Posted in Education, Learning, Professional Development, Teaching, Trying Something New

Learning Something New

As a student in school, I struggled to learn new ideas, concepts, skills, and content.  I needed repeated exposure and much hands-on practice to grasp and learn something new.  Unfortunately, my public school utilized a traditional model of education and so I wasn’t allowed the extra time I needed to learn new things.  Therefore, much of the “learning” I did in school was to pass a class, matriculate into the next grade, or take a test.  The learning was never made genuine or real for me.  Because of this, I did not retain most of what I learned in elementary, middle, and high school.  It’s all a blur now, reflecting on my school experience.  Most of what I know now, I learned in college or on my own as a teacher.  In college, I had time to learn at my own pace using methods that worked for me.  If I needed extra practice or study time, I took it.  If I needed help or feedback from a teacher, I got it.  I was able to learn on my terms.  It felt good to actually be learning something that would stick in my long term memory.

After having just finished my second and final summer reading book, I felt inclined to learn something new that I could incorporate into the classroom for the upcoming academic year.  I read an education article recently that discussed different types of technology teachers utilize in the classroom.  While the obvious ones are used in most every school and classroom around the world, a few others surprised me.  Knitting is a form of technology that teaches fine motor skill development, mathematical patterns, stamina, problem solving, following directions, and creativity.  So, I decided that I am going to learn how to knit this summer so that I can determine how I might best incorporate knitting into my STEM class.

I purchased a teach yourself to knit kit earlier this week in hopes of using it to teach myself to knit.  Luckily, my wife is a star knitter and wanted to share her passion with me.  So, last night, she taught me how to cast-on and knit.  She was a great teacher, very patient.  When the lesson was done, I had knit four or five rows.  It felt great.  I like this knitting, I thought.  Later last evening, I tried to continue what I had started, to no avail.  I couldn’t remember what to do and then ended up doing the wrong thing.  I basically ruined what I had started.  I was frustrated.  I thought I knew what to do.  Then, I thought about how I learn best as a student: Practice.  I need much more practice before I can truly learn the skill.

So as to not completely forget what I had started learning yesterday, I decided to take matters into my own hands today.  After I finished reading Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, I felt motivated to try something new so that I could revolutionize my classroom.  I jumped on Youtube and watched some videos on how to cast-on.  The first four I watched were useless.  They explained the process way too fast for me.  Even with pausing it and rewinding, I couldn’t understand what they were trying to show me.  I was frustrated, but not done trying.  I persevered.  I watched one more video, and wallah.  I was back in business.  This video broke the steps of casting-on down into manageable chunks.  The demonstration and words used to explain the process were easy for me to understand.  So, I cast-on many stitches, and then undid them.  Then, I cast-on again for 22 stitches, and undid them all.  I repeated the process of casting-on several times until I felt very comfortable with the entire process.  At that point, I felt as though I was beginning to make the process of casting-on stick and begin to move into my short term memory.  By the end of the summer, I hope to move that skill into my long term memory.

I continued practicing, undoing, and repeating casting-on and the knit stitch process.  It felt good and a bit easier.  I’m learning, on my terms, and I’m loving the results.  This entire experience simply builds upon my belief in the learning process.  Every student needs to learn how he or she learns best and then be given ample time to work through the process when learning something new.  Classrooms should be work centers, hubs of creativity instead of factories with desks in neat rows.  Some students learn like me, through repetition and practice, while others learn through listening, observing, or just doing.  As teachers, we need to provide our students with the space, time, and materials to help them learn how they learn best.  For me, I needed to practice, observe, and repeat.  Although learning new things is challenging and frustrating, it’s all part of the necessary process.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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