Teaching and Scuba Diving


Last week I took some personal time to disconnect and spend time with my family before school starts up again. While away I decided to swim and snorkel. I’ve always enjoyed snorkeling and watching the life under the ocean. We stayed at a particular facility that had a scuba diving class. My wife and I decided to take the class and learn about the scuba diving experience. The class was great and the instructor gave a basic overview of the equipment and we practiced different skills in a pool before heading out into the ocean. The ocean experience went so well that we decided to pursue a scuba certificate.

The instructor communicated that a certificate would require us to read an instructional book, take a test, practice skills in a pool and then show mastery of the skills in the ocean. That evening I read through the book. The book began with a section on performance-based mastery.  The section explained that students will be instructed using student-centered learning strategies.  Meeting the objectives are what’s important – not how long it takes.  As I read this I felt a bit of weight come off of my shoulders.

Each section had questions that required an answer and then you checked your own answers on the following page. At the end of each section there was a review of the content. After a few hours the book was complete.  The next morning I reviewed the book and my responses with the instructor. Time was given to ask questions. I was then given a 30 question open-book test. In all honesty, I have to admit that I used the book to find some of the answers. The test wasn’t timed and I didn’t feel anxiety during this process. After the test was complete the instructor quickly reviewed the answers and then we jumped in the pool.

The instructor went through specific skills that he showed me in advance. We learned how to clear a mask, check air gauges, and establish buoyancy.  There were many other skills, I just can’t remember them all as I write this post. I’d like to say that I perfectly practiced each skill on the first try, but I didn’t. In fact I commend the instructor for his patience with me. After each failed attempt the instructor gave feedback and we tried again. After about 3 hours we were finished and ready to show the skills in the ocean. My wife and I then went down to the bottom of the ocean to demonstrate the skills needed for a certificate.


After the ocean dive, I reflected on this learning experience and came up with a few takeaways:

  • I never received a grade or even an official percentage during this process
  • The feedback I received during this journey was clear and could immediately be used
  • I practiced the skill until I was able to independently complete it on my own
  • I was given time to reflect on my performance and ask clarifying questions
  • My documented proficiency was based on my last dive

I also thought of how much more pressure I would have felt if I was graded on each section of the certificate process. I would most likely fixate on each individual grade and not necessarily the skill. Instead, this process had me focus on the skill and the proficiency of that particular skill. I was able to fail, reflect, ask question and retry until I became proficient.  I found the low-risk opportunities to practice were beneficial during this learning experience.  This led me to ask …

How often do educators utilize these strategies in the classroom?  

This is just something I’m considering before school starts in a few weeks.

By the way, we passed the final dive and are looking forward to diving at some point in the future.

photo credit: CaptPiper via photopin cc




Author: Matt Coaty

I've taught elementary students for the past 14 years. I enjoy reading educational research and learning from my PLN. Words on this blog are my own.

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