Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Slice of Life: Polishing Rocks and Finding a Passion for Learning

     Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers
host the Slice of Life every Tuesday.

Rocks rock!  I remember when I was younger there was a time that I went through a super geology geek phase.  I believe it all started with a field trip to the local geological nirvana.

Cave of the Mounds is a National Natural Landmark and an awesome place to explore as a young nerd.  We spent a lot of time before the trip learning about stalactites (hold on tight to the ceiling) and stalagmites (might reach the top at some point) and other important cave information.  Then, we set off to the caves and took tours and stared in awe at the way nature creates these amazing spaces.

Although I enjoyed the tour and the awesome picnic lunch at Bluemound State Park (complete with the can of soda wrapped in tin foil to keep it cold--a rare treat), my favorite time of the day was the small amount of time we had to explore the gift shop.  This place was FULL of amazing rocks.  They were shiny, polished little pieces of heaven.  I remember buying some Pyrite (Fool's Gold) because I thought it was hilarious that there was a rock that looked so much like gold but had no value.  I also bought an assortment of polished stones.  How could normal, everyday rocks look so beautiful?  How did they do that? Oh, and geodes were so COOL!  

I went home and probably annoyed the heck out of my parents geeking out about rocks and minerals.  I was so excited about how there were such gorgeous rocks out there.  I started watching everywhere I went and picking up rocks that I thought were pretty.  Of course, most rocks were not very different, but I was putting together quite a collection.

Then my parents got me this:

This was one of those presents that you immediately get out of the box to use it.  I think it came with a small bag of rocks to polish.  My parents were excited about the rock tumbler too.  Until we turned it on.  That machine was SOOO LOUD!!!  The rock tumbler was banished to the garage.  No matter, I still could polish the heck out of all the rocks I wanted to shine.  I was over the moon about it.

Once I ran out of my own rocks to polish, my mother took me to visit the coolest store on the planet.  It is a rock store in Madison that still exists today.

This place is the most amazing place.  There are crystals and geodes and agate slices for home decoration.  There are pebbles and stones that have been polished.  There are other rocks waiting to be polished.  And there is apparently a jewelry section.  This makes sense, but I did not notice that as a kid.  I was able to buy rough looking rocks there and take them home to polish in the tumbler.  

The best part of the whole thing was being able to take something that was rough and bring out its potential.  I delighted every time I opened up the tumbler to see a new set of shiny rocks to display.  

As I think back to this phase of my childhood, it is apparent to me how very lucky I was to have teachers who inspired this passion for geology with a field trip and parents who encouraged it.  How much did I learn about rocks and minerals during this time of my life?  Well, being the absolute nerd that I was, I read all about everything that I came across.  I learned about crystal formation and made rock candy, I learned about how different types of rocks form, I learned about fossils, and I learned about caves.  Sure I learned some of it in school, but the depth of my knowledge reached far beyond the scope of what was being taught to my classmates.  This was my very own passion.  The light was lit under me and I was motivated to know everything there was to know about rocks.  

This makes me pause and think about the opportunities I provide my students.  Do they have the opportunity to discover a passion for something and learn about it?  Do my students have families that would support this type of learning? Would they even know how?  

As I think about how to structure my classroom for the fall, I certainly will be thinking about rocks.  How I fell in love with them in elementary school.  How they surprised me with their beauty.  How my passion drove my learning.  If this is not a reason to try to ignite passion and encourage individual inquiry, I don't know what is.  


  1. Haha, I had that EXACT same rock tumbler, and I remember the same feeling of excitement. It even surpassed the excitement of the crystal growing kit (also very cool.) Isn't it interesting how kids seem to go through similar phases of interests, even in different generations? My fourth graders today are just as obsessed with rocks...

  2. I always wanted a rock tumbler. And I still love rocks. We even mailed some rocks back from Alaska when we moved back because there wasn't room in the car. We went looking for Petoskey stones this summer on vacation. I am still a geek. :-)

  3. I love how your reflecting on your passion for rocks turned to wondering about your students' passions-how to support natural inquiry... Look up Genius Hour! There's a movement on supporting this! Also, have a wonder wall! Follow Wonderopolis.org and think about the wonder of the day!

    1. Yes, I actually am planning to incorporate the Genius Hour idea into my classroom this year. I like the idea of the wonder wall. I had my students explore Wonderopolis last year but didn't do a daily thing with it.