Diving in

Posted on August 1, 2012

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I enjoyed Dr. Tae’s TED talk about how learning in school should include elements of learning to skateboard.  He talked about the 360 flip trick that it took five years for him to figure out, and the importance of “working your ass off” for a long time and expecting “not fun” times on the way to learning something.  I was a little concerned, though, about the notion that *just* working on something ’til you got it was the best way to do it.   Hey, if you’re a physics professor, you’re going to know that leaning more this way or that is what to work on…

It reminded me of learning to do a front flip off the diving board, though it didn’t take me five years (butterfly required that).  It was a quiet day at the Lakeside NOrth Apartment pool where I was lifeguard.  I practiced the somersault part in the water ’til I had it down, then took it to the board.

I never made it all the way around.   I tried again and again and… and kept smacking the back of my thighs.

After a brief eternity of this, I was approached by a man from his lounge chair.   He informed me that in order to have time to get the flip in I needed to spring *up* from the diving board first.   Oops, whole new physical skill.   I practiced just diving but getting well airborne first… and then made the many attempts necessary to integrate the two.

Of course, all those previous attempts had embedded a motor memory and when I’m up in the air I’m by definition disoriented… but it didn’t take *too* long before I had it. I also had black and blue thighs the next day…

(I never saw that man again. I had never seen him before. I speculate that he was delegated by the  cosmic messenger angel legions.)

Now, would it have been “better” for me to know about that jumping up thing first?   Um, yes. I do think so.   I had to unlearn that motor memory.  It wasn’t any real part of the “flip” but you can’t do the flip with out the spring.   The “I’m just a bored lifeguard with hours to kill” factor meant that emotional factors were almost nonexistent, especially since I already knew that Learning Athletic Skills takes The Sue lots of extra time.   Of course, that’s not true for most students in a math situation… which makes it even more important to guide people back to working their whatevers off … constructively.   Perhaps that’s what makes it “constructivist” learning 😉

Now, the other thing you learn from being left to your own devices is that self-regulating thing:   okay, I’ve spent an awful lot of time doing this; do I need to back up and look at the big picture?  I have already learned that it takes me a long time but I *can* master techniques for physical activities. However,  I didn’t really learn that by experience — people told me to do that.  I wonder how many “self-directed” learners were explicitly taught to be self-directed 😛

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