Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Teaching. Learning.

Last night, Zara asked me to teach her how to do I Ching. I was very pleased to be asked, because I think it's good knowledge to pass on, but it's not something you can tell a person when they don't want to know. (Is there anything you can tell a person when they don't want to know?) It means she has an efficient analytical tool to guide her through problems for the rest of her life now, which I've found to be a tremendous asset.

Prior to that, she asked me to show her how to drive the car, which was less successful and about which I was far less confident. Sitting in the passenger seat explaining how you drive is profoundly difficult, even when you've been driving - as I have - for twenty years. I managed to explain how to start the engine, and she started the engine. Then I explained about the gearbox and clutch, she put it into first, then I said the immortal words: "Just release the clutch now.."

It was a good job we were only on our driveway and there was nothing infront of us for 20 yards.

Teaching apparently consolidates your learning. I have heard people say that until you can teach something, you haven't learned it properly. I've had debates with my friend Lou over the years about whether I do teach the children. In the past I've denied doing any teaching at all, but I now realise that if asked, then I do try to teach - as sensitively as possible. And 'try' being the operative word. It's really not easy. I wouldn't try to teach unless I was asked.

And I stop when the person asks me to, or appears to lose interest - for example, last night Lyddie and I were reading Puddle Lane, when she asked how could the 'e' in 'pulled' be a magic 'e' and yet not be at the end of a word? So I explained about tenses, about which she was interested. I told her that some words change according to when they're happening and gave some examples. Then I realised I hadn't specified which words change under those circumstances, so I started on about nouns, verbs and adjectives, at which point she said: "Mum, can we just read the story now?"

Over-teach. It's an ever-present trap. It lures us in by the ego, and the triumphant sound of our own voices. I'm glad my children feel they can be blunt when they have to be.

Tom has been teaching me about electricity. I'm trying to understand how wind turbines work for our off-grid project and it's stretching my brains. It's one of those things I keep learning, but then forgetting and having to learn all over again. He uses Wikipedia a lot to explain things to me - pages like this, but I just look at all those equations and feel my mind start to frantically build walls to keep them out.

So I asked him to explain it more simply, and more simply, and more simply still. We got down to a metal coil surrounding a magnetically repelling material, like lead or graphite. I started to almost see how it might work then, but I still want to know why. When Tom had gone, I got out my old physics school textbook, but it didn't help. Some of the Dorling Kindersley ones on our bookshelves did though. ("Ages 8-14". What do they know?!)

So, you move something conductive within a magnetic field and you get an electrical charge. This I understand now, but I still don't know why. Does anyone know why? Tom keeps changing the subject when I ask him. I think.


Blogger Dani said...

I'm not sure there is a *reason*. It might be something a bit self-referential, like moving something magnetic within a coil has an effect on the electrons in the wire which is called an electric current.

Does there have to be a reason for things that are observable facts?

But this is the bit about electricity that I never understood either, so I clearly don't know the answer if there is one!

7:49 pm, July 16, 2008  
Blogger Tim said...

Your story about the "driving lesson" reminded me (again).

"I want to die in my sleep, like my grandfather did, not screaming, like his passengers." :-)

I think there is a big bit of physics, around gravity and electromagnetism where there are "unanswered questions" still.

9:08 pm, July 16, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

"It might be something a bit self-referential, like moving something magnetic within a coil has an effect on the electrons in the wire which is called an electric current."

Ooh Dani - I think you might be onto something there.

"Does there have to be a reason for things that are observable facts?"

I think it depends how your mind works. If you can accept that something 'just is' and get on with making it work for you, that's a great position to be in, but it's something I've always struggled with.

LOL Tim - that joke came to my mind yesterday sitting out there on the drive!

Re: unanswered questions. Hmmm. I think I might have a look at Tesla next. He seemed to know a thing or two, didn't he?

8:43 am, July 17, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I loved this post Gill.
As a teacher I often learned stuff very shortly before I taught it (I've explained this to Mialani, who questions if I'm qualified to 'teach' her things because she has ascertained I don't know a lot about them.) Also, I encouraged students to teach what they had discovered to others in order to consolidate it and to get it really sensible in their heads.

I used to ask my mum "What does x mean?" or "How do you spell x?" and get very bored and frustrated as she literally got a few different dictionaries out and began to compare the definitions and get into the epistemology of the word, it's origins, etc! I just wanted to get on and finish the blasted essay so that I could do something else! I don't think even looking a bit disinterested would go down ok. As it is, that stuff fascinates me now and I'd be inclined to bore my kids with it when they've not asked for it if I didn't operate some self discipline and have really feisty kids that even resort to "Ok, you can shut up now Mum!" (which I definitely sometimes deserve!)
Mialani has decided she is going to teach me to dive! I am getting to feel the sensations she must feel when I 'intend' to teach her something she's far from sure she wants to learn!

11:03 pm, July 22, 2008  
Blogger Gill said...

Glad you enjoyed it Sally :-) Good luck with the diving! :-O

7:44 am, July 30, 2008  

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