This month the topic for Robert Hruzek’s group writing project is What I Learned From…Transportation. It reminds me of a rafting trip I took years ago. I was at a physics conference, and for the Wednesday afternoon entertainment/bonding experience the organizers took us on a white water rafting trip. It was fun…sufficiently splashy to feel adventuresome, but not enough to cause many casualties. As I recall they hauled one fellow off to the emergency room for a sprained ankle, but that was it. No, the raft itself was fun but the guide did all of the thinking, so we didn’t learn much there. It was when we got to the end that we had a choice. We could either stay in the raft and paddle to shore, or we could get into the water and swim there ourselves. That was a no-brainer for me…I love to swim. So I confidently jumped in, aimed for the landing spot and started swimming.
Yeah, sure. The current had other ideas:
Oops! As my GPS system would say, “Recalculating. Recalculating.” I quickly changed direction and did just fine:
How embarrassing. How funny. It was a physics conference, after all. And I did spend most of my time using doing vector calculus (more specifically, using Maxwell’s equations to simulate electromagnetic fields). And yet when it came to one of the simplest concepts in physics, vector addition, I had to think about it. Just because we know something in one part of our brain, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically available in a new situation.
I’ve taken that lesson to heart. That’s one reason I like independent study, learning things myself, rather than taking formal courses. I can focus on skill development rather than on book knowledge. I can learn a few concepts and practice them on projects I care about until they’re a part of me. Then I can add a few more concepts and digest them before I go further. It takes patience and persistence, but it sure beats information overload.
That’s what works for me. What works for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.