Posts Tagged ‘learning’

I get told every so often that I should have been a teacher.

The people telling me this are disregarding the massively antisocial aspects of my personality to reach this conclusion, but I do kinda see where they’re coming from. Aside from the whole human interaction element, I quite like teaching.

I guess the way I tend to think of it is that I enjoy explaining stuff I understand. In front of a chalkboard staring at a couple of dozen pre-adolescents is absolutely not somewhere I’m ever going to feel at home, but some one-on-one maths tutoring is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. I’m good enough that it could provide a nice little side-income.

And, like, a good chunk of what I’m trying to do on my blog is explain stuff that interests me to other people. I think I can be a bit teacher-y, so long as it’s well outside the standard classroom environment.

And I sometimes remember that I have definite Opinions about teaching, and how it can be done well and badly. I’ve been convinced for a while that many people’s profound aversion to anything involving numbers can be largely explained by a crappy standard of teaching with regard to all the fundamentals. If you think you hate maths, there’s a good chance you could understand a lot of its bewildering ideas much better if they were introduced in a better-structured manner.

In fact, I started a series of posts back in my LiveJournal days called Happy Funtime Maths Hour, attempting to do exactly that. It was inspired by the polite curiosity of my humanities-oriented university housemates, starting a longer time ago than I’m comfortable thinking about. So when I said I get told I should’ve been a teacher “every so often”, I guess I meant “fairly regularly for over a decade now”.

And I might actually have to start listening, in some form or another. There’s a couple of things that have made me think about this again lately. The first was listening to the audiobook of Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Chef. There’s a lot going on in there: it’s partly a cookbook, with recipes and so on, but it’s also a treatise on the process of learning itself. It examines the path taken by the author to becoming a skilled cook, and picks out the crucial parts of how that learning actually happened. It builds a system of teaching skills based on the way they’re likely to be most efficiently acquired.

Not everything in the book entirely hit home with me, but it definitely had an effect how I think about the process of learning. I’m learning to cook myself, not in quite as organised a fashion as Tim, but in some way inspired by his methods.

One thing I was inspired to do was actually crack open one of the hardcopy cookbooks we have on our shelves. We recently picked up three volumes of Delia Smith’s How To Cook in a charity shop, thinking it might be a good starting point for me to pick up some more basic kitchen skills. These books are somewhat well known for starting from the absolute fundamentals, explaining in simple detail the basics of how to boil an egg, and I vaguely remember them attracting some negative commentary from people who found something risible about this perfectly fine idea.

After some introduction and opening preamble, page 16 of the first volume kicks things off with the header: “How do you boil eggs?”

Just overleaf, on page 19, is this picture:

Now, I’ve never actually taught anything, and I didn’t read the intervening pages in full, so technically I don’t even know how to boil an egg either. But if you’re talking to someone who you’re assuming knows nothing about cooking at all, and they turn a single page to find themselves expected to produce that, something really seems to have gone awry somewhere in the pedagogical process. Maybe other people really have learn loads about cooking from scratch by this exact process, but to me it feels badly disconnected from anything someone clueless and hoping to learn things could actually engage with.

Educating people in ways they won’t get distracted or put off by may be becoming one of my Things. Watch this space.

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Argument against the human body being the product of intelligent design #234978: lack of progress bars.

I’m bad at a lot of things I’d like to be less bad at. Now, the part where that takes hundreds of hours of effort to make tiny incremental improvements to your skill level, I get. But I’m also painfully aware of the possibility that, after putting hundreds of hours of effort into something, I won’t have achieved anything worth crowing about at the end of it all. That has to be possible as well, right?

My base level of talent at, say, drawing, is so low that, even if I worked really hard at it, to the same degree as other people who’ve practised long enough to get really good (which, let’s face it, is unlikely), I’m not convinced I’d make anything like enough progress for it to be worthwhile. Because that incremental improvement is basically just a rumour at this stage. It’s an urban legend about something that’s happened to other people but never been directly observed.

If I could just watch that progress bar slowly, slowly ticking forward toward my next level-up as I work at it, I wouldn’t keep deciding that my latest pet project is futile and giving up six times as a day.

Again, I’m not objecting to the fact that learning new skills takes a long time and a great deal of effort. Progress is allowed to be slow, and hard work is the most rewarding kind. I’m young enough that it’s not like I don’t have thousands of hours available to try getting good at a few different things, but the suspicion that my achievement level is remaining at precisely zero despite my actions is inescapable.

Just blindly hoping that it’s all going somewhere, anywhere, isn’t enough. My brain needs an XP-counter implant, dammit.

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