Sunday, 23 August 2015

Education/Astronaut Analogy 47B

This post is mainly sort of a reminder to my future self, an idea to develop, but I welcome additional input too. I spend a lot of time thinking about teaching, and a lot of time thinking about space stuff, so it's inevitable that I'll mix them up from time to time. Timmy is bound to get back from geosynchronous orbit sooner or later.

Basically, it's an analogy, and I've spent perhaps too much time trying to make it work, when it really doesn't stretch that far. But, as with any analogy, it works fine within the limits of what it is supposed to cover, so long as you know where those limits are and why they won't stretch further. You, analogy. That thing.

It goes like this: Basic education (what the Americans call K-12) is like NASA's human space program of the 1960s. It starts off with Mercury, barely leaving the planet at all and achieving very little, apart from figuring out that it can be done at all and identifying who's going to have serious problems and who's going to fit right in. That's like early primary school. Then you get late primary school and early high school, which is like Gemini. You're now trying to achieve specific goals, not for their own sake, but as stepping stones to later, real goals. You're mainly trying to learn the skills you'll need for later, including how to work together with others. Then late high school is like Apollo, with emphasis on a single, clear end goal: Landing on the Moon and/or passing the final exams.

I've made the analogy more specific for my grade 12s, linking their June exams with Apollo 9 (a chance to see how they'd cope with all the necessary elements of the final exam, but in a safer, more familiar context), the prelims with Apollo 10 (a full-scale dress rehearsal of nearly every aspect of the final goal), and final exams as Apollo 11 (the big thing).

And then, just like post-Apollo NASA, you face the uncertainty of what to do next. Do you build sensible space stations? Move to Mars? Figure out how to work internationally with other programs? Abandon space and stay home with your parents for another century? It's a great luxury to have a choice like that, and also terrifying.