On the virtues of 'Geeking Out'

There is great value in focus, in oh-my-gosh-I-can't-believe-it's-already-time-for-dinner moments, in just plain geeking out. I don't mean 'geeking out' in a pejorative way or even in a specific way. I don't limit geeking out to geeky pursuits. I define geeking out as,

Focused and concerted attention to a thing for no particular purpose other than the thing itself.

It's just as easy to geek out over Legos as Lamborghinis. And here's the thing: I believe that geeking out is valuable no matter what you geek out over. The skills, knowledge, and belief system that is developed while geeking out is incredibly valuable.

But it's pretty hard to geek out in school.

Or at least these moments don't often come in the context of academics. Why? Most learning in most schools happens in the context of:

  • Silos of content
  • Delivered by discrete subject area experts
  • During a time-limited class block
  • Bounded by a extrinsically motivated final assessment

There just isn't the time or space for geeking out in class.

Arts, athletics, clubs, and hobbies, are where most of us learn how to geek out. Think about it... these activities are practically the mirror opposite of an academic experience because they require:

  • Mastery of varied types of theoretical and practical content
  • Taught, modeled, and coached by mentors, peers, or even by yourself
  • During open times much less limited by a bell schedule
  • Bounded by highly intrinsic final assessments called games, concerts, or simply showing off what you can do for your friends

What does geeking out look like? In Adam Savage's TED Talk he vividly describes how ideas, research, hands-on building, and obsession led him from a dodo bird skeleton to a (nearly) exact replica of the Maltese Falcon. It would be hard to posit that this experience didn't provide Savage with a deep research-based educational experience.

I believe it's possible to create these kinds of experiences in our schools in the context of academics.

I'm excited to see the Maker Movement take hold in many of the schools I visit. This is one way for us to deepen the academic experience for our students. Sometimes I also get a bemused question from a humanities teacher looking at a 3D Printer, "Am I supposed to take my English students to shop class?"

Maybe. But probably not.

In a future blog post I'm going to talk more about maker labs and the promise and pitfalls thereof. For now I'd like to pose two questions:

When was the last time you personally geeked out over something? What was it?

Do you think we could provide more opportunities for our students to geek out? Why or why not?

Let me know what you think in the comments!