On Intestinal Fortitude: A Parent’s Story of an Acton Exhibition

Sharing stories is the fastest road to understanding, growth and connection. With that in mind, I interject my series of Essential Elements with a story.

Yesterday, after reading my post about our Exhibitions of Learning, a dear friend and fellow Acton mom, Kimberly, emailed me with a story that illuminates the experience from a parent’s perspective. (It also shows that Acton is not for everyone!)

In gratitude, I share her words here: 

Do you remember in the elementary school when the Eagles entered the Popsicle Stick Bridge Building Competition that was also open to other Austin schools?  

I was heading over to watch and one of my work colleagues said to me, “I’m sure that the Acton Eagles will win because they’re so awesome!”  

I said, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll lose, because our bridges were made by the students, and the other bridges will be made by the parents.”

 I hadn’t seen Ian and his team’s bridge until we got there and they were walking to the front of the room for the competition.  I thought “Oh no! The bridge isn’t reinforced in torsion.  It’s going to snap like a twig.”  

And then, as soon as the official put weight on it, the bridge snapped like a twig, and the official explained the concept of torsion.

 One of the moms (who has long since left Acton) of the Acton Eagles on Ian’s team was mad and embarrassed. She thought Acton hadn’t set the students up for success.  I said I wished the bridge had done better, but that it was fine, because I thought Ian had really learned a lot about engineering and physics, and they had a lot of fun building it together.  We had great conversations about it over dinner. The mom told me that Ian obviously hadn’t learned a lot, because the bridge didn’t win (ouch!).

 The second part of the competition was the interview, where the officials asked the students questions about physics.  Ian and team (including her daughter) won.

 Was the objective to have the best parent-built popsicle stick bridge? If the objective was to win the Austin-wide contest, then I should hop in with my engineering degrees and make my Eagle’s bridge for him, or at least heavily steer the conversation about the build.  

If the objective is to learn about physics and engineering and create a love of science and experimentation, then my input is not at all needed.  In fact, my input is a potential detractor – adult helpers have a way of draining away the fun. 

And, if you have fun in the process, maybe you’ll be more interested in engineering and physics in the future. 

However, it still does take a bit of intestinal fortitude to stand there and watch the bridge snap.

Kimberly’s story is the perfect segue to tomorrow’s final essential element: the role of adults in a learner driven community. Stay tuned!