Connecting edTech to Chris Hadfield's Missions

As we prepare for Colonel Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut’s, highly anticipated keynote at Connect Niagara, I thought I would share some of his more salient points and how they apply to edTech. At first, I struggled to see the connection between this highly successful human being and what I do in the classroom. However, while reading Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, his stories started to emerge as a manual for teaching, learning and living. Bonuses to this book are his depictions of space travel with some breathtaking and cinematic encounters. It's hard to believe that a man who has spent most of his career using the left hemisphere of his brain is equally brilliant with his right. His poetic descriptions of the awesome and feral nature of space show us that visualization—in creative and logistical applications—can be a powerful and effective teacher. 

Read “An Astronaut’s Guide to Implementing EdTech”

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    Chris’ advice concerning the adage of visualization is useful for those of us in education. Most educators already know that preparation is integral to our success in both our short and long game. Even with the most diligent preparation and brilliant ideas, our lessons can sometimes  come crashing down to earth in a fiery ball of incompetence.  Commander Hadfield gracefully points out that some of these failures lie in our misconception of preparedness. He argues that most self-help gurus, coaches, and even teachers are guilty of advocating visualization as the key to being prepared. Most people, he argues, see themselves successfully completing a task in the future and then stop there. Chris warns that visualizing ourselves (or our students) doing an activity or completing a goal is not enough. Visualization is important, but we need to follow that up with a helping of old-fashioned hard work.  Some people waste a lot of time fretting over all the things that could go wrong without acting upon it. Chris walks us through a team of astronauts that not only spend months seeing themselves meeting their goal but also tracing their steps backward through the process and methodically preparing themselves. 

    Chris’ über preparedness is also made very real in how he discusses a brush with failure that almost ended his career. For our benefit, Chris rehashes a painful story of how he almost failed a critical instrument exam flight as he was constantly “behind the plane”. He knew his chances of becoming an astronaut before that flight were slim but if he had failed it —or given a re-ride as he puts it — they could quickly become zero. This very candid story may come as a surprise to readers as they try to wrap their heads around how an elite astronaut almost botched his own career. The commander explains that he had grown very use to success and admits that “academic failure was new to him”. For some of us teachers, this may sound similar to Carol Dweck’s growth and fixed mindsets and the danger of labeling students as smart or gifted.  For Chris, luckily, the in-flight test adjudicator gave him a pass and chalked it up to a bad day but he never forgave himself for it. From that day on, Chris learned that it’s not enough to rely on your past successes and visualize things going well for you. He prepared for the subsequent tests by actually sitting in the cockpit of the plane  and went through the motions in explicit detail, flicking the switches and working through the steps as if he were actually flying. 

    I’m sure some of us while teaching a class have felt very much “behind the plane” at times. Introducing a new set of manipulatives  in a math unit or a science lab that involves many steps with the added challenge of classroom management and technology that is not cooperating might leave us a bit winded.  Although our careers might not necessarily be dangling on a thread like Chris’ was--there is still some value for us to sweat the small things and change our practices to ensure our lessons run smoothly. The hard work is actually getting in the cockpit before that tricky flight and testing things out. Admittedly, I rarely rehearse lessons in full dress before I start. There are times, however, when I felt that my students might have benefitted more had I worked through the problem with the technology all by myself before inviting 30 little co-pilots to sit next to me. 

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