The Door to Hell and Creating Interest, Not Just for Students

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Door to Hell, Turkmenistan.

Tormod Sandtorv / Flickr

Door to Hell, Turkmenistan.

Rick Rood

Rick Rood

If you want to find the doorway to Hell, it’s a flaming pit in the desert of Turkmenistan.  It’s a hole in the earth, leaking methane that was ignited 40 years ago; the hole is deep enough to fit a five-story building; the crater is roughly the area of a football field.

This morning, I was showing the kids of our out-of-school-time program pictures of it on our tablet. Fiery and almost incomprehensibly huge, it’s commonly referred to by the locals as the “Door to Hell,” and the kids giggled at the use of the H-E-double-toothpicks word. And they were fascinated. And I have to admit — I was fascinated that they were fascinated.

The Door to Hell has revealed the fundamental truth of being an excellent teacher.

This learning moment was part of our summer curriculum of “Sailing the Seven Ancient Seas,” one of which happens to be the Caspian Sea, sandwiched between Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and, of course, Turkmenistan, where the “Door To Hell” lies inland a hundred miles or so. They passed the tablet around, gazing at the fiery wonder (in case you’re curious, the flaming mess is a leftover from a failed Russian natural gas-drilling attempt back in the early 1970s).

So, what’s the point here, really? It is this — when I began designing the curriculum about the Caspian Sea, I had no idea of what surrounds it — I could barely find it on a map!  With the assistance of today’s technology, I dove in headfirst … Google, Wikipedia, Quora, Panoramio … even Pinterest … and, in learning, sparked a sense of wonder in myself. And I was very pleased to confirm what I’ve known (and have had to relearn through the years) — wonder and learning are contagious as the flu.

Remember back to those classes in school that you hated. Do you remember the teacher? I would venture to guess that most of those teachers were about as animated about their topic as a pile of wet Kleenex, and probably as interested in their subject as a sea sponge is interested in the Nikkei Stock Index.

Don’t be that teacher. Especially, don’t be that teacher in Out-of-School-Time! There is absolutely no excuse for lack of imagination, curiosity and spark in the OST world.

This really isn’t rocket science (unless, of course, you’re studying space or astrophysics).  Briefly, and in one sentence, here is the ONE THING that will have the biggest transformative effect on what you do in your OST program: Get interested in what you’re teaching.

I have to admit, when I drew the Caspian Sea assignment, I was less than thrilled. I didn’t know much about that part of the world, and, honestly, I didn’t really care to learn more.  But the need to fill a week with projects, knowledge and learning for the kids drove me to scratch the surface. And that scratch just kept getting deeper, like the Turkmenistan fire pit.

With that, I offer a seemingly magic two-step solution for keeping your OST program’s curriculum and learning alive and exciting.

Step One: Use the Technology. We have more information available to us instantly on our smart phone than previous generations could access in their entire lifetime. If it’s STEM that you’re tasked with adding to your program, all those categories (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) are easily accessed across hundreds of thousands of websites. If you’re aligning your curriculum with the Common Core, access the standards online and do some Googling — it’s all there. If you’re initiating a theme around rocket science … almost everything you need to know is available with a few clicks.

Step Two: Get Interested. This step is the magic bullet. From Dale Carnegie to Anthony Robbins, this principle has been preached and proved through the years. If you are interested in what you’re doing with the youth of your program, they will naturally be interested too. If you are initially uninterested in a certain topic, you’re going to have to expend some mental force in digging into the subject — there’s really no way around that.  But know that once the digging commences, the payoff will be natural and automatic — you will be interested, and, like dominoes falling, so will your students.

Rick Rood is a 25-year front-line veteran of the Out-of-School-Time profession and author of the book Games Teachers Play Before the Bell Rings.