A teachable moment can be thought of as a quick moment in time when a student’s interest in a specific subject is at its highest, usually because of a conversation or immersion in a situation that brings on curiosity. Who knows when one might occur in your classroom? I was first introduced to the idea of teachable moments in 1952 by Robert Havighurt in his book, Human Development and Education, where he wrote that, “When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.’”
I like teachable moments. I remember when teachable moments forever changed my teaching career. It was when a fifth grader’s question really catapulted me into teaching science. It was because of his question that I changed my teaching schedule and started each teaching day with 45 to 60 minutes of science. The question was about the mechanical advantage of a pulley system. My student had been able to lift his brother with one hand while he sat on a hay bale attached to a series of pulleys which were anchored to barn rafters. He came to school and wanted to know why. I told him that he could calculate the reason for him being able to lift his brother by finding out what is called the “mechanical advantage” of the pulley system. He had to count the number of rope sections that supported his brother and divide it by the mass of his brother combined with the mass of the hay bale and that would be the mass of the object he was lifting with the mechanical advantage. He was so fascinated that he asked if we could do similar investigations at school, so we did!
That teachable moment happened the very first semester during my first year of teaching. Soon after that, I went to my first AIMS Professional Learning workshop and was introduced to the math and science tasks and investigations written at AIMS. I immediately began using them in my science and math classroom. I saw a difference with my students, and they loved the hands-on tasks, were engaged in their learning, and continually asked for more “AIMS.” The curiosity of that one student did more for me as a teacher than he could have ever imagined. I recommend doing the AIMS investigation Pulley Power to investigate pulleys so students will understand how they work. Don’t let teachable moments initiated by a student’s question go unnoticed, and let me know how those questions have impacted your career.