Educational Stories

Below five true stories
(about High School, Cliffs Notes, Welding, Skiing, Joys),
plus The Joys of Science (it's fun to solve mysteries),
and Aesop's Activities for Goal-Directed Education,
and Learning by Exploring, from Others, Actively.

 
 
    Understanding and Respect
      Students in my high school learned valuable lessons about understanding and attitudes from one of our favorite teachers, who sometimes held debates in his civics class.  On Monday he convinced us that "his side of the issue" was correct, but on Tuesday he made the other side look just as good.  After awhile we learned that, in order to get accurate understanding, we should get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support.  After we did this and we understood more accurately and thoroughly, we usually recognized that even when we have valid reasons for preferring one position, people on other sides of an issue may also have good reasons, both intellectual and ethical, for believing as they do, so we learned respectful attitudes.    {thinking with empathy and kindness}
      But respect does not require agreement.  You can respect someone and their views, yet criticize their views, which you have evaluated based on evidence, logic, and values.  The intention of our teacher, and the conclusion of his students, was not a postmodern relativism.  The goal was a rational exploration and evaluation of ideas in a search for truth.

 
 
    A "Cliffs Notes" Approach
      This section explains how — in three decisions and a library — I recognized the similarity between Cliffs Notes and the introductory levels of my websites.
      The first two decisions were easy.  Yes, I would watch the movies.  No, I would not read the books.  In either form, in movies or books, Lord of the Rings is a classic.  Although I would enjoy reading the trilogy by Tolkien, "time is the stuff life is made of" (said Ben Franklin) and I decided that reading three large books would not be a good use of my time.  But reading one small booklet would be quick and useful, so I decided to read the summary/analysis written by Gene Hardy for Cliffs Notes.  And having an introductory overview of "the big picture" — provided by Hardy's summary of the three books — helped me understand and enjoy the three movies.
      In the two weeks between seeing the first movie (on DVD) and second movie (in theater) I attended a conference that had a book table filled with high-quality books.  While reading the back covers, table of contents, and occasional pages, I thought about the many fascinating ideas I would miss because I wouldn't be able to invest the time needed to read these books.  I also was thinking about Lord of the Rings and the practical educational value of reading one small book instead of three large books, and I made the connection between booktable and website.  It would be useful for me to have a condensation containing the distilled essence of important ideas from books on the table, and giving you "a condensation containing the distilled essence of important ideas" is the goal of the introductory summary-pages in this website.     { an example-website }

 
 
    Learning from Experience (how to excel at welding or...)
      One of the most powerful master skills is knowing how to learn.  The ability to learn can itself be learned, as illustrated by a friend who, in his younger days, had an interesting strategy for work and play.  He worked for awhile at a high-paying job and saved money, then took a vacation.  He was free to wake when he wanted, read a book, hang out at a coffee shop, go for a walk, or travel to faraway places by hopping on a plane or driving away in his car.
      Usually, employers want workers committed to long-term stability, so why did they tolerate his unusual behavior?  He was reliable, always showed up on time, and gave them a week's notice before departing.  But the main reason for their acceptance was the quality of his work.  He was one of the best welders in the city, performing a valuable service that was in high demand and doing it well.  He could audition for a job, saying "give me a really tough welding challenge and I'll show you how good I am."  They did, he did, and they hired him.

      How did he become such a good welder?  He had "learned how to learn" by following the wise advice of his teacher:  Every time you do a welding job, do it better than the time before (by learning from the past and concentrating in the present) and always be alertly aware of what you're doing now (and how this is affecting the quality of welding) so you can do it better the next time (intentionally learn from the present to prepare for the future).  This is a good way to improve the quality of whatever you do.  Always ask, "What have I learned in the past that will help me now, and what can I learn now that will help me in the future?", while concentrating on quality of thinking-and-action in the present.
      Learning and/or Performing and/or Enjoying while you're Learning From Experience

 
 
    How I Didn't Learn to Ski  (by Learning from Mistakes)
 
    My first day of skiing!  I'm excited, but the rental skis worry me.  They look much too long, maybe uncontrollable?  On the slope, fears come true quickly and I've lost control, roaring down the slope yelling "Get out of my way!  I can't stop!"  But soon I do stop — flying through the air sideways, a floundering spin, a mighty bellyflop in icy snow.  My boot bindings grip like claws that won't release their captive, and the impact twists my body into a painful pretzel.  Several zoom-and-crash cycles later I'm dazed, in a motionless heap at the foot of the mountain, wondering what I'm doing, why, and if I dare to try again.

      Even the ropetow brings disaster.  I fall down and wallow in the snow, pinned in place by my huge skis, and the embarrassing dogpile begins, as skiers coming up the ropetow are, like dominoes in a line, toppled by my sprawling carcass.  Gosh, it sure is fun to ski.
      With time, some things improve.  After the first humorous (for onlookers) and terrifying (for me) trip down the mountain, my bindings are adjusted so I can bellyflop safely.  And I develop a strategy of "leap and hit the ground rolling" to minimize ropetow humiliation.  But my skiing doesn't get much better so — wet and cold, tired and discouraged — I retreat to the safety of the lodge.

      How I Did Learn to Ski  (Insight and Practice, Perseverance and Flexibility)
      The lodge break is wonderful, just what I need for recovery.  An hour later, after a nutritious lunch topped off with delicious hot chocolate, I'm sitting near the fireplace in warm dry clothes, feeling happy and adventurous again.  A friend tells me about another slope, one that can be reached by chairlift, and I decide to "go for it."
      This time the ride up the mountain is exhilarating.  Instead of causing a ropetow domino dogpile, the lift carries me high above the earth like a great soaring bird.  Soon, racing down the hill, I dare to experiment — and the new experience inspires an insight!  If I press my ski edges against the snow a certain way, they "dig in."  This, combined with unweighting (a jump-a-little and swing-the-skis-around foot movement) produces a crude parallel turn that lets me zig-zag down the slope in control, without runaway speed, and suddenly I can ski!
      Continuing practice now brings rapidly improving skill, and by day's end I'm feeling great.  I still fall down occasionally, but not often, and I'm learning from everything that happens, both good and bad.  And I have the confident hope that even better downhill runs await me in the future.  Skiing has become fun!    { In the full page this experience is used to illustrate two principles for learning - Insight and Quality Practice, Perseverance and Flexibility. }  {cartoon is by Frank Clark}
 


 
      The Joys of Science - It's fun!
 
    Personal goals for learning can include improving skills (like welding or thinking) and exploring ideas.  One powerful motivating force is a curiosity about "how things work."  We like to solve mysteries.
      The joyful appreciation of a challenging mystery and a clever solution is expressed in the following excerpts from letters between two scientists who were intimately involved in the development of quantum mechanics: Max Planck (who in 1900 opened the quantum era with his mathematical description of blackbody radiation) and Erwin Schrödinger (who in 1926 wrote and solved a "wave equation" to explain quantum phenomena).  Planck, writing to Schrödinger, says "I am reading your paper in the way a curious child eagerly listens to the solution of a riddle with which he has struggled for a long time, and I rejoice over the beauties that my eye discovers."  Schrödinger replies by agreeing that "Everything resolves itself with unbelievable simplicity and unbelievable beauty, everything turns out exactly as one would wish, in a perfectly straightforward manner, all by itself and without forcing."  They struggled with a problem, solved it, and were thrilled.  It's fun to think and learn!   { You can learn more about the joy of science and "waves that are particles and particles that are waves" and how Planck and Schrödinger (and Einstein and others) solved the mystery.  Also, The Joys of Design-Thinking and transfers-of-learning from design & science into everyday life. }
 


 
      Aesop's Activities for Goal-Directed Education
 
   Aesop's Fables are designed to achieve an educational goal, to teach lessons about life.  By analogy, goal-directed Aesop's Activities can help students learn ideas and skills that will be useful in life.   In a goal-directed approach to improving education, the basic themes are simple:  a teacher should provide opportunities for educationally useful experience, and help students learn more from their experience.     {Goal-Directed Education for Ideas-and-Skills}
 


      Learning by Exploring
      One way to learn about nature is to explore it yourself.  You can do this in many ways, using all of your senses.  You can explore near and far, by studying plants in your yard, birds in the park, and clouds in the sky, by looking out your car window and letting what you see inspire questions about the geology and biology, about the land and what's growing on it.  Exploring is fun at any age.  It is interesting and motivating for children, and also for adults who (as amateur scientists or professional scientists) are continuing their explorations of nature.

      Learning from Others
      When you explore, you learn from your own experience.  But you also can learn from the experience of others, by letting them help you learn.  This happens when you read, listen, or watch what they have written, spoken, or filmed.  Learning from others is an easy way to learn a lot in a little time.

      Learning is an Active Process
      Learning is an active process that requires thinking.  When you learn by reading, for example, your thinking converts symbols on the page into ideas in your mind.  Every time you learn a new idea, you are actively constructing your own mental representations of the idea in a personally meaningful form.  And your new idea interacts with your old ideas, as you try to combine the new and old into a coherent system of ideas.
      The process of active reading is the theme when Virginia Voeks, in her book On Becoming an Educated Person, explains how to learn more and enjoy more while reading: "Start with an intent to make the very most you can from whatever you read.  Treat the author as you do your friends.  When talking with a friend, you listen attentively and eagerly.  You watch for contributions of value and are sensitive to them.  You actively respond to his ideas with ones of your own.  Together you build new syntheses."  When you're an active reader, eagerly searching for new ideas, you will find them, and reading becomes a stimulating adventure.
      You can read passively or you can make it an active adventure.  Some of the most effective teaching methods are designed to stimulate thinking, to replace boring passivity with exciting activity.  For example, members of a class can have a pro-and-con debate about the ideas in a book they are reading.  This activity encourages the mentally active reading that is recommended by Voeks.  But if you "internalize the action" you can always read with an active mind, whether or not your reading will be followed by a debate.  You control the quality of your learning.
 

      Immediate Motivation — Make it Fun
      One of the most important things a teacher can do is to motivate students so they want to learn, so they think learning is fun and useful.  Usually, it's best to begin with fun.
      For children, a good way to have fun while learning about nature is to explore.  And it's easy.  You can find things to explore by just looking around your house and yard, on walks in your neighborhood, or in local parks.  Be aware of what's happening in nature — blooming plants, interesting clouds, beautiful sunset, awesome thunderstorm, mysterious fog, moon eclipse, meteor shower,... — and take advantage of natural opportunities.  Wake up early, watch the world turn from dark to light, and visit a place where birds are singing.  Take time to notice trees budding in spring, thriving in summer, turning colors in autumn, gleaming with snow in winter.  During a trip, you can watch the constantly changing land shapes and plant life, you can look for places to stop and explore, and maybe you can escape the glow of city lights and see the Milky Way plus millions of other stars.  Find ways to use all your senses, to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
      When two or more explore together, part of the fun is relational.  To help a child develop a love for learning, you don't have to be an expert who is providing technical information.  Just be there to share the experience and encourage, and occasionally call attention to interesting details.  Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder, explains that the main goal is motivation, not information: "A sharing of adventures in the world of nature... is based on having fun together rather than teaching,... just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of exciting discovery."  The beneficial results of enthusiastically sharing adventure and conversation can last a lifetime.  "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. ... If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder... he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in." (quotes are from The Sense of Wonder (1956) by Rachel Carson, pages 10, 18, 42, 45)

      We can also explore using second-hand experience, by letting others help us learn from what they have learned.  Children of all ages can do this alone or with you.  Share an adventure in the world of ideas.  Read a book together, listen to a tape, or watch an educational film, and then talk about it.
      If explorations have stimulated interest in a topic, a curious child will want to learn more about it.  If watching clouds and thunderstorms leads to questions, learn more about weather in a book, film, or website.  Maybe reading a small book about nutrition, about what we eat and how it helps our bodies work, will inspire a desire to learn more by reading more.  Getting a Roadside Geology book for a state you'll be driving through will make your exploring of "the land and its history" more educational and enjoyable.  If a child is fascinated by gadgets and asks "How does it work?", find out in howstuffworks.com or in a book.
      How can you pick a topic?  Usually, just be aware of what a child finds interesting, and go with the flow.  Occasionally, provide guidance by encouraging exploration of a topic that you think will be interesting or will be useful in life.
      How can you find books and decide which ones to read?  Visit a library and explore it by yourself, then ask for help.  Librarians love books and learning.  They want to help you and will eagerly share what they know, along with their enthusiasm.  A wide variety of resources for all ages, including books and much more, is available in libraries, bookstores (new or used), and on the internet.

      Exploring ideas is especially interesting when, in an effort to get accurate understanding, you get the best information and arguments that all sides of an issue can claim as support.  A conflict of ideas is inherently dramatic, and the evaluative thinking it stimulates is an opportunity to learn valuable skills for life.  { a personal example of a high school teacher who changed the way I think }
      Many exciting "adventures in thinking" are possible in design.  You can help a child find problems to solve and projects to pursue in all areas of life, in all school subjects and in everyday living.  Daily decisions become a "designing of strategies for living" when you ask "what are your goals" and "based on your observations and predictions, which strategy-options will produce a closer match with your goals?"  By practicing and reviewing the principles of design, you can stimulate creative, disciplined thinking in design and also in science.  How?  Logical "reality checks" are used in both science and design, so you can build an educational bridge from design to science and then, by using this bridge, learning design method will help a child learn scientific method.
      In all activities of learning and thinking, while exploring the fascinating world of nature and ideas, you can help a child develop motivation, and maintain it for the long term, by enthusiastically sharing, consistently encouraging, and occasionally guiding.

 
      Long-Term Motivation — Make it Useful
      Why should you, or those you are teaching, want to learn?  Early in the process of education, it's best to focus on the intrinsic motivation of having fun now.  Later, after a child has experienced the joys of learning-and-thinking in a variety of contexts, you can look for opportunities to explain how — in addition to being fun — learning can also be useful.  The ideal motivational situation is when a student thinks educational activities are fun and useful, immediately enjoyable and eventually practical.
      We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And utility is in the mind of the beholder, so the personal goals of an individual student should be the focus of long-term motivation.  Will your education be personally useful in the future?  If you can say "yes" and you have a forward-looking expectation that what you're learning now will improve your life, you have a reason to learn.  When you view learning as an opportunity for self-improvement — so you can develop your full human potential and become the person best you can be — you'll want to learn.  In this goal-directed intentional learning, you want to achieve personal goals by transforming your current state of knowledge (which includes all you know and all you can do) into a future state of knowledge that is improved.  For long-term motivation, a good question to ask is, "What can I learn now that will help me in the future?"
      As a teacher, your question is "What can I help them learn now that will be useful for them in the future?"  With your adult perspective, you see further down the road of life, and this lets you provide valuable guidance.  Your guidance can be personalized, because you have seen the many ways in which abilities and personal goals vary from one student to another.  This understanding can help you motivate a wider range of students with whole-person education for multiple intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal.