Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. -Yeats

The Engineering of a Metaphor

Creating a Culture of Thinking

in the Late Elementary Classroom

The connection between civil rights and racism is an easy one to draw. The water pump is a great vehicle for thinking about engineering and science. So, from an educational standpoint, the task looks pretty simple. We have two great subjects to study, History and Engineering. Spend some time on one subject and some on the other.


That would be easy if all we were studying was water pumps and racism, but we aren’t! We’re also creating a Culture of Thinking. So, how do we think about each of them, and do they relate to each other?


Well, the Voyagers certainly see a connection. After going on a field trip to watch the movie “Hidden Figures,” they had lots of questions about the prejudice portrayed in the movie. As they analyzed the role that various characters played in telling the story, they recognized that prejudice is not just one thing. Could we discover the internal workings upon which it relies? It seems to work very differently, depending upon the perspectives of different people. In other words... has lots of moving parts.


While attending the memorial service of their teacher’s mother, they heard him talk about a song they have often sung at school, called “Desert Pete.” In particular the chorus, which tells how, in order to get water out of an old pump, you will likely need to “prime that pump.” Apparently, an old thought in a new context had created new connections, because upon one young Voyager's return to class, she remarked that she “understand[s] the song so much better now.” And thus, began a discussion of water pumps.

Could we build a water pump?

Could we understand its parts?

Could we understand the principles upon which it works?

Yes, we could! And it turns out... has lots of moving parts.


Now, since Voyagers recognize that making connections is a critical part of thinking and learning, they determined to ask, “How is a water pump like racism? Or, better yet, fighting racism?” And we exploded with ideas. The well from which the pump draws is: “Filled with love… No, it’s equality… No, justice…” “Well, I know for sure that what comes out of the spout is: Justice… No, fairness… I think it’s change.” “The check valve at the bottom has to be opened with understanding to let the “water” in from the well, but it must be closed like determination so that the “water” doesn’t leak back down.” What is the pump handle of fighting racism? What is the body of the pump? “I know! The body of the pump is courage. That’s what holds it all together!” And on it went. These analogies became so interesting that they decided to say what else a pump was like: friendship, thinking, learning, soccer and more.


Yes, indeed, a Culture of Thinking has many parts. But what we know for sure is that they are all connected -- each one shaping the others. And when students are given the chance to make these connections, education is more exciting, more meaningful, and more memorable.


But with all of this going on, what are we studying? Racism? Water pumps? Prejudice? Valves? Justice? Wells? Fear? Otherness? Or, really, is'nt it...



Sample Plan for the Day:


Arrival and Visiting

Sharing & Class Reading

Group Discussion of Project Work

Snack and Break,

Hands on Project Work


Clean Up

Intra-personal Time

Group Rotations of

Silent Reading, Math, Writers' Workshop