Why isn’t school more like ballet?
I teach a wonderful student, C, who shows incredible potential in science. She comes to our 21st century physics meetings every tuesday morning without fail, she is always willing to throw herself into a goal-less problem, and her written work shows a level of insight and thoughtfulness that is truly quite rare. She’s also been a driving force behind the math/science salon. But at the same time, even though C sees all this success in physics, she finds it hard, and frustrating, because it is a struggle—it’s something that doesn’t come naturally.
C also happens to be a tremendous dancer, and so I like to get her to think about her struggles in physics in light of all the struggle that is required to become an extraordinary dancer. In particular, when she and S were hanging out in my classroom, I asked her about the grand jete, a very challenging move in ballet (that I only know about from reading the physics of this particular move in Halliday and Resnick, back when I started studying physics). S asked C, “What’s a grand jete?” to which C replied:
“it’s a really big scary leap that I’m not very good at, but it’s fun”
So that comment really got me going. A dancer can cause great personal injury by failing at the grand jete, and no matter how scary a physics problem is, it will never lead to a broken bone. Furthermore, we’ve SBG-ified the class so that mistakes become learning opportunities, and students aren’t punished for not getting the concept right the first time. Yet this fear still persists. C and I talked about it some more, but we really couldn’t come to any easy answers. It’s a super important questions, because I don’t want the challenge of this class to turn away students like C who have such great potential in science. I’m left wondering how I can get my students to see the fun in the big scary leaps they can take in physics class.