‘Point Break’ Common Core

By Walt Williams

[caption id="attachment_2842" align="alignleft" width="150"] Walt Williams[/caption]

Tuck, my 12 year old, comes to the breakfast table, looks over my shoulder and asks, “Why are you making a bubble map dad? We have to do those in history.”

“Yeah, but look at my subject,” I say, explaining how I can teach physics through skydiving and surfing, history through the work of presidents Reagan, Nixon, Johnson and Carter, biology through carnuba wax, crystal meth, knee injuries and blood loss, and English by rewriting a classic 1991 surf movie script.

My writing prompt: “Originally Charlie Sheen and Johnny Depp were up for the role in Point Break played by Keanu Reeves. How would the film have changed? Rewrite the final scene where Keanu jumps out of the plane without a parachute.”

In math, my students calculate the cost of making a Hollywood movie, learning about funding sources, budgets and what a chief financial officer is. Gross earnings comparative economics, and the mathematics of travelling waves are all taught by connecting curricular concepts to the movie.

Lori Petty’s character leads to a lesson on how females are portrayed in movies. Bodie, played by Patrick Swayze, opens up discussions about Buddhism, religious studies and pancreatic cancer. Anthony Kiedis, who is the lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, leads to a project called “tour bus” where students follow their favorite band on tour, calculating costs, writing about experiences, learning about cities and states.

Surfing leads to waves which leads to frequency dispersion which leads to more discovery which leads to more inquiry which leads to the goal of the common core standards and teaching in general: students excelling because they’re motivated (I just made that up but it sounds good).

My son is intrigued as to how I can take my favorite movie and work it into a three-week curriculum. I explain that teachers are now leaders not lecturers. We are resource providers (awesome 1991 surf movie), curriculum specialists (how components link together: parachuting = motion = Newton’s Laws) and learning facilitators (how is learning relevant? What happens when you jump out of a plane? Search: “Mythbusters, Point Break” for a scientific model).

Our job as educators is now to anticipate responses, monitor student work, select work for discussion, sequence student responses and connect the information with curricular concepts.

We no longer give information to have it regurgitated on standardized tests. We plant seeds and let the students grow the crops. Finally the pendulum of education has swung back to inquiry learning where it should be.

My son is intrigued as he finishes his egg sandwich and we head out the door.

“Cool dad, I’m gonna tell my teachers that you say we should be watching surf movies all day,” he said.

“No, that brings it back to the bubble map, see, it’s all connected, the movie is only the beginning, it’s the candy that gets students interested, the meat is discovering how the issues connect to learning. That’s my job,” I answer.

Common Core means a whole lot more than engaging curriculum. We are now teaching students to think deeper, to analyze, to synthesize and to revise their work. It’s tough, as many students want to just get the answers; now they have to explain why they got the answer and how they can connect the answer to other problems.

We are trying to level the playing field with other states and countries because California education, and education in general, needs attention. Common Core won’t solve the problem but it is a start – and one that most teachers are happy with.

Hopefully the changes will lead to discussions about how problems in education are also linked together. Higher student expectations mean higher teacher expectations mean higher societal expectations for learning.

A smarter society is a better society because smart people are more productive, lead healthier lives and make better decisions. Connect, apply and learn.

“Nice dad,” said Tuck, “I think you just like watching surf movies in your class.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” I answer.

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  Walt Williams is in his 19th year of teaching, currently at Creekside High School in Sonoma.