Go Deep : Finding Depth and Passion in Learning

By Peggy Wuenstel — Several years ago my husband and I embarked on a vacation plan, to see those things that don’t translate to the postcard view. Our travels have included the calving of glaciers in Alaska, the volcanic black sand beaches of Hawaii, the longest porch in the world on Mackinac Island, and this year, the majesty and scale of Yellowstone National Park. The picture that accompanies this post is me standing in front of a view of the canyon of the Yellowstone River. A two week road trip through the American West gave me lots of time to reflect on the depth and breadth of the way we view the world. For me, like so many educators, it also inspired rumination on the way we offer a view of that world to our students.

It is often only when we take the time to GO DEEP that we truly uncover the splendor and the meaning in what we encounter.

It seems that the breadth of knowledge students must master requires us to work at breakneck speed. There is curricula to get through, assessment to complete, documentation to provide, data to collect. The ways in which we gather and present this information has been transformed. Social media, digital whiteboards, video conferencing, hand-held technology all find applications in modern classroom. We have a broader range of students than ever before, from different family configurations, nations of origin, socio-economic backgrounds. The extent of background knowledge, access to technology, social opportunity, and cultural diversity that we are faced with provides both a challenge and a treasure. The scope of what we must cover and consider as educators can be staggering.

I spend a good deal of time working with individuals on the Autism Spectrum, including a grandson with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). One of the features that characterize the behavior of many of these folks is the tremendous focus on topics or routines that sometimes is part of the profile. A negative spin on this characterization describes their intense interest in trains, vacuum cleaners, dinosaurs or spinning as obsessions.

Looking through a different lens might redefine them as passions. The intensity, time commitment, and effort with which they pursue the details, incarnations and manifestations of their favorite items can also be viewed as a strength. The memory for detail, the ability to understand, categorize, and apply the distinctive features of their passions can forge connections with peers, provide a source of pride, and build bridges to other areas of learning and study. They constantly remind me that to GO DEEP allows me to understand on a different level. To see the most beautiful landscapes we must travel under the surface, off the beaten path and into the interior of what we know and believe.

Even in a world that requires the rapid and efficient acquisition of knowledge, we must build in opportunities to explore topics in depth. We must model the passion for learning that leads to artistic expression, scientific innovation, advancements in medicine, invention, scholarship , and leadership. We must reward and foster the pursuit of educational passions, and we must build in the time for this to happen. We live in a three dimensional world, where there is breadth, depth and height. It is only by allowing for both deep thought and broad interests that we allow children to reach their highest potentials.

As I watched the Packer’s Greg Jennings haul in a deep touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers last weekend, I was reminded that this strategy doesn’t work if we use it too frequently. Passion is only visible when there are peaks and valleys in our interests and efforts. The beauty of a river canyon is only visible as a contrast to the cliffs that surround it, the joy of a pass completion more dramatic when GOING DEEP was a big surprise.

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