Lining up the ducks
I’m thinking back on all the prep work that led to actually implementing the Take Action Project in our class rooms at OIS… and it turns out to be more than just sticking the lessons into the year’s plan book.
I came to Orinda Intermediate School almost 18 years ago, determined to shake everything up with my great ideas for how things should be. I was not all that interested in what the other science teachers had been doing and although I didn’t mean to say ‘your way sucks’ I know that’s the message that my colleagues back then felt. So I had no credibility at all, for years really, and trying to do project like TAP would have been such a departure from the expectations of parents as well as the school that it would have been a disaster. The department was already doing a very successful rocket project and a Rube Goldberg project at eighth grade. It was within the school’s culture to come up with an engineering project, so I started with the Electricity Project, then we tried the ‘Make a useful gadget with a lever’, followed by ‘Make an ‘Exploratorium’ type exhibit to teach a light and optics concept’. So you can see a gradual moving towards more inquiry-based project work.
But the missing piece for Karen, my close colleague and collaborator at 7th grade, and I, was the lack of real-world application of these projects. They got their moment in the sun at Open House, then collected dust in the kids’ garage (except when sureptitiously recycled as a sibling’s project…). Because we now had experience running projects and had built trust in the school and parent community, we were in a better place to launch the Take Action Project.
I havn’t been aiming at this project for all these years – I just don’t have the patience for that – I’m more of a ‘suck it and see’ operator. But it does feel as if all these experiences have made TAP possible.
The other duck that lined up, was the realization of how desperately serious climate change is. I kind of knew, theoretically. But I then I taught oil fractionation with an add-on of the Hubbert Curve and the end of cheap oil in 8th grade science at exactly the same time when I was teaching about the time line of life and found that we were in the middle of the 6th great mass extinction. That was profoundly depressing and took me a summer of thinking, then an article in New Scientist that had a climate zone map for which parts of the world would be uninhabitable by 2099 and it was just shocking to me. The whole of the US uninhabitable desert. I figured it wouldn’t be all fine until 2098 and then boom. And the article suggested that the population would likely fall to 2 billion. So I got to imagining what that down sizing of land and population would look like and, well, I no longer had the choice to sit about. I spent the next summer researching climate change, read Lester Brown’s “Plan B” and Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy” as well as all kinds of articles. I wish the predictions were outlandish, but actually, they were based on the International Panel on Climate Change‘s moderate scenario. My son is 16. My grandchildren may well be around to experience this hellish world, as will my student’s children.
So I’m taking the action that I am best suited for, and encouraging others not necessarily to do this exact project, but to take action in ways that are best suited to them, that give us each joy. Not necessarily fun, fun, fun all the way, but that do build on what we love to do. I love teaching, writing curriculum, taking pictures, and writing journals like this, and these are what I’m doing to hold back the dogs of despair. T’aking action together feels like winding the clock back to the good in the ‘good old days’, and that’s why I would love to do this in company with similar minded educators, maybe like you?