Dessine-moi un Bateau

“If I communicate to my men
the love of sailing on the sea,
you will soon see them specializing
according to their thousand particular qualities:
that one will weave the canvas,
another will fell the tree in the forest,
another still will forge nails
and there will be some who observe the
stars to learn to steer,
and yet all will be as one.
To create the ship
is not to weave the canvas,
to forge the nails,
to read the stars,
but rather to convey the taste of the sea.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I always thought it read better in French. I had a condensed form of this quote on my door the first year I started teaching and I used it to help me focus on what I wanted out of my kids. Physics is hard enough. How do you motivate kids to learn what you feel is important for them to know?  You can hold tests and grades over their heads and they will plod on toward that little carrot, but that doesn’t get them excited about it. Inspiration is the key.


James decides plain old parabolas are boring, and decides to learn parametric equations and solve a projectile problem on his own while sitting in Design Studio. Doesn’t everyone do that when they’re bored? I do.

Now I sit in Innovation Lab, look at an environment where that inspiration can be fostered, and start to see the ocean ripple in the eyes of the students. Literally. Well, almost. They are staring at tanks of water that in some cases are modeling ocean behavior, or ponds, or even the rain runoff as they explore what happens to chemicals through the water cycle. They have built complex models to attempt to not only simulate their environments, but also allow them to be tested and explored.


Emma and Flora will be building designer lawn furniture in the near future. So I hope. I already placed my pre-order.

Were they told to study the water cycle? Yes. Were they told to build a model? Yes. If I got this assignment in high school, I would have grabbed a takeout box, filled it with dirt on one side, poured water on it, and put a lamp next to it. What makes this different? The students were able to choose what they wanted to explore. They were allowed to discover the water cycle on the their own. They were allowed to choose any part of the cycle they wanted. So now we are looking at mini ponds exposed to pesticides, rain runoff with fertilizer, and even a miniature Pacific Garbage Patch. That group even had some water samples shipped in from the West Coast to test to see if it was that much different from the Long Island Sound water they were using to construct that model. And the girls with power tools keep on coming.

In the very next room, students are putting together video compilations of interviews. Students interviewed teachers, leaders of political groups, business people, and town or state officials about topics from the progressive era that apply today. If you get a chance to look through the student blogs, there are some great discussions about their experiences with these people and what they pulled away from them. I am so looking forward to seeing these videos as these individuals have already started influencing our InLab pioneers, inspiring them as I still sit here writing.

Now if I can only get them to build me a boat…

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2 Responses to Dessine-moi un Bateau

  1. Mark Hines says:

    love this post! There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing student agency and autonomy when they are given a chance to follow their passions and feel empowered to be in charge of their own learning. Kudos to team Innovation Lab for nurturing a real learning environment!

  2. Such an amazing blog!! Gray and I will build you a boat!!

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