Growing up, I spent as much time as I could outside and on a skateboard. It’s all I wanted to do and aspired to be. As a student, I often struggled with math. I was never interested in it, nor did I ever see why I needed to learn formulas, angles and theorems. So most of my time in class was spent dreaming and drawing skateboard ramps that would later be built and tested, often ending with a doctor’s visit.
As luck would have it, I ended up in a physics class where I thought for sure I was doomed to fail. That’s when I was first introduced to Projectile Motion in a formal sense. The lightbulb was instantly turned on. You mean to tell me that, through math, using formulas, angles and theorems I can not only design and build ramps, but am I able to accurately calculate where and how I will land? From that moment on, I was hooked. I went on to earn a perfect score on each exam as well as all challenge questions and labs, ending with a 120% as my final grade.
As an educator, I am always looking for ways to increase learner retention and hopefully aid in the development of self-awareness and efficacy in students. I believe one way of achieving this is through providing ample experiences for learners to develop and pursue their interests. If students are not engaged in what they are learning, they are less likely to retain the knowledge and skills presented.
For example, a student who is trying skiing for the first time and happens to be mechanically oriented may notice the motors, gears, wheels and wire rope that it takes to operate a functioning ski lift. This may lead them to taking interest in a career as a tramway engineer. Another student may love to snowboard and spends all their free time watching and creating YouTube videos with their friends. This student may be led to a career in film production. By allowing passion to be their guide, students are more likely to develop a skill that they will use for the rest of their lives.
Within my role at the Antelope Butte Foundation, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with students in a way that may not have been presented to them before. Through participation in various outdoor activities, students are encouraged to discover something that sparks their interest to learn. Students are then encouraged to use their interests to motivate their learning experiences. For me, it was my passion for the outdoors and skateboard ramps that ultimately led to my success as a physics student. I am thrilled to see what successes can be accomplished when students begin to integrate their passions with their learning experiences.
John Kirlin is the executive director of the Antelope Butte Foundation.