Friday, September 16, 2005

Two paper airplanes

You know the kind, the basic dart-shaped paper airplane fabricated from extra scraps of paper by generations of bored students. One of my classmates in fifth grade flung one of these models during class. As it happened, it was a GATE class (gifted and talented education). I don't know whether schools still devote any time or funding for such classes, but in those days they did, and I'm very glad.

The teacher, to her credit, did not throw a fit or throw the kid out. Bright students bore easily, and when they do, they often find creative ways to express it. The teacher must have known that. She simply chuckled and inquired why he had thrown it, to which he replied that he was studying aerodynamics. For the next unit, in that GATE class, we did study the aerodynamics of paper airplanes, at an advanced elementary-school level. We folded and tested paper airplanes of many sizes, shapes, and descriptions. At the end, we held competitions to see whose plane could fly the farthest and fastest, and whose could do the best stunts. We may not have learned math or English in that class, but we did learn that it's possible to learn in many different ways, and to have fun doing it.

Cut now to college, for the second paper plane. The mechanical and aeronautical engineering shared a department and a computer lab. While visiting the lab one day, I overheard an aeronautical engineering student talking to one of his classmates, as he constructed an elaborate model airplane out of stiff paper.

"I need to look up my eighth grade teacher and send this to her," he said. "I threw a paper airplane in her class, and she got mad at me for it. She hollered, 'Do you think you're going to be doing this sort of thing in college?'

"Yes, Mrs. Peterson," he continued smugly. "Apparently I *am* going to be doing this sort of thing in college."

Teachers, please forgive the outbursts and digressions of your students, now and then. They may be the stuff of genius.


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