On Learning

(or, The Post I’ve Kind-Of Always Wanted to Write)

It’s not quite there yet, but I’m excited and impatient.

So much of what I’ve been doing lately has been something that I never thought I was good at. It’s weird, when I think about it, that I’m enjoying it so much, and wanting to do it more and more. It’s rewarding too, like how people say having a child is rewarding. I think. Formula stains read as delusion to me.

My experience with it so far has been like dipping my toe in the water. It’s the perfect temperature, like that just-above-lukewarm that doesn’t ever cool down enough to be lackluster. I don’t know exactly what I don’t know, but what I do know is intriguing to me. And I certainly have opinions about what I know. Teaching, is what I’m talking about, yeah. Or coaching or knowledge sharing or whatever buzzword they have nowadays.

I used the word teaching because I just read this essay, which I love a little because it’s ironic and I love a lot because I went through three years of high school that used that curriculum. Or framework or checklist or whatever.

“The lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?”

This got me thinking. We’ve got ten months out of a calendar year to make kids get stuff. Why not organize our school year into one subject at a time for two month chunks? Or whatever number of classes your school tells kids to take. My high school AP English and Social Studies classes alternated on our weekly schedule in a way that we were able to better follow longer literature and concepts. Why not take it further? Nobody works five disparate part-time jobs at once.

But we know our public schools aren’t doing what they should be, I’m not going to rant on that.

More specific to what I’ve been doing is the Socratic method. A method of dialogue, usually used in debate, it involves questioning for specific answers. Relative to learning, it encourages self-discovery by the students and is very powerful for them. It all sounds very high-level, something you would encounter in a University lecture hall. But in this essay Mr. Garlikov details how he taught binary arithmetic to a third grade class using nothing but questions. When I read that last sentence in my head it’s underlined and italized and bold all at once like a bad office memo. Binary arithmetic is not an easy concept to follow, because we never use it in our lives. Computer scientists use it and make lame jokes only they get using binary arithmetic, because it’s what computers use to calculate things. If you tried teaching it to a third grade class using conventional teaching methods you would fail and they would be confused and well, there goes an hour of your life.

If this, learning and teaching, at all interests you, a lot of the other essays on Mr. Garlikov’s website are incredibly insightful. As someone who up until now struggled with being a student of traditional methods, learning about how the other side works helps me be a better student.

Expect more posts about this sort of thing.