True Learning

School is supposed to be a place of learning, but sometimes it slips up and falls into a groove of rote memorization, standardized testing and illogical problems that no one cares enough to answer. However, there is light that creeps up around these obstacles and shines through. In the past week, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to experience some of these golden, “true” learning moments.

As a way of seeing physics in action, my entire freshman class trekked out to Six Flags, a roller coaster theme park, to participate in their physics day. In preparation for the trip, we discussed problems related to specific coasters at the park and applied concepts we’d learned throughout the year to them. This is beneficial, because it’s relevant to the real world. School should allow students to learn for the real world, because in the end, that’s where the real tests will be.

My math teacher turned our curriculum down time before our next test into a challenge. Find and create a geometry problem incorporating a location on campus. This allows us to see that geometry is truly everywhere. My friends and I then wondered what the campus would look like if everything was made out of geometric shapes. Wouldn’t that be a project!

And while clearing up the table after dinner one night, I wanted to know what would happen if I dropped my cup off the edge of the porch: would it land flat, split evenly or crash into a million pieces? My dad let me test it out from a few feet above ground, but not from the top on the porch.

True learning doesn’t have to be in school anymore. School is a vehicle for knowledge, but there’s more than one option. Everywhere you go, you can learn something new. So now when the inevitable ‘what did you learn today?’ is asked, think not only of classes, but also of any moments throughout the day that struck you in some way or another. Because in those small moments, powerful new thoughts and ideas can emerge. And that, is true learning.


3, 2, 1…..

As the school year draws to a close (my last exam is in a few minutes), I thought I’d share what all I’ve learned this year, in my first year of High School. Ironic isn’t it, how I answered the same question for the blogging initiative edu180atl on my first actual day of freshman year. So much has happened since then.

I’ve taken a peek behind the curtains and seen the wizard in its smaller but true glory. I’ve learned that everything once had a start, that all big ideas had to have started small. That once you dismantle the illusion of the name, prestigion suddenly becomes attainable. Without the name and the connotation attached to it, places like the Huffington Post become just another website with staff who once started out just like me.

I’ve learned to listen when people speak with hindsight, because experience is the best teacher. From the informational books that I’ve read, I’ve learned how to get better, how to study and how to get the best out of my education. I’ve also learned to un-limit my learning, to benefit from the kind souls who love to fill kids with knowledge- these intelligent beings we call teachers.

I’ve learned to be more patient especially because of that one light that practically never turns green. I’ve learned the value of listening and renewed my understanding of friendship. I’ve come to realize the importance of extra curriculars, not for college purposes but as a distraction and a break from the rapid current of daily life.

But most importantly, I’ve learned that there are people out there who care about what I have to say. To you all, thank you. Because to a student like me, confidence is everything. And this year, I gained a lot of it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Little Women, Listen Up!

Here’s some Book Spine Poetry, inspired by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. You can see her installments here:

Some advice for little women such as myself:

“Little Women,
Have a little faith,
(an) open mindset,
(and) think big!”

Credit to:
– “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
– “Have a Little Faith” by Mitch Albom
– “Open” by Andre Agassi
– “Mindset” by Carol Dweck
– “Think Big” by Ben Carson

Godspeed, Graduates

This past weekend, I attended my high school’s graduation and watched the seniors take their last steps across the patio they’d called home for a year. The commencement speaker, Clyde Tuggle, the Chief Public Affairs and Communications Officer of Coca-Cola, had some interesting, if not wise, words to share. He started out giving us a bit of background on himself and his preparation for this talk. He said that he’d asked his children who warned him “For the love of god dad, dont say anything weird…” And in light of that warning, he had another guideline for himself- he didn’t want to give another self-help commencement speech that gives a step by step process on how to properly seize the day.

Instead, we were treated to a speech on his journey from rising episcopal priest to soft drinks salesman. And to get there he said, it takes a calling. Not a booming message from God, but as a result of exploration, finding the true thing which you love doing. And that turns out to be the difficult part. For geniuses, it’s easy. Tuggle quoted the poet W.H. Auden, saying, “Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals. What they must do is what they want to do.” The merely brilliant and gifted ones must find their calling. How to do this you say? Tuggle answered, “With an open mind.” One must also put oneself in a position to strike when opportunity knocks. And education is in his mind necessary to find this calling, to be well prepared to grab up opportunities. But my question is, what qualifies as education? Must it be college?

Tuggle’s following remarks provided the impression that sometimes, the most memorable learning moments may not come from school, but from those around you sharing their experiences. He then proceeded to share with the graduates some of his mother’s words of advice, important and valuable things she taught him. He told the graduates to “Challenge the status quo, move outside programmed safe zones and turn into uncharted territory.” He said that his experiences have shown him the “cracks in a broken world which fill [people] with questions.” And he decided he wants answers.

Then he sent the students off with what were in my mind, pithy last words, again inspired by his mother. “College is the first step on biggest journey of your life,” he said. “Find time for productive mischief…

And Godspeed.”

To everyone, Godspeed, and have a good summer. To the class of 2012, carpe diem :).

Homework: Help or Hassle?

(cross-posted from Huffington Post Teen and the Cooperative Catalyst)

Homework. It’s hard to find one student who hasn’t complained about it, and almost impossible to find one who’s never done it. Lately, many students I’ve talked with about education have been talking about homework, more than just your average complaint. A lot of this deeper conversation about homework was fueled by the release of the documentary A Race to Nowhere last year.

This documentary, A Race to Nowhere, follows a few students and their journey through high school, alongside interviews with concerned teachers and parents. The documentary centers around student, teacher and parent thoughts on homework and how it’s turned school into a race to virtually nowhere filled with stress and struggles. When I saw the movie, I had gone with the preconceived notion that the ideas were revolutionary. Now, as much as I often loathe doing my homework, I don’t believe it’s as big a deal as some people make it out to be. I still find time to hang out with my friends and do the stuff I want to, even with a pretty rigorous course load and subsequent homework.

I don’t think that homework should necessarily be totally abolished. The core idea of homework is that it’s used to polish concepts and reinforce lessons outside of the classroom. It is what it has become — a way for teachers to teach less and cover more material — that is not useful. I don’t think that all of the fuss is positive; personally, I think lots of students just don’t want to do it. If used properly, the idea of working at home on a study topic can be very helpful.

Ben Carson, an incredible neurosurgeon, had a rough childhood. In an effort to mobilize him and his brothers, Carson’s mother assigned them book reports. This homework led to study habits that propelled him forward in school and college. Carson is a prime example of how, when used properly, homework is a great tool for reinforcement. That’s not to say that I enjoy it, but I see the value. Lots of key concepts come from and are explained through homework, especially in math and science — much more than from lectures. Lectures present the fundamentals, and homework presents the concepts through examples.

Homework, if treated properly to further knowledge and reinforce concepts, can be a good thing. Not overloading the homework to crowd material but assigning it in small doses helps the students learn!


What do you think?

Feynman on Education

In reading Richard Feynman’s book “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman,” I came across a passage that struck me as very relevant to our world today. In this passage, Feynman details a lecture he gave at the end of his stay in Brazil as visiting Professor at the Center for Physical Research in Rio. While in Rio, Feynman was able to get an inside view of how their system worked. His talk (and this mini-story in general) points out how memorization is not at all true learning. Feynman, who I have come to see as a huge proponent for learning by doing, also mentions the joy and almost necessity in having experiments as part of a science course.

To me, his words really hit home. I know from experience the feeling of “knowing” a material but failing entirely to see the the solution to the same problem when presented differently from how I “learned” it. And Feynman’s “smack down” of the education system in Brazil, in my mind, can now apply to the system in the U.S. Tests and lectures are structured so that lots of students only study the minimum that’s going to be on the test and even then, forget that soon after. This is not the way to go about searching for success. Once fully comprehended, concepts should appear pliable. Any which way it’s presented, true knowledge can answer it.

This kind of deep understanding comes from real examples. In the book, Feynman disses the publisher of the Brazilian science textbook, for having faked the single simple inclined plane experiment in the book. To me, examples with no possibility of ever occurring in the real world are just as bad as this faked experiment. Experiments are there to help students make connections for themselves by seeing the concept in action. As a student, examples that require me to actually test it out, help me to see for my own eyes the conclusions. This concreteness then makes it much easier to remember and understand.

So let’s make Feynman proud and add (or expand) hands-on learning in our classrooms. Because learning by doing is powerful.