mark, and re-aim.

missing the mark: not just an archery metaphor!

Celebrate success: Together we achieve more. Why not celebrate our accomplishments, our mastery? Jump. Dance. Sing. Celebrate.

Pass it on: You've got it! You've got it! Now, give it away. Richard Feynman, physics professor known for his engaging lectures, knew that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Think about teaching it to toddlers, he suggested. Think about giving the gifts of learning.

A simple string ties us together.

Pedagogy in a piece of string.

Created By
Jessica Levine


photos by Shelly Ann Rosen, Itzik Metuko, and Jessica C Levine at Maasai Cultural Boma, Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Tanzania and Iby'iwacu cultural village, Muzanse District, Rwanda

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