Murphy's Law in Education

"Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." - Murphy's Law

Edward Aloysius Murphy was an American aerospace engineer. Born in 1918, Murphy was the eldest of 5 children. After school, he began working with the Wright-Patterson Air Force base where his specialty was safety-critical systems. For example, Murphy would have his team focus on redundant planning. Meaning if one of the critical systems failed (like a power source), than a backup system would kick in and take over. This way, the mission could continue. Often times there may even be a third backup system. Keep in mind, these systems are set up differently so that whatever factor caused System 1 to fail, won't be the same reason system 2 fails, and so on. This detailed planning takes time, finances and a whole lot of effort.

But the system has worked for NASA. For example, Skylab, after losing its main power source during launch, shifted to a back up system until it could later be repaired by a team who went up later to fix it. Skylab was successful, and helped us learn a lot about the earth's surface, from 1973 to 1979.

Creating backup systems, however, doesn't make the mission immune to Murphy's Law. Genesis, a spacecraft that was meant to collect solar wind for research, crash landed in Utah on September 8, 2004, because the parachute switches were installed backwards. Go figure.

So how does all of this relate to our mission of educating Young America?

Well, I'll tell you my experiences as a dance teacher.

I started teaching 9 years ago with 3-year-old ballerinas. I watched closely as they struggled to find balance and any type of coordination. This is simply because their little bodies are still learning and growing the necessary muscles. I learned to recognize what was missing and what was needed. For the following 9 years, and still today, I learn how to teach my students through keen observation to determine: What is missing and What is needed.

Murphy's Law, however, drives my methods of teaching. What I mean is this:

I've noticed that when teaching beginning dancers pivot turns, their bodies want to turn the wrong way. For example, when having your right foot in front, it seems natural to turn over your left shoulder, leaving your legs untangled. But most beginning students want to move the seemingly unnatural and complicated way (over their right shoulder) leaving their bodies twisted. Murphy's Law. This is when I come in with my backup systems.

I explain it a new way. If that still doesn't work. I explain it another new way. Each way is different in the approach, meaning the focus has changed (in an attempt to find which way works for that particular student).

Perhaps I need to say: "Turn over your left shoulder."

Or perhaps I need to say: "Come up on your toes and twist to your leg behind you."

Or perhaps: "Look to the left, and go!" The focus in each explanation is different (the first: shoulder, the second: feet, the third: a glance).

Eventually, I find a method that frees up whatever was confusing the mind and allows the body to move through the pivot turn.

Our bodies, much like aerospace engineering, are complicated. Our bodies can move at different angles, speeds, directions. We can shift weight between the ball of our foot and our heel, from the right to the left - without lifting a foot! All of this... is complicated. Teaching it... is complicated.

But we cannot give up. As teachers, if we understand and assume Murphy's Law will come into play in our teaching and in our students' understanding, then we can prepare backup methods, and more backup methods, however many we may need in order to move to the next level of progress. Good teachers will have their backup lessons in their back pocket, ready to pull out whenever necessary.

Yes I know:

Source: Etsy

But we can do it! Even with Murphy's Law attending our classes!

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