When I first heard that the September GHF Blog Hop was on gifted kids and rabbit holes, I burst out laughing. Then I headed towards my computer, my brain already on this blog post… and then I remembered I had to go meet with a couple tutoring students, so I reversed course. I have a long history of going down rabbit holes.
As a homeschooler, rabbit holes were never a problem: If I was curious about something, I read about it. Then I read some more, and maybe watched a video or two about it. (Smartphones weren’t really a thing until I was in my late teens.) Then I went to college, and promptly earned the nickname “Hermione” for my tendency to answer all the teacher’s questions – and to raise my hand and get the class completely sidetracked with my own queries, such as when I asked my chemistry professor a question about electron orbitals while he was trying to teach the class how to balance equations. That particular interaction was when I realized that not everyone appreciated my participation.
Once I did have a smartphone, I often used it to look things up in class. I regularly lost all track of the conversation around me while I researched treaties, timelines, terminology, or whatever interesting-sounding concept someone had mentioned that I wasn’t familiar with. Frequently, when a subject was brought up that I wanted to discuss further, I would message a friend and start a conversation with them about it – again, completely missing what was going on in class.
Hermione Granger is my favorite Harry Potter character, in case you were wondering. I took pride in, rather than offense to, the nickname.
During my first year of grad school, I started teaching for GHF Online. As a college student, even a 13-year-old one, I had had some level of self-restraint when it came to my in-class questions. As young homeschoolers, my students had no such qualms, and I was unprepared for how off-topic we could get. My first few classes were a lot of me saying “Great question! This is how this thing works… and here’s how it was discovered… and here are five interesting tidbits about it.” With experience has come the ability to limit how far the rabbit hole we go, and a better sense of when it is appropriate to go a little further. When we were talking about forms of energy recently, and a student asked where fossil fuels came from. That was a tangent we went off on a bit, because it was directly relevant; the discussion of cat names, on the other hand, was cut short and the students refocused.
With my tutoring students, we have a bit more freedom to go off on tangents. History can detour into a geography lesson; science might wander off into history and etymology. Or… we might be mid-algebra lesson and find ourselves debating the merits of long-haired vs short-haired cats, or the social stereotypes involved in the word problems, or discussing the genetics of why most calico cats are female and male calicos are sterile. (It has to do with the loci for color genes being on the X chromosome; male calico cats have to be XXY instead of XY, which rarely results in viable offspring.) A discussion of plant evolution might lead to a student telling a story about the time an interesting thing happened and a leaf was tangentially involved.
Sometimes rabbit holes are home to a deeper understanding of the topic. Being able to relate a story, hobby, or passion to the concept at hand can help students hang the idea on mental hooks, giving it context and incorporating it into a larger framework. I am particularly fond of using metaphors to aid comprehension, and that often means explaining the context of the metaphor. When a student is particularly frustrated with a subject, I will sometimes turn the discussion to something they can get emotionally invested in – a recent experience, a sport, a book or idea they are excited about. Once they have become sufficiently distracted from their frustration, steering them back to the topic by drawing analogies between the conversation and the subject at hand can help them break through their mental subject block and better grasp the concept.
So now to explain the title of this blog post. The old saying goes, curiosity killed the cat – but satisfaction brought it back. Perhaps the cat was curious about the rabbit hole, looked down it, and fell; but, curiosity satisfied, was able to climb back out again. The cat may also have followed another rabbit hole, or perhaps a whole string of them. They do tend to form a maze.