The Best Way to Make Scientists

By Mike Turnlund

I recently retired after teaching for many years at Clark Fork Jr/Sr High School in Clark Fork, which has a population of 536. During my time as a teacher, I learned that students have different reasons for being in school. Most just want to get through the system, graduate with a diploma, and move on—some directly into the workforce, others into the military, and still others on to some form of post-secondary education, such as college or an apprenticeship program. High school is a means to an end.

But for a few students, school is not simply a road that leads to some yet-distant destination, it is the destination. School is a place to not only learn but to explore. Potentially, it is, to use a well-worn phrase, a place to blaze one’s own trail. These students see learning as an adventure.  These self-actualized young people always prove to be exceptional learners.

I taught a variety of subjects, but my favorite was US history. I was fortunate to be able to work in a school system that allowed me to offer college-level courses for the more academically-minded students: “dual-credit” classes that awarded students credits for both high school and college. I did this for many years, working primarily with the University of Idaho in Moscow.

But I often was not able to take my most inquisitive students to their next level of learning, where they could conduct their own independent research, discover new things, and perhaps uncover stories still hidden to the rest of the world. Once, I was almost there. Working with a handful of dedicated historians-to-be, I devised a curriculum in which they would research all the historically significant buildings in Sandpoint, determine their origins, discover their sense of place, and learn about the architects and builders who created them. All this would be done through hands-on research at the county museum and through personal interviews. It never happened. We weren’t able to coordinate everyone’s schedule to fit into the time slot available. Oh, what might have been.

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Published by Mike Turnlund

Mike Turnlund is a retired public high school teacher who lives in northern Idaho. He can be reached at mturnlund@gmail.com