Just like making a rich sauce, optimal teaching requires the simmer--a period of synthesis when the learning ingredients slowly meld to create rich learning. I thought about this today as I looked back on our day in the field last Friday. The field study was filled with activity--so much activity that it was difficult to take it all in, but now a few days later, images of mating water snakes, sunbathing turtles, a goose egg, elegant geese, beautiful red-wing black birds, multiple invertebrates, stone-sitting green frogs, camouflaged bull frogs, slithering muskrats, a white swan, and tree swallows fill my mind.
I remember having a similar reaction after my family would take a day-long hike in the White Mountains. The hike was filled with adventure and challenge. There were moments of pure frustration as we trudged up muddy, rock-strewn, steep, forested trails, and moments of pure elation when we reached the rocky ledges and peaks--points where we could see beautiful vistas in all directions, and points where the air seemed so fresh and clean. At the end of those day-long, multi-mile mountainous hikes, I was exhausted, and though I was happy to have met the challenge, I could not remember all we did or experienced. It would be days later when the memories simmered that I remembered Peter dancing up the trail, Dad's encouraging words, Chrissy's spring to the finish line, sharing a lunch and candy bars at the summit, and rock dancing down to the mountain's base. The simmering not only allowed me to remember all we did, but it also turned those wonderful hiking adventures into meaningful metaphors for living a good life, facing challenge, and working as a team.
Similarly, my wonderful trip to Drumlin Farm as a child was a busy day of adventure in a beautiful farm setting in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Simmering transformed that day-long adventure into a thread of life that found me revisiting Drumlin Farm and working with the naturalists there as a parent and teacher year after year to allow my children and my students to experience nature in meaningful, life-enriching ways.
At the end of the field study on Friday, the children and teachers were weary. It was a long day in the beautiful outdoors, a day of hiking, learning about nature, and ponding. There were challenges and it came after the busiest school week of the year--a week that included a grade-level musical, multiple hands-on science projects, and biography research, writing, and illustration. I was a bit worried about the week's busyness, but now as I relax today, and see what time to simmer the experience has done for me, I can only imagine that some of the fifth graders are looking back on the adventure too, and replicating what we did through stories, writing, drawing, or their own adventures during this long weekend.
Learning is not static, but instead learning is an active process that includes planning, preparation, anticipation, activity, reflection, simmering, and more. Learning is ongoing with a river-like quality. As an educator, I want to provide children with many meaningful learning experiences, the kind that help them to create a good knowledge, skill, and concept foundation, events that they want to replicate on their own and with others now and into the future, and the type of events that also help to create rich metaphors that lead these children ahead in life in ways that matter. Onward.