On Monday morning, we loaded up the car with three adults and five kids and headed north to Washington and Mount Rainer National Park. The mountain towers over everything and is easily visible from Portland, some two hours to the south, but nothing can prepare you for the sight of it the first time you see it up close. I don’t write well enough to do it justice. I’m not a good enough photographer to do it justice, either, but I’ll share one photo anyway just to give you some context.
I found a little math in the park, like this arc made of triangles and rectangles:
The best part of the day, though, happened during a hike with my son. The Wonderland Trail is a 93-mile hiking trail that circumnavigates the mountain. I first read about it more than 20 years ago, and I’ve always wanted to hike it. While a full hike wasn’t possible, we did hop on and do a two-mile stretch of it. It was a beautiful hike along a glacier-fed river, but the best part was listening to my son during the hike. In 45 minutes of hiking:
- he noticed that the ground sounded hollow in some places when we stepped, and he wondered why that would be.
- he noticed a plant that seemed different than others we had seen on the trail, and he conjectured that it might be an invasive species (we’d seen a number of warning signs about invasive species in this and other parks).
- he looked at some downed trees along the banks of the river and wondered if they had fallen there or been carried by the water from somewhere else.
- he wanted to know how far we had gone and how much longer I thought it would take us to get to where we were meeting everyone else.
It was pretty amazing to listen to him observe the world around him and ask the questions that came to mind. As I did, I came up with a few questions of my own:
- He’s ten years old, and he’s clearly curious about the world around him. I wonder how many of my current students were just as curious when they were ten, and what happened in the following six years that seems to have dampened that curiosity. I also wonder how I might rekindle that curiosity in my students.
- How might I take questions like this and build a course, or a portion of a course, around them? We could investigate and explore in an effort to find answers to these questions, or to questions my students have. As we do so, there are two possible outcomes. Either we get satisfactory answers and are done, or our investigation leads to more questions and additional lines of inquiry. How can I make the latter happen so that a course becomes more student driven?
Something tells me there are no easy answers to any of these questions. We’re a little more than a third of the way through our trip, though, so I have plenty of time to keep considering them.