THE GUNPOWDER CHRONICLES, Part 4: “Are You Listening?”

turtle 2-1This is the 4th in a series about our partnership with the Chula Vista Nature Center at Gunpowder Point. These posts will document our progress as we move our middle school science program off campus– to a satellite classroom called the San Diego Bay!



Kids don’t listen.  That is my big learning for the week.

Maybe I ‘ve always known that kids don’t listen.

But this past Thursday morning, eight 7th graders from our Nature Center program met at the Chula Vista Boat Ramp and proved it.  They could not have picked a more beautiful morning to kayak.  The sun was fully above the San Miguel mountain by 8:00am when we met Harry the Kayak Guy. The marina was perfectly still. Tranquil. There were the typical cast of sea-birds calling, the lappingof the water, a distant horn… but otherwise all was serene.

Harry the Kayak Guy had finished the routine pre-boarding instructions:  how to hold the paddles properly and how to fit their life preserver and how to get back on the kayak if they fall off and which direction is North and which fish they’ll see jumping out of the water and the many different theories for why they jump out of the water…

Then he veered from the script.  

“There are two rivers that flow into the San Diego Bay… the Otay River from the south and the Sweetwater River from the north.  Can you say those rivers?”

To which our eight 7th grade students responded with a unanimous and puzzling silence.  So he prompted them a little.

“Can you say the two rivers… that flow into the San Diego Bay… that I just mentioned…?”

artAnd one student tugged at his tennis shoe while two girls continued their conversation and a third girl looked out toward the San Miguel Mountain with her eyes fixed on absolutely nothing and two boys pretended to swat each other with their paddles and one child appeared to absolutely strain to come up with a respectable answer for Harry the Kayak Guy.

“The…  two rivers…” he started to say…

Then I interrupted.

“Alright, eyes on Harry the Kayak Guy. He just asked you a question…  can anybody even tell me what that question was?”

And having struck out on the two river question, our eight 7th grade students now looked me straight in the eyes and sheepishly admitted with their blank expressions that they not only did not know the name of the rivers that he just told them about but they hadn’t listened to his question either!

I was surprised and I was not surprised at all.  

Our kids don’t listen.

But neither do the adults.

42-17772388After all, wasn’t it just this past month that we all witnessed full-grown Americans yelling at each other and threatening and pointing fingers and waving guns and shouting with spit flying and jugglars bulging? Their anger and incivility prevented all meaningful discourse.  

If our children need models for how not to listen they only have to look at the adults at Town Hall Meetings!  

Fortunately, our students were not likely paying that much attention to the Town Hall Meetings on Health Care.  

So I realized in that moment at the boat ramp what I have known for a very long time but never put into words…

We teach children to READ and encourage them to read because it is a life skill that will determine their success at every level… and besides… it is tested!

We teach children to WRITE and encourage them to write because it is a life skill that will determine their success at every level… and besides… it is tested!

We teach children to solve problems and encourage them to solve problems because PROBLEM SOLVING is a life skill that will determine their success at every level… and besides… it is tested!

And even though LISTENING  is a life skill that will determine our  students’ success at every level and it is one of the 4 main components of the California Standards for Language Arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening!) … I wonder if we don’t teach it because it is not tested!!!

Are YOU listening?

listen to us

So teach students to listen:

• To LISTEN with their face and shoulders– sit up straight and face the speaker…

• To LISTEN with their eyes– look at the person speaking to you…

• To LISTEN with their mouthes closed– you can’t talk and listen at the same time…

• To LISTEN with their minds open– focussed, engaged, attentive, active listening…

• To LISTEN as if to understand– like you just asked for directions to a place you really want to go…

• To LISTEN with both ears.

Listen as if your future depends on it.  Because it does.  

Maybe naming the two rivers that flow into the San Diego Bay will not be necessary to kayak on the water today.  Maybe knowing their watershed trivia won’t determine whether our students can compete in AP classes in high school or get into USC or run a business or participate in such democratic processes as… say…. Town Hall Meetings.

But being able to LISTEN when someone is speaking most certainly will.  Whether it is LISTENING to acquire facts or trivia or information or curriculum content or important dates or directions or another person’s opposing point of view… the ability to LISTEN is no less important than the ability to read and write!

So we headed out on this warm Thursday morning– Harry the Kayak Guy, Conchita and me, and eight 7th graders determined to work as hard today on their listening skills as their paddling skills. And we started something new.  With all of the distractions of being out on the glorious open space of the San Diego Bay… with the sun and water as warm as a swimming pool… with the fish jumping and the hazy skyline in the distance and the temptation to splash water on your classmates while Harry the Kayak Guy is speaking… we know we have to give our students a chance to practice attentive listening.

So now we have “Kayak Meetings.”  Whenever Harry the Kayak Guy is ready to instruct the students about the geography or ecosystems of the Bay, we ask that they circle up together and hang on to the kayak next to you.  There we sit out on the Bay, in science class, rocking with the waves and working to get better at LISTENING.

kayak meeting


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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, public education, standardized testing, teaching

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