Learning How to Learn

Learning is really difficult. It’s not always a matter of exploring a new concept; sometimes it requires the breaking-up of a long-settled foundation, and replacing it with something more reliable.

The hardest thing about learning, however, is learning how to learn. Sounds weird, I’m sure, but think about it for just a moment. What drives you? What is it that actually makes a topic interesting to you?

Early on in my childhood I was diagnosed with ADD, and drugged mercilessly to combat the general apathy I had towards just about everything. It didn’t really matter what you were trying to teach me, I had no interest in learning.

I remember being perplexed by multiplication. “What is it?” I asked a classmate. They halfheartedly replied, “it’s the opposite of division.” What the heck does that even mean? Now I have to figure out what division is, and then be able to think about it backwards to discover the magic of multiplication?

As an adult, I look back and realize that I had no interest, because nobody was truly communicating with me. They would tell me the answer, but they weren’t successfully getting through. One teacher even had me stay after school on many occasions to explain per-cent; she used the nutritional information on a box of cereal as an example. Who the heck cares about cereal?

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started showing an interest in learning. I had just gotten a computer and began playing Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II on the Microsoft Gaming Zone. Our clan was totes the best. Shout out to the Golden Warriors, wherever you are these days!

This was the first computer game I really ever played, and I was blown away that people were able to make their own maps. Gamers were able to build their own little worlds, out of nothing. I wanted in on that experience, and nothing would stop me.

Back in the 90’s, the software kind of stunk for this. It was CAD-like orthographic views. You started off your map with a single cube, only it looked like a square on the screen, because you dealt with geometric shapes.

Drawn all across the screen were boxes, lines, and dots. The dots were a means by which you could measure distance, and served also as snap-points. The boxes were sectors, or rooms in your map. The lines were the edge of surfaces, and where those lines met were vertices. It took a little work to get the general vocabulary down, but once I did, I hit the ground running.

Drawn to the idea of creating my own worlds, I began learning geometry. I started thinking about math more. Everything required me to learn some foreign math concept. Want a river with a current? You have to read up on vectors.

This excitement for math stuck with me. Most recently, I’ve found myself learning additional math concepts to achieve certain effects in canvas animations, or trying to manipulate large data.

It took me years to learn how to learn. Nobody was able to teach me; I had to learn it for myself. For me, learning comes by way of creating. I wanted so badly to create that I found a way to scale the once insurmountable mounts that now shrink into the horizon behind me.

My son reminds me a lot of myself when I was younger. He doesn’t want to sit still, he wants to be up, jumping, kicking, and moving around. He wants to be talking about video games, and “smoking turkeys” (pwning n00bs).

I’ve found that he responds well to video games, as I did. Together we play Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. If a farm feeds 5 soldiers, and we need 10 soldiers to protect our base, how many farms do we need to build? We need to figure that out quickly; the Orcs are coming!

It’s really hard to get into another persons head, and learn what makes them tick. As teachers, adults in my young life sure tried (and perhaps succeeded in some ways). As a father, I’m trying my hardest with my kids. If you’re reading this, you are likely in a similar situation.

I still struggle with attention and focus as an adult. Sometimes working from a public place helps. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I’ll need a colored light in my office, and sometimes I need only the glow of my monitor. Sometimes I need music, and at other times I need complete silence.

I am still figuring myself out, as I work to help my son do the same. He and I are fighting this dragon together, side by side. We’re both learning how to learn.