Updated Post: Many of you started school and met your classroom of Goonies and are probably ready for the weekend to arrive. The rest of you are just as ready because you have been busily preparing your room and lessons all week. If my Goonies reference does not make sense, it’s because you haven’t been keeping up with our movie blogs and that means you have homework. Don’t complain yet because you have one more assignment. Watch a movie!
When you finish reading all our blog posts, you need to watch the 1999 classic October Sky. This film and the book it’s based on, Rocket Boys, offers a wealth of ideas and relevant topics for teachers to explore. There are too many to cover in one blog. For now, lets focus on these themes: “teaching with purpose” and “the importance of perseverance and grit.”
Spoiler Alert! If you have not seen October Sky, stop reading. Watch the movie! Read this blog, and then watch the movie again. If you want to make rockets with your students or achieve some dream of your own afterwards, that is up to you!
Teaching With Purpose
All teachers go to work with the hope of helping their students succeed in life. You teach your subjects because you know your students need them if they are going to get good grades, pass the multitude of tests, get into college or trade school and ultimately lead a meaningful life. At times, we can forget to let our students know why they are learning what you are teaching. How many of you have heard “ why do I need to learn this?” or “why do I need math if I am going to be baseball player?” Who has ever responded with “because you do,” or “because I say so?” I know I have. We need to show our students that what they learn has a purpose and relevance to their life.
Miss Riley, Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys chemistry and physics teacher, was able to do this with great success. She showed Homer that if he was going to achieve his dreams of building rockets, he had to do the work and learn the relevant material. This happened to cover the sciences, mathematics, and english, not bad! Homer understood that chemistry and math were needed to properly construct his rockets, physics to know the dynamics of flight, and english to properly write reports for presentations at science fairs.
When ambiguity is removed from the learning process students seem to thrive. This can help to explain the growing popularity of the Maker Movement , Project Based Learning, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives in K-12 education today.
Another important part of the film was Mrs. Riley’s success at showing Homer that his purpose as a rocket maker went beyond himself and impacted his school and entire community. The prevailing narrative in Homer’s world was you worked in the coal mine and never left town unless you were lucky enough to get a football scholarship. Through Miss Riley, Homer saw that his success had the potential to inspire others and to change the narrative. This Mind Shift article by Ingfei Chen, How a Bigger Purpose Can Motivate Students to Learn, explores this topic in detail. Something else Miss Riley accomplished, was showing Homer that success could only come through perseverance and grit!
Importance of Perseverance and Grit
Miss Riley lead by example and practiced what she preached. Her authenticity and integrity made her a role model. She never gave up on her student’s dreams and continued to follow her own, even when illness kept her bedridden. She was a living example of perseverance and grit. These qualities are so important to instill in students. Our digital and frenetic culture makes it so easy for us to move on to the next thing when interest fades or when challenges become overwhelming. If you don’t like the TV channel there are 500 more to try out. This might be fine for entertainment, but not so with life’s challenges.
If obstacles are not faced and overcome they tend to find a way back into your life in some form. At the very least, they leave you with questions that are difficult to answer, like “what if?” Choices in life might be limited by ones ability to persevere through hardship and set backs. Students may avoid career paths because they struggled and failed in a given subject and never tried again. How many childhood dreams are deferred because of the lack of perseverance and grit? Homer and the Rocket Boys failed countless times and nearly gave up before they found success. Through encouragement and living examples of perseverance and grit, they were able to struggle on until they triumphed. The importance of grit in education is a popular topic. For more on this subject, you can watch this TED Talk, and read this Wired Magazine and NPR article.
The take away: By showing students that lessons have relevance to their lives and connecting what you teach to a greater purpose you can motivate learning. By helping students face challenges with perseverance and grit, you can give them the ability to direct the course of their lives. Maybe you will be the Miss Riley that inspires your students to lead an extraordinary life and fulfill their dreams. For great resources and ideas from the film and the book turn to Homer Hickam himself and his fantastic website by clicking here.
Thank you for reading and sharing! Please comment on the blog and share your thoughts and ideas. TeacherCents wishes all teachers a fantastic and successful school year!