Thinking about Learning

Here are ten things that I believe about learning:

  • Our beliefs about what we can learn constrain what we do learn
  • A divided view of knowledge leads to a divided view of people
  • There’s no such thing as a math person
  • Paying attention to how we learn is a key step in becoming a better learner
  • Curiosity takes work. It takes work to cultivate a curious attitude, and it takes work to create an environment that encourages curiosity
  • You can’t learn something if you don’t care about it first
  • We tend to overvalue the role of knowledge in education, and undervalue the role of affect (i.e., how a set of ideas makes a person feel)
  • As educators, we should spend less time providing answers, and more time helping people appreciate (even fall in love with) questions
  • A great way to develop expertise in any discipline is to play with its ideas, and make these ideas your own by answering your own questions with them
  • One of the most valuable things that you can learn from anyone is how to be a particular kind of person

Here are some books and articles on education (with a bias towards math & science education, and childhood education) that have influenced me:

  • Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas. Seymour Papert
  • “The Having of Wonderful Ideas” and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning. Eleanor Duckworth
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018 documentary on Fred Rogers) Directed by Morgan Neville
  • A Mathematician’s Lament. Paul Lockhart
  • Measurement. Paul Lockhart

Quotes about Learning

Eleanor Duckworth

“The virtues involved in not knowing are the ones that really count in the long run. What you do about what you don’t know is, in the final analysis, what determines what you will know.”

Rhett Allain

“Confusion is the sweat of learning.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

“The daily routine of most adults is so heavy and artificial that we are closed off to much of the world. We have to do this in order to get our work done. I think one purpose of art is to get us out of those routines. When we hear music or poetry or stories, the world opens up again. We’re drawn in — or out — and the windows of our perception are cleansed, as William Blake said. The same thing can happen when we’re around young children or adults who have unlearned those habits of shutting the world out.”

Mary Oliver

“When I walk out into the world, I take no thoughts with me. That’s not easy, but you can learn to do it. An empty mind is hungry, so you can look at everything longer, and closer. Don’t hum! When you listen with empty ears, you hear more. And this is the core of the secret: Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

Kathryn Schulz

“So much of contemporary science writing traffics in the illusion of knowledge; it’s quick to close the case, eager to peddle solutions, determined to be useful or profitable to readers. Holt traffics in wonder, a word whose dual meanings—the absence of answers; the experience of awe—strike me as profoundly related. His book is not utilitarian. You can’t profit from it, at least not in the narrow sense. Sometimes you can’t even understand it. And yet it does what real science writing should: It helps us feel the fullness of the problem.”

Seymour Papert

“Anything is easy if you can assimilate it to your collection of models. If you can’t, anything can be painfully difficult.”

“What is happening now is an empirical question. What can happen is a technical question. But what will happen is a political question”

“An important part of becoming a good learner is learning how to push out the frontier of what we can describe with words.”

Daniel Willingham

“Sometimes I think that we, as teachers, are so eager to get to the answers that we do not devote sufficient time to developing the question. But [..] it’s the question that piques people’s interest. Being told an answer doesn’t do anything for you.”

Frank Herbert

“Muad’Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn.”