We’re in to campfires. Our family and friends love to get a fire going, cook out, roast marshmallows, tell ghost stories–the whole thing. Everyone seems to have a theory about camp fires. They tell you the best mix of wood and tinder; which kind of wood burns the longest; how much space to leave between the wood to let in oxygen; they set up the logs in X patterns, teepees, and square crisscross. We’ve seen it all. New technology has crept in as well. Commercial fire starters are a cheap tinder mix, but make your life easy if you don’t have the time to rustle up dry leaves, small twigs, or newspapers. Nana is never happy about fire starters. Seems like cheating to her. Lighting a fire is an often-used metaphor for learning. All the pieces fit: tinder (engagement strategies), room for oxygen (reflection and critical thinking), theories of arrangements (learning theory), and new technologies (reading this on a computer, are you?). Moreover, once a fire gets going, there is an intense, glowing center that continues to light new fuel as it is added (deep learning informing new experiences). However, what strikes me most about the metaphor involves what can happen the next morning. A new day is here. The sun rises, birds sing, dew glistens, and little creatures all around bring greetings as you stretch awake. The camp fire that was the literal center of attention last evening is spent—reduced to a small pile of grey ash. But wait. There is a tiny plume of smoke rising from the center. You can easily kill the fire by spreading the ashes to burn out the last bit of fuel. Pour a bucket of water on it and the final spirit of the fire sizzles and releases a billow of smoke to the heavens. But you can wake the fire as well. You have to stir it to add some oxygen. And be careful, if you don’t add anything new, stirring can lead to an even quicker death. You have to add new fuel. Carefully add tinder and wood to the existing fire, and within minutes your glowing, warm friend is back as hot as ever. In fact, the deep center of a woken fire catches quickly and cooks a great breakfast. This is the learning metaphor that warms me. For all of us, there are times we burn down. Our ashes are glowing, but there is no fire. All that seems left to do is to wait for the bucket, the sizzle, and the smoke. But if we are stirred–by teachers, reachers, kids, grandkids, new technologies, or old photographs–and new learning is carefully added, we can wake up hot as ever. Indeed, our lives are a constant cycle of fire renewal, adding fuel and tending flames. So don’t be fooled by the sullen ashes in yourself or others. Look for the plume of smoke, and see if learning can wake the fire.
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