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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hang gliding and learning overload

This summer the one thing I wanted to do was go hang gliding. I have always dreamed of soaring in the sky and hang gliding. I've never really done anything about the dream. For a while, I thought, that's a silly dream. Then I would think, it must be really expensive to do something like that.

Anyway, I did some research and found out that it is not that expensive to go hang gliding! So, I signed up for a class! I ended up learning a bit in the class about hang gliding. More importantly, I learned about the importance of checking for understanding and creating a positive learning environment.

The night before the class I called to confirm the meeting time. My instructor seemed to have forgotten that I had paid for a lesson. He then said, why don't we meet on the coast? We were planning on meeting in central Oregon, so this was a big change from the sign up. I was able to drive to the other location, so the next morning, out I drove.

I arrived at the school, and no one was there. An hour later the instructor showed up, after a few phone calls from me. If it wasn't that I wanted to learn so badly, and had driven 2 hours to get there, I would have left. The instructor finally got there an hour late. I asked if he had forgotten. He responded with, "Well, you really have control problems don't you. You're not going to be able to fly if you have control issues"

Once the lesson started, the instructor gave me all sorts of theory about how the wings work and how flying works and every few minutes would move onto another topic. There were no questions to check if I understood. After the previous comment about my control issues, I didn't really feel like saying much else. Various times, he got frustrated and angry with how his computer was working, and would start ranting about the computer.

Then, he would move onto another topic. There was no checking for how well I was understanding. If he did ask anything, it would be, "Do you understand?" I would say yes.

Why did I say yes?
  • Because the initial presentation was so over my head, I didn't think that he would explain in a way that made sense. 
  • Because he seemed to get frustrated when I didn't understand something the first few times. 
  • Because I didn't feel comfortable saying I didn't understand. 
  • Later I thought, here I am an adult, not comfortable asking questions. How do I make sure my students are always comfortable asking questions in the classroom?

In the end I was able to do some flying and the instructor was much better once we were on the dune making my first bunny flies. I don't really have much desire to go hang gliding again. Maybe I'll try with a different instructor some day.

While I learned a bit about flying, the most important thing I learned was making sure that my students feel comfortable asking questions and the need to check for understanding in a real way. I try to do these things in my classroom anyway, but this experience just confirmed how important these skills are for student learning.

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