You really can learn to anything, if you take one small step at a time.
Kids, I once did an exam which I failed, actually, failing exams was probably the one thing I excelled at in school.
But this particular washout stunned my teacher who asked in an exasperated tone, “You know this subject inside out, why didn’t you pass?” I replied by shrugging my shoulders; the standard response of a teenager who has no idea how to answer the many deep, philosophical questions tossed at them on a daily basis, e.g.:
- Why did you skateboard down Thrill Hill?!
- What did you think would happen after eating so many biscuits?!
- How long has this dead frog been under your bed??!!
So, the teacher asked me some questions on the topic, which I answered easily. Then he put his head in his hands and muttered, “That’s right! Why on earth didn’t you write that down in the test?!”
“Because you didn’t ask the questions like that in the test,” I answered.
He looked a little surprised then laughed, “I see! So, you’re the mythical student who actually does know the answers but is confused by the questions!”
He was right, but I wasn’t alone, most of the people I suffered through school with were in the same doubt-riddled boat.
Why? Because the standard assessment questions go something like this:
- Complete the following: If, 1 +1 = 2 and 1 + 2 = 3 what is the square root of 4290 to the third decimal point? (Show all working out).
- If two trains are travelling at 36kph towards each other and the distance between them is 94klms, what colour tie is the conductor in the third carriage wearing and where did they purchase it from?
Ok, I’ve used a little artistic license, but most math questions were full of traps, e.g.:
- Wendy drives to her mother’s house and back. On the trip out she drives an average speed of 50kph. On the trip back she drives an average speed of 70kph. What is her approximate average speed for the round trip?
Logically, I’d circle C) 60kph. But I’ll have just fallen into the trap set by the examiner who has used the word ‘approximate‘. The approximate answer is 60kph, but the answer they actually wanted was, B) 58.3kph.
Now, as someone who thinks the word approximate means something like ‘Close Enough’, or ‘In the Ballpark’, I spent a lot of time listening to explanations about why I was out by a miserable 1.7kph and how stupid I must have been to have got it wrong, while I was idly wondering what the word ‘approximate’ must mean to them and, more to the point, why was Wendy speeding home?
As a result, I treated every exam question like it was a trap and on numerous occasions, to the astonishment of my teachers, would regularly cross out the correct answers and write down the wrong ones. Because, I was treating exams like the referee was changing the rules of the game while we were playing it.
Which is why I’ve spent most of my life believing I was bad at math. So bad in fact, that I pathologically avoided it for years… until I discovered the beauty of Excel spreadsheets; but that’s another story.
Sadly, I quickly fell into the very real trap of growing cynical and, more or less, giving up. What was the point of the whole exercise? Proving to me I didn’t know something I already didn’t know?
So, I wound up marking time until I could get out of their twisted system.
But here’s the thing kids, I wasn’t bad at math, I just couldn’t make the Quantum Leap from the basics to the advanced stuff without covering the middle ground first. Like learning to crawl before you walk, then learning to run.
For some reason our educators wanted us to go from a crawl to running a marathon, then getting extremely upset when we couldn’t do it.
It was only after I left the system did I learn those intermediate steps (along with the basic rules), and my life got a whole lot easier.
And this lesson was hammered home to me again very recently by an old Learn To Draw book. I’ve always wanted to learn how to draw, most of us do, but I’ve been bitterly disappointed by various teaching methods which seem to start with crawling, then go straight to marathon level leaving you wondering ‘What the hell just happened? What have I missed?’
The following is taken from a book written by well meaning people who genuinely want to teach folk how to draw Australian animals:
‘Great!’ you think reaching for the pencils, ‘I can do this!’
Then you turn the page:
At this point you realise there’s a shedload of steps missing between drawings two and three and the pencils go back into their box.
This style of teaching is guaranteed to set you up for failure.
It’s the educational equivalent of those home reno shows which shows you a room which looks like it’s been hit by a Panzer division, then after a quick tidy up and slapping some paint around, voila! it’s transformed into a glittering ballroom (‘And wasn’t that so easy folks?! Now, lets’ make the cushions for the futon!’)
One day, you’ll renovate a room and you’ll discover the thousands of missing, but vital, steps the shows’ producers conveniently left out (i.e.: like driving a nail through the sewerage pipe you didn’t know was under the floor).
Which is why I love, no, LOVE, the Bob Ross painting shows. Simple steps, no gaps, crawl, walk, run and you’ll have something in the ball park of a painting you’ll be proud to hang on your wall.
Sadly, I haven’t done one yet, because I’m still suspicious of ‘the traps’ 🙂 One day I will, and I’ll post it here on the blog.
But the most important thing I want to tell you is this:
If you are struggling to learn something, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are stupid. Trust me, you aren’t.
All you need to do is find a better teacher. Or, if that isn’t possible, ask better questions to get the results you need.
It’s really that simple. No tricks, no trap.