Does That Make Sense?
“Wind” by Stephen N. Meyer
“How does wind work?”
The question surprises me. I’m hardly a physicist, naturalist, or scientist of any sort, yet I know, basically, how and why wind happens. My mind warps around the issue, delving into the basic nature of the problem, and then, as suddenly as it began, everything comes to a crashing halt.
How do I explain that to a 5 year old?
“Well,” I begin as the cogs turn behind the scenes, “Have you ever seen a bucket full of water?”
“What keeps the water in the bucket?” I see the look of confusion as the question sits there.
“Exactly! The sides of the bucket!” I know it’s not exactly the answer she gave me, but treating it as such gives her a sense of accomplishment and the correct answer in one fell swoop. “And what happens when you tip the bucket over?”
“The water all pours out!”
“Right! When the water is in the bucket, the walls of bucket push the water in. And when one of the sides of bucket goes away, the water all rushes in that direction.” The kids are all smiling. It seems they can picture it perfectly. “So air is like water, and depending on whether that air is hot or cold, it creates walls between different sections of air. When one of those walls begins to move, all the air rushes in one direction, creating wind.”
“Oh!” she says, as if it were a eureka moment of her own.
“Does that make sense?” I ask.
“Uh huh,” she replies with a grin.
Clarity is often the biggest issue in language. I say one thing, imply another, and a third is understood with no intent on my end. A well-meant joke can come across as a snide insult and a explanatory metaphor can obfuscate the exact point it attempts to teach.
With kids, it’s so much worse (or better, in the case of double entendres and the like).
As I find myself learning how to teach core concepts of skiing in different ways, I also find myself asking the kids if my teaching makes sense. If it makes sense, the data is quickly applied and turned into action. Given the adaptability and porous nature of kids, it’s a marvel to see.
If, however, I screw up and speak verbosely or use metaphors or games that don’t translate well, it’s aggravating for both me and for my students.Last year, during one lesson, I had a student tell me that I had to talk down to him more cause he couldn’t understand. I was taken aback, but at the same time, I adjusted how I taught to fit him better and saw quick success.
Still, it’s not every day you get a 4 year-old savvy and self-aware enough to tell you that.
The questions roll out of them like crazy:
Why do skis slide?
– A combination of friction heat and pressure creating a slick surface for hydroplaning.
Why does the snow look blue when I take off my goggles?
– Brain correction of light differentials in response to polarized glass.
How come your glasses make the world look funny?
– Curvature of light due to the prescription of the lens.
Why does snow fall from the sky?
-Because water molecules condense until they’re too heavy to float and then freeze into a light crystals due to the temperature as they fall.
Where do babies come from?
-Ask your parents.
Is there really a god?
-Oh shit… don’t answer that.
Of course, all except the last two I’ve explained so many times now that it almost comes naturally. And I’d never be able to say it in the language I used here.
At the end of the day, my words are often garbled, my grammar poor, my vocal pattern shredded by a day of talking like a kid. And yet, for them, my means work.
“What I disliked about my Level One Cert was the way they drove home a common terminology,” I kvetch to Jenn. “You can’t say pizza. You’ve got to say wedge. You can’t say go across the mountain. You’ve got to say traverse. I want to use the words that get that message across, not necessarily the technical terms that confuse people and that I have to define over and over.”
“Forget that stuff,” Jenn replies. “This is the Children’s Specialist. We don’t care what words you use. If pizza or snow plow works, use it.”
“Then why do they spend so much time getting us to speak a certain way?”
She arches an eyebrow as she glances back at me.
“When we’re doing clinics or tests, we only have so much time. An hour here. A couple there. We need a common terminology so we can communicate in the most effective manner possible. In our classes, and especially with kids, we have to use every tool available to us.”
I smile, my biggest complaint about the machine that is PSIA and AASI suddenly alleviated.
“I take it that makes sense,” she says, smiling back.
“Yeah,” I reply, “it makes perfect sense.”