I Want To Wander

Avery and I have a deck of San Francisco City Walks cards that were given to us when we first moved to the Bay Area. Each card has a map, with a route outlined, directions for how to get to the neighborhood and some interesting sights along the way.

A couple of months ago, in an unseasonably warm January, we busted out our cards and spent the day being urban hikers. The fun part was putting a bunch of walks together. That and the fact that we decided to actually walk across the city to get to the first card on our itinerary. San Francisco is not a flat city, in case you didn’t know.

It was a great day. We live on the east side of the city, and I work on the far west side. So, one might think that I actually know how to get around San Francisco. Not so much. I can get from my house to school in a variety of different modes of transportation: driving, taking public transportation, and biking. But I have a pre-set route for all of those methods. And I don’t deviate from my routes. Getting into some areas of the city that I hadn’t explored was an eye-opening experience. I felt energized (at least when I wasn’t panting for breath) and I felt inspired. I saw the place where I live from a different perspective. Pretty cool.

And I did it by getting off of the beaten path, by embracing a wandering mode instead of a Move From Point A to Point B mode.

Sometimes I worry that kids don’t get to wander in school. Sometimes it seems that we, their teachers, are so hung up on curriculum maps and state mandated standards and “covering the content” that our students don’t get a chance to just explore. To try something out and see where it goes.

I was reading Overthinking My Teaching the other day and came across a nice metaphor for these two types of learning. The linear metaphor and the landscape metaphor:

In the linear metaphor [of mathematics teaching/learning], we constantly tell students to get back on the highway (even if they have no idea where the entrance ramp is). In the landscape metaphor, we begin with where they are and help them to get where they need to go.

I love this metaphor. Especially the part about not knowing where the entrance ramp is. How can we expect students to get where we are if they got lost somewhere on their way to our classroom? It’s important to get students to the highway, comfortable enough there that they can cruise along with the top of their convertible down. But I also want them to spend some time on foot, exploring the city, wandering down little side roads just because they look interesting. That’s important too.

We have to help our students “get where they need to go”, yes. But sometimes I just want to hand them a topo map and a compass and set them loose.

Remember, in the words of J. R. R. Tolkien: Not all who wander are lost.

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