Hands down the most entertaining session I attended during NECC ’09 was the “Shattering Expectations and Inspiring Adventure in the Classroom,” sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, which ended with two teachers and Eric Close, who plays an FBI agent on CBS’s Without a Trace, being tied together, blindfolded, and made to crawl across a ladder simulating a mountain crevasse, their only guidance being a member of the audience who could direct them with vocal commands.
Beyond the entertainment value of watching that spectacle, the session aimed to simulate the strategies and tools that mountain climber Erik Weihenmeyer, who was the first blind person to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, employs to accomplish seemingly impossible goals and explore how the techniques he uses can be applied to the classroom.
“The mind works by being motivated by a sense of discovery,” said Weinhenmeyer, also a former 5th grade teacher, when explaining what drove him to scale cliff faces and frozen waterfalls and learn how to paraglide, despite warnings that it could not be done by a blind person. But in order to accomplish those goals, Weinhenmeyer had to cultivate a number of tools to help him compensate for his lack of sight, just as teachers have to learn about and rely on tools to help enhance their lessons.
In addition, Weinhenmeyer attributes part of his success to the strong team of people he surrounds himself with. In mountain climbing, said Weinhenmeyer, all members of the climbing team are physically linked together, so that if one person slips, the rest of the team is responsible for stopping him or her from getting hurt. Similarly, in education, teachers are linked to students, other teachers, and parents, said Weinhenmeyer. “We’re able to link together behind one vision,” he said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.