From trying out an instrument to mastering a new language, share a story about a time you set out to learn something new.
I always thought I had a good ear — until I decided, as a wide-eyed college freshman, to take Intro to Music Theory. It turned out there’s a wide gap between being able to read notes and successfully following the intricate rules of diatonic harmony, and the gap got wider with every passing week. I’ve never been prouder of an A-. (Or was it a B+?)
Learning and its challenges were on my mind recently when I interviewed Ben Orlin at Discover. Ben, who blogs at Math with Bad Drawings, is a UK-based math educator. On his blog he uses his signature (snarky) stick figures to make a point about numbers, teaching, and all the things that can go wrong in the transmission of knowledge.
At a certain point he spoke about the value of mistakes — how meaningful they can be to the person who makes them (as well as to the one who’s there to correct them):
An error isn’t just a blemish we need to erase: it’s the outward signal of some inner thought process. If I can help a student unpack their own thinking, then they’ll learn to inspect ideas more closely, and absorb them more deeply.
This made me think of so many moments from my own life as a student and (formerly) a teacher. The awkward silence before the first person dares to answer a question. Those “eureka!” moments when things click (even if they fall apart again later). The alternating waves of thrill and boredom that accompany the long process of learning, whether you’re in school, self-taught, or somewhere in between.
For this week’s challenge, share a story (in whatever medium, format, or genre you choose) about learning something new. What were you trying to accomplish? Was it a success or a flop? Has that knowledge stayed with you, or is it buried deep in your brain’s dusty attic?
Don’t limit yourself to experiences from brick-and-mortar classrooms — we learn in so many different environments and from so many different people, so an enlightening conversation with your grandmother is just as welcome as a recap of your adventures in the library stacks.