One sunny April morning my boys and I, along with eight strangers, climbed aboard an inflatable raft on the windward coast of Oahu. It was a Zodiac – the sturdy rubber raft that was birthed after the sinking of the Titanic and eventually became popular with the military.
We had been living in Hawaii for two years, but this was the first time we’d gone whale watching. We skimmed along in the boat, fingers dangling in the salty spray, catching sight of various creatures – a group of bottlenose dolphins frolicking in the distance, a huge sea turtle passing by underneath. My autistic twelve-year-old son watched intently. Chad had been swimming since he was six months old and was more comfortable in the water than he was on land. The ocean is a safer place for a boy who doesn’t quite know how to interact with the people around him.
Finally it happened. About twenty feet from the raft a small black mountain started to rise up out of the water. As a misty explosion burst from the whale’s blowhole, Chad turned to me, eyes wide, and whispered, “Mom, what is that?” The boy who’d lived in the sea, who was comfortable with an occasional fish flitting by his feet, stayed out of the water for the next few months. His world had expanded on the lifeboat that April morning. He had his “awe” moment – the one that takes your breath away. The one that is just a little bit terrifying. The one that hints at the unfathomable nature of God.
In late April 2015, I started Geometry class with this story. We had been working diligently all year – through fifteen chapters of “Seeing, Doing, Understanding” with Harold Jacobs. It is a discovery approach and a rigorous path. We had laid a solid foundation of Euclidean Geometry, and most of the students were standing securely on firm ground. Now it was time for Non-Euclidean Geometry. It would expand their world a little bit. It would take their breath away. For some, it would be a little terrifying. It would also hint at the unfathomable nature of God. Chapter sixteen is my favorite chapter.
After eight months, the students are familiar with my stories. They know my dogs fairly well. After all, they hear them bark every time the Fed Ex man steps on the porch or my eccentric neighbor rolls in the grass outside my office window. They know about my grown children, my husband in Egypt, and my parents who followed me to Tennessee from California. But more importantly, I have heard their stories, too. This morning, before I introduced them to Non-Euclidean Geometry, I led off with the whale story and then put The Three Questions on the board. The Three Questions is a daily thing in our class. The first question is a homework check – did you complete the assignment. The second – something related to the course. When is the GeoGebra project due? The third is the fun question – what is your favorite book? Where is your dream destination? What’s one fun thing on your summer calendar? This particular morning, as we stood at the brink of a comprehension explosion, the question was “Tell us an awe-filled moment you’ve had.” Anyone who’s lived thirteen years or so on planet Earth has had one. As we read the answers together, we grew to know each other a little better.
“The time I stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon.”
“The perfect wave I caught surfing last week.”
“The day I was baptized.”
“The moment I realized my mother wasn’t going to survive her cancer.”
Some people think it’s more difficult to cultivate real relationships via this style of learning. But there truly is an intimacy established by families inviting you into their homes. I may not have been able to reach out and hug my student whose mother had died the previous spring, who, along with her sister, had been my student then as well, but all of us in class could mourn with her as she remembered and shared.
I can occasionally hear parents talking, siblings practicing the piano, dogs whining when a student gets on the microphone to ask or answer a question. The screen of my laptop is my window into their worlds, and every day I get to look through it as we open our hearts and minds together in the pursuit of learning.
These are my awe-filled moments.
Kaye teaches Algebra I, Geometry and Creative Writing Club at VPSA. She graduated from Harding University with a BA in mathematics. She has taught in both the public and private school sectors. She homeschooled her three sons for over 12 years and followed her Army soldier husband all over the globe. She now lives in Cookeville, Tennessee, and spends her free time cooking, reading, hiking, and teaching ladies' Bible classes. She is also finishing up a Master's Degree in English Literature.
If you are interested in learning more about the Algebra I and Geometry courses that Kaye teaches, you can find them HERE. Or if you’d like to view other courses that are offered at VPSA, you can find them HERE in the 2015-16 course listing.