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How Changing My Car’s Battery Made Me Think About Education


A lot of people write about how educators use the summer to “recharge their batteries,” which is true. It’s nice to have some down time to reflect and plan for the next year. It’s the one time of year when there aren’t constant demands for teachers’ and administrators’ time. No concerts, no after school events, no evaluations to prepare for.

Part of this time allows me to catch up on things that I didn’t have time for during the school year, like changing the battery in our Jeep, which is our only vehicle that has roof racks for us to transport our kayaks. We were able to get by this winter by jumping it a few times when it was really cold out, but my wife and I both knew it would eventually need to be replaced. My wife and I also knew nothing about replacing a battery.

So I turned to YouTube. And I watched video after video of someone changing car batteries in order to figure out what to do. I learned about “core charges” that auto part supply stores charge. I learned that batteries can be top or side mounted. I learned that “CCA” stands for “cold crank amps,” which is referring to the ability for it to start in cold weather. I also learned that sometimes there can be a lot of corrosion, and a wire brush is best to remove the debris in order to ensure the battery has a tight connection.

This has me thinking more about the situations that students find themselves in. How can we position them to have a need to find out more information? What kinds of interesting problems can we put in front of students where they not only have to leverage the tools at their disposal (technology, social networks) but also are authentically motivated to struggle and figure things out?

At one point, I became so frustrated because I could not remove the bolt from one of the battery terminals. The bolt was so rusted that it was chipping away when I used a wrench, pliers, and vice grips. I threw my hands up in frustration and walked away.

Sometimes it’s okay to take breaks in the middle of a problem. Giving yourself room to think about other things can somehow lead to clarity.

I was able to loosen the nut enough to where I could pull up on the terminal. It eventually slid off without having to remove the bolt, and it later provided me enough grip on a non-corroded part to remove the bolt. But I wouldn’t have arrived at this conclusion if I hadn’t stepped away. I would have continued to express frustration and feel helpless at my lack of options of accomplishing my goal.

And that’s what this new experience will leave me thinking about: putting kids in interesting scenarios, providing the time and resources to struggle, and also the freedom to step back and re-examine the situation. Sometimes our classrooms are so rushed and we constantly feel the need to cover material instead of ensure deep learning has occurred. Now I’m not saying I am a battery-changing expert, but I know that this experience, like those that we can provide in our classrooms, has left me with additional skills for the next interesting problem that I encounter.

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