Engaging the Male Learner

Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and River Monsters: Catalyst and Crucible to Engaging the Male Learner

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” —Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5

At a recent family occasion, the always popular debate on the existence of Bigfoot arose. This is usually accompanied by similar testaments regarding the likelihood of the Loch Ness Monster, Ogopogo, the Yeti, ghosts, and of course, aliens. As a family, we have a lot of fun with this stuff relaying stories, and things we have seen in the media, all for a good laugh. However, the field of Cryptozoology, the study or pursuit of animals whose existence has not yet been proven, is a fascination for many. My students will often voice concerns that everything has been invented and discovered.

I often respond in kind with a shocked and engaging tone, relaying the fact that all of space is awaiting humanity and that according to a 2011 article in National Geographic, “Humans have yet to discover an astounding 86% of species on land and 91% in the oceans of the planet!” The Adventurer suggested that 70% of Earth is unexplored. If there was ever room for Bigfoot or Loch Ness, there it is. I truly enjoy watching young minds race when these staggering facts are placed before them. One of the greatest aspects in teaching Science at the elementary level is the omnipresence of enthusiasm, wonder, and a sense that there is still much ‘magic” left in the world.

Engaging Students in Limitless Scientific Concepts outside the Classroom

These preoccupations with the world of the fantastic are both the catalyst and the crucible to engaging the male learner. The first unit of the Science curriculum in both the fifth and sixth grades deals with the subjects of the environment and classification. Students learn the gambit of knowledge from ecosystems to food webs, and the work of 1750’s Swedish botanist Carl von Linné (who is known by the Latin form of his name, Linnaeus). These concepts must not sadly be relegated to the textbook alone. Teachers must engage students’ minds in the laboratories of the outdoors.

Regardless of location, students and teachers can brainstorm places for these studies to commence. A favourite locale of mine has always been the Don Valley Brick Works, in Toronto. Aside from having been one of the very first ever education guides from the Todmorden Mills Museum, to conduct tours there, whilst in university; the following beguiling facts make it a winner: the appearance of fossils from pre-historic Lake Iroquois’s lake bed, the terra-formed open mine now crafted into ponds and vegetation, the evidence that two ice ages occurred on the quarry rock face, and the industrial effect on the environment, brings so much more depth to the delivery of Science. Boys revel in the excitement of discovery and the tactile environments, which reinforce the text, but allow for deeper connections to take place. As much as fact is the prevailing umbrella of learning, its true support lies in the desire and imagination of its pupils, both young and old.

Nurturing and Engaging Students’ Imaginations and Interests through Programming

While there is certainly a great deal of utter garbage on television and YouTube, my students will often inform me of the truly worthy programs that spark their sense of phenomenon. In keeping with our units on biodiversity and environment, one show has arisen repeatedly as being highly recommended by them: River Monsters. For the unfamiliar, rugged biologist Jeremy Wade travels the world for Discovery Channel looking for fish that have traversed into the realm of legend, or even having been declared extinct. A recent episode had him going after a Mongolian Taimen, a fish he had dreamt about catching even as a boy and, according to him, was a part of Chinese lore. There is an explicit link here to engaging a young male mind and inspiring him to keep that youthful sense of the unreal alive, but maturing into a serious career such as a biologist.

The following is quote from the episode guide, “Jeremy Wade returns to Australia’s croc-infested Fitzroy River for one of his toughest quests yet—to catch one of the world’s rarest fish. This shark is so elusive it was only discovered ten years ago, and so rare only a handful of people have ever seen it. Almost nothing is known about this endangered beast. Could it be a man-eater?”

What young man wouldn’t be attracted to a spectacle like that? These are the type of resources that should be a part of the students’ experience. A multi-layered and experiential approach to learning is required. While students will shriek and cheer for Wade’s struggles, they will want to have a sense of it as well; a reason why a part of our program at Northmount is to take the boys fishing.

How to Engage Students Scientific Minds through the summer

Parents will lament that the summer recess is a brain drain of sorts, and to an extent, the critique has some merit. However, the season is an excellent time for getting out into the world with your children and discovering some of its hidden treasurers.

As an advocate of camping, I would encourage families to discover the night sky, look into the camp fire just as our ancestors did for thousands of years, try fishing and finding your own river monsters, or even listening for the elusive Bigfoot while roasting marshmallows. As a father-to-be, I am most grateful for the fact that so much geography is undiscovered, that animals and beings of an enchanted nature might still be out there, and that my boyish enthusiasm for the impossible and the improbable have reconciled themselves with the rational adult attributes of wisdom and knowledge, and not been swept under the rug of history by some misguided notion requiring me to be a starchy pillar of maturity.

I too, want to be around a camp fire with my wife and children, relaying to them the ghost stories of old Europe and the chance that monster Bigfoot is still alive in the uncharted virgin forests of North America. However, there is another part of me that wishes once and for all to silence the critics of Cryptozoology, with an announcement that might begin with, “This is CNN breaking news……” Imagine that!

About the Author: Manfred J. von Vulte is the Deputy Headmaster of Northmount Independent Boys Catholic Elementary School in Toronto. He is the published author of two books (history and children's) and numerous articles in various publications. His interests include writing about education as it pertains to students, family life, and improving their experience with learning. He has been teaching for 17 years and resides in Toronto. He is a graduate of Francis Libermann Catholic High and York University. Visit his website at www.northmount.com.

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