Sunday, May 9, 2010

The joy of actually learning something

There's a brilliant video on enabling children to teach themselves amazing stuff over on BoingBoing.

That's what I would want to do with my life, if I weren't making books.
I'm actually still working on plans to develop short art workshops that would hopefully allow for and encourage this sort of thing as much as possible. It's hard to do in one hour sessions because trial and error is necessary but time consuming - I hope I can come up with ways to start something, get somewhere good by the end of the hour and then take the rest home and finish it there and people can send pictures of what it all turned into to an ongoing blog... anyway, this was wonderful to watch, and mentioned one of my favourite facts about the human brain (brainier animals too, actually): really working something out is one of the happiest experiences you can have, measurably.

I believe that being taught how to do something is no great joy in itself without that surprise moment of individual understanding gained through a time of actual involved investigation.

Most of the stuff I was supposed to learn in school I was supposed to just absorb without any deeper understanding of the matter - lists, dates, formulas. - I'd try and catch teachers between lessons to ask extra questions about stuff, I was spending days at the library researching, and yet I was never a very good student because good grades and praise didn't make me as happy as actively learning stuff - and there just wasn't enough time and energy to seriously pursue both.
So I was neglecting my homework to investigate completely different stuff - using my electronics kit, baking bread, taking stuff apart, sometimes putting it back together, drawing, inventing, reading books and trying to write my own, very seriously trying to understand the world, and enjoying even a failed project a million times more than any pat on the head by a teacher I ever got. In fact, that's probably the biggest danger of allowing that sort of freedom: once you felt the real joy of learning it's hard to see grades as the most important outcome of a lesson.

7 comments:

Sarah said...

Cool! That reminded me of your other post, when you said how important it was to have good materials. Those kids had access to all sorts of scrap material and power tools, I can see why they were able to get stuck in and really make stuff.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Exactly! Tools, materials... some learn the knack to do almost without, which is amazing, but I think everyone can kick into a whole new gear if they get to use the right materials and tools for a project they actually want to do... I also really liked something he said about the value of not knowing the outcome and setting your own goals, that if children know exactly what they are expected to make it's a useful experience - but ideally they should be allowed to decide for themselves what they want to make to really get involved and inventive.
I'd like to learn how to help them do that - teach how to plan a project and assist and teach relevant skills as needed...

Just ordered that guy's book, "50 Dangerous things you should let your children do"

Sarah said...

Ooh, I'd love to get a peek at it sometime! :)

Swati said...

If I can give my child a tiny part of what your childhood was like, I will consider myself successful. It is difficult to ignore 'grades and stuff' - more so in our environment I think.

Viviane Schwarz said...

Hah! :) Well, lots of books and craft materials then!

Mm, and ignoring grades might lead to missed chances. - I wish the system wasn't designed with grades as the main motivator. I worry it loses students who don't have a strong sense of status.
In my school the headmaster used to say "we make managers!" a lot, I seem to remember which made me feel like school didn't matter to me - which wasn't a good attitude. - But I worked very hard in art school: great materials, self-directed projects, connection of theory and practical skills. I understood that all right...

Swati said...

Cool, we do have a lot of books and craft stuff - and I hope we will get to use them a lot these summer holidays :)

Swati said...

I hear you about the rest too. It is so much easier to work hard at something you love, isn't it?