Battling the Shark (in Life and in Education)
Those of you that are readers of this blog know that I sometimes like to link life events or pop-culture to education. (See: Is “The Walking Dead” Analogous to Education) This past weekend I participated in the 77th Annual Deep Sea Roundup. It’s the longest running off-shore fishing tournament in the state of Texas, so as you can imagine, there are a cast of characters that attend and participate in this event. As many of Port Aransas’ finest walked through the doors the night before the tournament started, I couldn’t help but wonder, did they graduate middle school? Did school even matter to them when they are experts on the open sea?
Several of the participants not only could care less about formalized education, it was apparent many could also care less about dental hygene or skin care. In fact, there were quite a few “purple heads” (based on the depth of their sunburn) and “raccoons” (weekend-ers that wore their sunglasses too long. See picture to the left) in the crowd.
You might think, this would be the last place to get an educational “aha” moment with all these stereotypical fishermen that spoke a mix of creole, texan, and some random mumbling. One even spoke a whole sentence to me and all I heard was “hey! aincha gonna boosway on da hardim transim?” My response without missing a beat was “You bet!” At any rate, on day two of our fishing adventure, the true meaning of collaboration and the age-old over-used analogy of “guide on the side” became a glaring reality to me.
To set the scene, our crew (made up of myself and three friends Jim, Doug, and Beau) traveled out to an oil rig about 30 miles off-shore to try and catch some red snapper and possibly a trophy Ling or Kingfish. As the day ended, our snapper was continually being cut off by something. Jim, the captain, and “teacher” if you will of the group, had a theory that something big, possibly a shark, was eating our catch. To test the theory, he pulled a deep sea rod out and baited it with cut meat and double-hook. If it was a shark, we were going to catch it.
After an initial failed attempt and loss of bait, the very next try we got a bite. And it ran. And ran. And ran! With hundreds of yards of line. Doug held the rod and Jim knew that if this was a shark, he would need all of us helping to bring him in. He provided directions to Beau and I to get Doug mounted with the right belts to help support the rod (and his back). When I wasn’t being used, he asked me to document the event on camera. Jim used the boat to help bring in the creature (we didn’t know what it was at first) when Doug started running out of line. After about an hour, we got to see it….an 8-foot, 150 pound Hammerhead!
We were instantly met with another challenge, how do you bring a fish that size onto a 24-foot boat? Jim quickly jumped into action and assigned each of us roles to get the boat prepped to land this fish. Beau would lasso the tail, I would gaff (or attempt to gaff) the shark in the mouth, while Doug held the line. After we had the tail secure and the fish gaffed, Jim would lasson the head. After some battling and nearly getting bitten, we secured it along side the boat. Once we felt it had died, it took three of us to bring it on board.
Reliving the whole event, I was struck by many things but the most profound was when Jim said, “there’s no way we could have brought that fish in without each of you doing your part.” It was a total collaborative effort with Jim playing the key role even though he didn’t reel the fish in himself. Like in fishing, you have to have some level of experimentation when it comes to education. Jim had a theory and tested it. He tested it by providing us with the right tools (in this case bait, double-hook, and a deep sea rod) to test the theory. Once the theory was proven correct, he guided all of us in playing a part to landing the fish, all while steering the boat. Beau’s support of Doug and his belt as well as lassoing the tail. Doug keeping the line out of the propeller and not falling overboard. My moral support and documentation of the whole experience. None of this would have been possible without Jim’s knowledge and guidance.
For as much as teachers fear that loss of control in the class when they don’t stand in front and deliver content, there is something magical about true collaborative learning moments like this. Their expertise are even more valuable in a collaborative problem-solving scenario in the classroom. Without them students are more than a rudderless ship, they will never learn how to successfully solve problems before frustration gets the better of them. If it had just been Doug, Beau and myself on that boat, we would have failed 100% of our attempts to hook the shark (much less land him). Teachers’ roles are exactly what Jim provided us: tools, knowledge, teamwork, problem-solving, and an experience that will be with us for a lifetime.
Here are some photos and even a sneak preview I made on iMovie of the event.
The Sneak preview: (55 seconds long)