Facilitating A Squirrelly Strategy


The following video was recently posted by a colleague on a nascent district network that will go “public” in a few short weeks.  In what I see as an emerging “best practice” in setting up and facilitating online networks, we are busy adding rich instructional content prior to inviting members.   In other words, making it look -even upon first glance- as if “someone is home.”  Far too many folks try to set up a network on the Ning platform only to have it flail about in cyberspace because it doesn’t immediately grab people as a place where they can imagine investing a little of their time.  Take five minutes to watch the video before reading further…

How great is that?  In Angie’s (a fellow instructional coach) description immediately below the video, she said: “A great video with amazingly appropriate music to show goal setting and teamwork to achieve a goal.” I certainly do see those ideas reflected within the video.  However, I clicked to view the video full screen before reading, and my personal reaction was somewhat different.


To me, even more than goal setting and teamwork… this video speaks to the idea of honoring a constructivist approach to learning… and the gentle scaffolding required to get students to the ultimate goal within such a framework.

It seems that I chose to see the video not through the interactions with “momma squirrel” but instead through those that happened between the baby squirrel and the human observer. To me, the human (with the bigfat human brain) was the person in that situation who clearly knew how to achieve the objective.  You could easily argue that the momma squirrel didn’t get it.  Although, we truly have no idea what the ultimate goal was.  Perhaps going a different route, one that avoided the wall altogether, was not an option.  Though perhaps it was.  This we’ll never know.

Like a teacher honoring the fact that all true learning takes place within the brain of the learner… the observer(s) didn’t intervene at first.  They allowed the most powerful personal learning (in the brain of the baby squirrel) to take place first. They gave credit to the struggle that is inherent in accomplishing anything of real and lasting worth. They allowed small failures themselves to “teach.”

However, they ultimately they chose a strategy in which to intervene in a “least invasive” way… and then carried it out.  This initial strategy did not prove immediately successful for the learner.  The baby squirrel simply didn’t succeed after the “help” was applied.  The observers then took a step back, rethought the situation, likely looked around for other pertinent resources, and then applied another strategy to facilitate the baby squirrel’s accomplishment.

Pink Pearl

This series of calculated interventions is a good metaphor for what I see as one best case scenario for teaching and learning. Of course with today’s tricky world, and the complex sphere of standardized assessment we live within… allowing this full continuum of experience to play out with every learning objective is just not feasible. Yet, if we are truly focused on constructivism as a “best case scenario” for learning, then we will all make room for that very thing within our classrooms.  We can’t exist in a purely constructivist world today.  However, this is not an “out” for studying and practicing this approach to learning.  It is merely something to consider as you map out the classroom environment for you and your students as learners.

Once a teacher gives credit to the power of this approach to learning… they then begin to see its potential in more and more places. I think this is the point where we become sharp about when to allow this type of learning to run its course and when we have to “cut and run” to nail down the less “essential” objectives in order to allow the time for everything we want (and are responsible to) for our children.


So yeah, in short… I love the video as a reflection and teaching tool. In fact, I wrote 75% of this blog post in the comments section of that particular video on our network.  I could link to my comment there, but then I’d have to break my rule of going public with a network before it is already a microcosm of what I want it to eventually become.  You wouldn’t want me to hedge on my own philosophy for this would you?


So what do you think?  Did you see something different?  What metaphors did you see in the video?  How might you use this little clip as a teaching tool?


Pink Pearl by Heather Beltz Ingram on Flickr

Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at http://nashworld.me


  1. I love the video and the analogy to education. It’s how we learn – through modeling, example and practice! great piece and thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Leslie. Nice work on the blog. Looks like you just started in May? Keep up the good work… I like the “top sites of the week” posts.

  2. Hi Sean,
    Wow–thanks for that great essay. Your thoughts ring very true for me, and for my study group in Project Zero. One of the participants had brought in that video for her cultural artifact based on an inquiry question. We were talking about its meaning…
    How beautifully you point out the parallels in the realm of philosophy of learning. How beautifully you explain the constructivist approach!
    Thanks once again, Sean. Such a pleasure to hear your thoughts. I’ll be sharing your essay all over the place (with due credit, of course), ok?

    • Share at will. The way I look at it, we only have some 80 years here to push around molecules and ideas, and then it’s gone. When you think of it that way, it is harder to imagine your work as something you “own” and more or less something you were “lucky to interact with” while you were here.”

      Whoa… that was a bit philosophical for a Monday morning. 😉

      I also appreciated your comments at Fireside regarding the usage of the video section for more than just posting video clips. It truly is an underutilized tool in most networks. I’ll be thinking about that one…

      Thanks Connie.

  3. Thanks for the nice words Sean. I’ve started other blogs in the past but have decided to devote more time to work related topics lately.

  4. An apt allegory for PLN’s, the role of the teacher, and the value of experience. Thanks for the video and the post to help unpack it. Cheers.

    • I like the thought of “unpacking” in reference to such a post. Thanks… *stolen.* (with attribution, of course)

  5. I love this…it shows what we all have to do when we hit the metaphorical wall in our everyday learning.

    • I agree. Don’t you wish we could always just find the perfect little five minute nugget of inspiration… just when we need it?

  6. Sean,

    “We can’t exist in a purely constructivist world today. However, this is not an “out” for studying and practicing this approach to learning. It is merely something to consider as you map out the classroom environment for you and your students as learners.”

    Well said, Sean. You pointed out one of the biggest issues we as educators face in a standardized testing world. To which piper’s song do we dance? Your solution of thinking ahead and out of the box is what we as teachers must do.

    Love the post, and thanks to Angie for inspiring you with the video she posted.

    • Thanks, and very true… we must dance to all of those from time to time. In my opinion, this is what makes UbD so powerful in planning and implementation. It causes teams (ideally) of teachers to focus on the true essential themes/concepts/questions/big ideas of the course… and allows teachers to buy time and resources from these strands in order to go deep. The only way to do this in 180 days is to shallow up in places.

      To me, the only way that can be done responsibly in any way is to seek early and continual feedback from students regarding their cognitive and affective performance. You can’t “cheat” certain topics or objectives… but you certainly can find those where students need less work (or lie not so much at the center of the discipline).

      Finding the crucial areas where students can grab hold of the reins and run (preferably as relatively early in the course as possible) is the only way to build real inquiry and deep processing today. Our curricula are ballooned with the input of a large panel of “cooks.”

      Being smart about choosing/planning is the only way for a solid portion of your course to feel like it is truly owned by students… and aimed toward relevant, real-world challenges.

      And yes… isn’t it great how a tiny little spark on Twitter or another online network can bloom into that item you’ve been waiting to synthesize in writing? I was actually writing another post when I saw Angie’s video added to the network.

  7. Sometimes I think we’d all be a little smarter if we sat and watched animals do their thing more often.

    Thanks for a great metaphor and great analysis of the role of a teacher.

    Mary Beth
    (aka mbteach)

  8. Loved this Sean! You may have ruined my first day of school plans- I think I may need to show this to my students instead. But I really feel I need to share this to my fellow staff to discuss in the meetings before school begins. Thanks for your wonderful insight!

    • You know, you may just be spot-on here. The obvious jump for me was to show to faculty groups studying student-centered learning approaches. However, You just reminded me that just because a teacher “adopts” a particular approach to learning… it doesn’t mean our students will just “fall in.”

      This is a good reminder to me that yes… my students DO need this discussion early on as one more way I can testify to a new group that the experiences they have in my class might be different that they have experienced in the past. Different often equals uncertainty. We all know the look on student faces when we attempted to turn over more of the power and responsibility of learning to our students. Blank stares are common. It truly helps when an entire institution makes a decision to “turn the ship” in this direction.

      Excellent. I agree- this is likely one more good discussion starter in the course of helping students learn their role in a constructivist learning environment.


  9. This video was great! It reminds me in a way of the teaching method I often use with my 5th graders.. the good old Socratic method. There are lots of times during the class when you have to help them out like the kids did with the backpack. I have enjoyed your blog and hope you keep it up! I also wanted to let you know about a website I’ve been using called http://applebatch.com. It’s a free teacher network site for educators to share resources and connect with each other. I love what I see so far and thought you may enjoy it as well 🙂

    • Yep- also similar to the way you carefully “spot” someone on the bench press. You apply the lightest pressure allowable to keep them from an epic fail. We do this because we know the rewards to be found in that struggle.

      We should see learning the same way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *