Atomic Learning: An Inquiry into the Water of Knowledge

How can public reflection promote the growth of new teachers?

This question is valuable to me because I have experienced the first year of a teacher when aided by public reflection. Without my own cataloging, questioning, and sharing during this time, I would never have garnered the kind of useful feedback that teachers need in order to grow strong out of challenging situations.

The philosophical background to my decision to blog my whole first year is that I believe in sharing and creating knowledge together. Neither do I believe we are empty vessels to be filled (by teachers or whomever) nor that we are wells waiting to have knowledge drawn out; on the contrary, we won’t get any water at all or find a use for it unless we can put hydrogen and oxygen together. It’s the combination and the connection of those elements which makes water and nothing else. There is no planet where water is from alone, no way to create it from nothing either. It takes two very separate nucleii (well, three if we’re counting atoms and not different elements) to make bonds, then we get water.

Knowledge is like water in more ways than just its creation. We are satisfied by it, quenched by it, and it is the most ubiquitous part of any culture or being. Water is versatile and adapts to its surroundings, it changes form so it can stay together.

How can we, as learners, address the bonds that we need to make? What questions will guide us to the nucleus of our problem and how do we know whether we’re an H or an O? Water’s chemical composition is static and vital to its use in any sense. If you add even one extra oxygen atom (we’ve now got H2O2) then you’re swimming in, drinking, and skating on top of hydrogen peroxide. With knowledge, we have to have the right balance of the familiar and the strange in order for it to apply to our practice.

Hydrogen is the most basic of all elements, for all intents and purposes, everything was once arranged like this element with the most simplistic atomic structure. Oxygen is more complex, boasting a diatomic structure (think of it like a set of identical twins that have to be together and wear matching dresses). It also has a perfectly filled outer shell, something hydrogen only wishes it had with its singular orbiting particle. But when you put these two elements together, the most simple and familiar and the highly organized and complex, you get a magical new creation capable of so much more tha the two separate.

When we consider the water-like characteristics of knowledge, it becomes clearer to us as learners we need to marry our own experiences (which seem simple and familiar to us) with the confusing complexities of something else. The bond that we make when ready to encounter new information is strong. If we’re able to model this atomic curiosity for our students, this flexibility to find learning anywhere, and our bond with that learning presents itself, then our job as teachers becomes a little bit easier.

If we can use our personal understanding of how learning works, then our experience will more directly translate to students.

What is it about public performance and reflection that deepens our sense of self-understanding?

As teachers, it is clear that the profession has been shifting from a more isolated and individualized job to a more collaborative professional field. In the most forward-thinking  schools, teachers are empowered to share best practices with their peers and seek continual improvement through conversations and open demonstrations. There are no business secrets or competitive programs pitting teacher against teacher. The most successful schools embody the ideal that brought all of us into the profession: sharing in the learning experience with students.

How do you take your students on learning journeys? What elements of public reflection do you practice and model for students as a learner yourself?

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One thought on “Atomic Learning: An Inquiry into the Water of Knowledge

  1. Thank you for sharing this blog. I feel like it was something I needed after reflecting and stewing after SI today. You have a way of putting things into a perspective that I both admire and envy. =)

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