Friday, October 10, 2014

Poetry Friday -- The Stars

Flickr Creative Commons photo by JosMetadi

When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer
by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

We are learning about the Solar System in science, and while the facts about the planets are intriguing, it's the students' questions and wonderings that are the most compelling. (How I wish we could have had a sleepover at school this week so that we all could have watched the lunar eclipse together!) They are grappling (and rightly so) with the sheer vastness of our galaxy...and the universe, and with the ways scientists can know distances between or temperatures on the sun and the planets. We watched this video of a hexagonal hurricane on Saturn and they were fascinated by the way the scientists replicated the storm in the lab. The idea that scientists build models to explain and understand the world is new to them.

I need to write about our Genius Hour at some point. What I'm aiming for, but not achieving (YET) is for the work they do each Friday afternoon to come from their own curiosity and desire to explore. I'm beginning to understand, at the ground level, the data that shows that school dampens a child's natural curiosity. What I'm hoping to see, over the course of this year, is that it can be reignited, with time and scaffolding.

I'm hoping for students who would rather slip out of my classroom and look up "in perfect silence at the stars."

In a change of venues, Tricia has the Poetry Friday Roundup today at The Miss Rumphius Effect.


  1. I had never heard this Whitman poem before, but it so paralleled my college experience. Loving the stars and sky I signed up for Astronomy. It seemed it would be so wonderful to learn about the stars and space! Huge disappointment. There was no wonder there at all - only numbers and circles drawn with chalk on a string. We never looked at the sky. I took the course, but had to frequently look up at the night sky to get my wonder back.

  2. I like that Whitman wrote of wandering off by himself to look. Perfect example of 'wonder'. Since my school has each student studying their choice topic, I understand your students' excitement about their own explorations. Will look for more from you about this, Mary Lee.

  3. I got teary reading this post, about all you hope to accomplish with your fortunate students. I love that Whitman poem, and also love learn'd astronomers, and I know you do, too, and real children. My brother-in-law has few precious memories of school all these decades later, but one of them is from high school, when a teacher took them out at night and said, "Just be quiet and look." He became an artist. You are among those such happily remembered, life-changing people.

  4. Anonymous10:01 AM

    Happy stargazing. Happy discovering. Happy Friday!

  5. Lucky students! So lucky to have you.

  6. Lucky students to have you as their guide. So much truth in Whitman's words.

  7. What a wonderful idea; genius hour ignited by children's curiosity. We should all be grappling with the sheer vastness of our galaxy. In perfect silence at the stars. Yes.

  8. Whitman brings it back to the base level of curiosity - "perfect silence of the stars". What you are doing with your Genius Hour is so important. = )

  9. I wish you unabated, "wonder" full success in igniting your students' curiosity. If anyone can do it, you can Mary Lee.

  10. Oh boy. The Genius Hour. Right now, in kindergarten, before it's all dampened. Why am I insisting that they build the farm the way it looked on our trip on Thursday? Why can't they build something genius with pigs and horses on the highest allowable level (up to your bellybutton)?

    And what would I do without you?

  11. I love this! After a week of grading interims (designed to be as "rigorous" as park), I really needed to read this.

  12. Thank you all for your affirmations. This community means more to me than you can ever imagine.

  13. Anonymous10:49 AM

    I'm with Whitman! Often "The perfect silence of the stars" is preferable to all our other options. The rest of your post makes me long to be back in the classroom. I would have loved having a Genius Hour. Thanks for sharing, Mary Lee!

  14. You're definitely on the right track, Mary! Some of my happiest memories of elementary school are of the nature hikes we went on. Our teacher could identify birds and flowers, and instilled in me the desire to do the same. (Of course it didn't hurt that wiener roasts and marshmallows were also part of the experience!) I see that so many of my current nature loves began way back then.

  15. The perfect silence. How do we find it for ourselves? How do we help learners experience that silence? That wonder? How do we help them bridge the gap between the beauty of the charts and the beauty of the stars? Thanks for getting me thinking, Mary Lee.


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