Sometimes, we have to apply our knowledge and skills to something that has never been done before. Consider NASA’s Curiosity mission to Mars. The final descent to Mars is affectionately referred to as “Seven Minutes of Terror.” The video below demonstrates this point.
For NASA scientists, they were presented the problem of the unknown. In order to land Curiosity safely, they had to depend on their knowledge and training as applied in a theoretical context.
Think about the kind of tasks we ask our students to complete when applying knowledge. Do we ask them to attempt the unknown? Do we ever challenge them with tasks that are unsafe or untried? Or do we simply ask them to repeat back the content we’ve presented to them in lectures, readings, and research projects?
Rarely do we have problems in our real lives that resemble the problems we solved in school. So, why not design authentic tasks that challenge students to apply the content to new scenarios beyond their limited scope?
I am not suggesting the impossible. To engage students and really push their learning, sometimes we have to ask them to do something they have never tried, maybe even something no one has ever tried.
So, while you reflect on last year’s students and prep for next year’s group, consider the impossible and the never-been-done. Dream of ways in which your students can stretch their learning to new and unimaginable contexts. The results might be as exciting as “Seven Minutes of Terror” or at least feature the kind of engagement and authentic learning we strive for in our students.
Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.