What I Learned About Learning…From a Rafting Trip

This month the topic for Robert Hruzek‚Äôs 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.

picture demonstrating direction of swim
Yeah, sure. The current had other ideas:
Picture showing where I would be going

Oops! As my GPS system would say, “Recalculating. Recalculating.” I quickly changed direction and did just fine:
New direction I was swimming and going

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.

Thanks to bikehikebabe for commenting on last week’s post.
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5 Responses to What I Learned About Learning…From a Rafting Trip

  1. Pingback: Middle Zone Musings » All Entries - What I Learned From Transportation

  2. Ulla Hennig says:

    When at school I hated physics. I hated mathematics as well, because I didn’t see any sense in it. But now in my daily life I often think: well, here it is, pysics made practical. Why can’t physics be taught that way in school?

  3. Hey Jean – Not something I would care to experience – far too cautious to do anything quite so adventurous – but I am so glad it ended up well and that you learned something from it.
    Love the diagrams…

  4. Jean says:

    I agree. Some of physics is very practical, and it’s a shame they can’t teach that part to everyone. Thank you for coming by!

    I’ve gone on several rafting trips, but nothing dangerous…I tend to be cautious, too. But they can be safe and still feel adventuresome. I’m glad you like the diagrams. They took a while to make, but I enjoyed it.

  5. Pingback: Results from the What I Learned From Transportation Group Writing Project } Group Writing Projects

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