Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Teachable Moment



I suppose it was fortunate that I was teaching aeronautics to middle school kids when a teachable moment arrived with the quick thinking and heroic actions of a veteran pilot. New Yorkers have been in the midst of a funk about the collapse of the financial industry and the tales of scurrilous advisers who sank their portfolios, so it was good that they could rejoice in a momentary miracle. Captain Sullenberg's great skill and experience along with fate allowed him to ditch his airplane in the Hudson River. As it happened, two ferries, engines running and ready to go, plucked the 155 survivors off the wings of that sinking airplane, and the captain, checking the aisles one last time was the last to leave the ship.

We all need teachable moments. My students, needing a way to understand how valuable their skills could be in a time of crisis, saw how good judgment and experience could avert a terrible disaster. Flying a plane is challenging and you may only have a short time to react when your engines ingest multiple geese and all power is lost. Reason must triumph over fear if lives are to be saved.

Jonah Lehrer published an excellent article in the Los Angeles Times in which he talks about a pilot’s, "deliberate calm," a phrase he equates with metacognition. Teachers learn this concept in their training as showing students how to be self reflective. Mr. Lehrer suggests that, "the crucial variable is the ability to balance visceral emotions against a more rational and deliberate thought process."

Link to Jonah Lehrer Blog

We have to engage our students and put them in the moment when they have to make quick decisions based upon training and skill and show them how to triumph over fear. The simulators in my classroom are one good teaching tool but every teacher can take this moment and find a way to motivate students to call upon the, "better angels of our nature."

I'm planning a mission for my students where I put them at 3000 feet over Santa Monica Bay and turn off the engines in their Cessna 172 simulators. They will need to calculate their rate of vertical descent and come in for a glider landing at the nearest regional airport.

Aeronautics Class

We may never be tested like Captain Sullenberger but that doesn't mean we can't emulate his, "deliberate calm," and act like real pilots.

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