My car starts to make a noise, a light on the dashboard goes on, or it’s time to change my oil. Any of those scenarios will trigger me to ask Siri to call Joe. Joe is my friend who fixes cars. Joe and I will plan a time and I will bring my car down to his shop. I am the designated flashlight holder and tool grabber. Together we fix the problem. Every time we work on the car I am amazed at how fixing cars, what we teach in education, and technology are so similar.
Joe quickly identifies what the problem is. He uses his expertise from past experiences as well as research on the internet to find out different solutions to the problem. (We use his expertise because I am about as dumb and ignorant as you can possibly be when it comes to fixing things. I can use a hammer and screwdriver. That is where my expertise ends.) This is the same thing I do when using figuring out a solution using tech in class, as well as at my home. I identify what exactly I need to get accomplished (what the problem is) and use my prior knowledge of classroom experience, tech tools, as well as the internet to find out what is the best tool to use in order to accomplish my goal.
What happens next is the amazing part. Joe will tell me what the problem is and what parts we will need to fix it. We get the parts and then the fun begins. It NEVER goes the way we think it should go. A bolt won’t come loose, the piece we bought doesn’t quite fit, or another piece is in the way of where we need to go. Joe has a boatload of tools that he can use to saw a piece off, shave a bolt down, or find a way to rig something together in order to accomplish the task. Does this sound familiar to you?
How many times have we went to use a tech tool only to find out it doesn’t work anymore, another program is affecting it, or it is incompatible with the device we are using. We end up using one tool smashed with another tool to get the job done. We may have to download something or find a workaround to a problem that we didn’t foresee occurring. Technology NEVER works the way we expect it to! Both technology and auto repair are the ultimate trial and error experiences. We start to work and use problem-solving skills to accomplish the task.
How many times have we planned a lesson only to find out that it isn’t working? It may even be a lesson that we have used in the past that has worked wonderfully for other classes. Shoot it may even be a lesson we are using for a second time that day with a different class that worked with the previous class! Lesson plans NEVER works the way we expect them to! This may occur for a variety of reasons. The wifi might have gone out, the Chromebooks died, or maybe students just don’t click with the lesson. Whatever the reason we problem solve and figure out how to make that lesson stick. Both teaching and auto repair involve being flexible and finding multiple ways to attack the same problem.
Fixing cars, teaching, and technology has shown me that our students will need resiliency or perhaps that dreaded word grit long after they leave the school system. Rarely does anything work the way it is supposed to in life. I have worked at many businesses and all of them use this same process of trial and error in order to solve problems. It may be something simple like fixing a leak, setting up audio around a store, or more complex like fixing a cold box or upgrading software. It is rarely as simple as following simple directions and fixing the problem.
When things go awry and a solution doesn’t work how do we respond? We can kick and scream and throw a fit. Sometimes we do this and it possibly makes us feel better in the short term. However, it never solves the problem. We can whine about how difficult the problem is while we are fixing the problem. This only frustrates those around us and encourages negative self-talk.
It is how we deal with the struggle that matters. These are skills we are teaching our students no matter what the subject. We are always going to struggle. Will the struggle define us or will we focus on the journey and the success it will eventually lead to?
Some people will say that we can just pay experts to come in and fix the problem. This is a viable solution but we lose something in the process. That something is capital. In some cases capital is money. I can pay someone to fix the car; but, it will cost me a boatload of money. Companies can pay experts to come in and fix the solution but it will hurt their bottom line. In the case of our students and sometimes our co-workers the capital they will be paying is the ability to help themselves. This is a skill that physical education and health teachers excel at. We prepare students for the constant struggle of trial and error in life.
The immediate example that comes to my mind in physical education is that a professional baseball player will go to the hall of fame if they hit successfully 3 out of 10 times. They will fail 7 out of ten times. How many times do our students miss the kick, drop the ball, brick a shot, or lose the game? More importantly how many times do the students kick the ball again, catch the ball the next time, make the basket or play the game again? Our students in physed analyze why they didn’t succeed and figure out what needs to change in order to succeed. That is the same thing professional athletes do. Those are the lessons our students will take with them throughout life.
Let’s go back to my friend Joe. Fixing cars is a side job for him. Joe did not go to college or particularly like school growing up. He might even be one of the students that education would focus on his weaknesses and attempt to negatively label him. Yet look at what Joe’s strengths are. He can problem solve and has developed resiliency in order to keep going until the job is finished. These are the skills that a teacher could have identified in him when he was young. Once he realized he had strengths he could have built upon them and lessened his negative association to school.
Companies want employees that can problem solve on their own. How useful would a mechanic be if every time something blocked them from doing their job they had to ask their boss what to do? Bosses do not want employees who need their hand held or that need to be micromanaged. How are we teaching our students to problem solve on their own?