A Screw Loose



I’ve shown this picture to so many students in the past few months.  I always start out the same:

“Do you know what this is?”

The usual response is: “The parts of a car.”

“No.” I reply.  “That’s actually a car.  It’s just broken into parts.”

Most recently, when I asked this, I was attempting to help a student – honors level courses, not completing homework (never has had to), doing poorly on assessments because he isn’t completing any of the work that would prepare him for the assessments.  I showed him the picture.  Asked the question.  He stated: “It’s a car.”  I was happy.  This would hopefully be easy work.

Before I go on, I’m going to have to let you know that I know relatively little about cars.  I can change a tire.  Oil if needed.  Windshield wiper fluid – most of the fluids really.  Mainly, I can read the owners manual that they give you with the car.  But beyond that, I really don’t know much about cars.  But this activity isn’t about demonstrating my knowledge about cars, it’s about helping kids to think differently about the choices they make.

dissembledcararrow1Do you see where the arrow is pointing to the circle? I think it’s part of the transmission or the drive train. If you know what it is, feel free to tell me.  It’s really not that important which thing it is, but what I like to do is find a big part – not a wheel or something that is obviously very important, and find a small, sort-of pointy thing that is really little beside it.  The little pointy things are usually in groups of four, or six, or eight.  You’ve probably guessed by now; those little pointy things are bolts of some sort.  I like to point at them and ask the kids what they are.  They always guess,

“A bolt or screw or something?”


We look at it for a few more seconds.  I like to wait.

“How important is it?”

“What?  That bolt?”

“Yeah, that bolt.  I mean, it’s really little.  Compared to the rest of the car, it’s insignificant – don’t you think”

They don’t know.  They’ve never really considered it before.  Seriously.  Who does consider how important one little bolt is in relation to a whole car.  There is Instagraming and Snatchatting and XBoxing or Playstationing to do that is much more important.

Then I ask, “What happens if it isn’t there?”

Funny enough, they usually know this.  It has effects on the rest of the car.  Negative effects.  Detrimental effects.  At first, those effects probably won’t be noticed, but overtime, they will become bigger and bigger – more pronounced.

A little bolt.

Now, as I said, I’m not a mechanic.  If this isn’t true, if a car could really miss one bolt and be fine, please don’t publish that out – sort of ruins the whole idea.

And here is the idea:  That bolt is World History I; it’s Earth Science; it’s close reading and analytical writing and Catcher in The Rye and The Romans and factoring polynomials.  By itself, it doesn’t seem that important, but when it’s gone, when the background knowledge is faulty, all of a sudden, that missing piece effects a lot of other things.

When I show kids this, I’m usually trying to work on motivation.  I’m trying to help them to further answer the question of, as asked in a recent post, “When will I ever use this?”

The dissembled car is just a start.  When they walk away, they have begun to think about all of the parts in their lives.  All of the pieces that, by themselves, really don’t seem very important, but, when one is missing, the whole thing starts to break down.  Just a small part, but important to the whole.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s