What learning is about

Whew!  The last week of December -> first week of January is always a crazy one.  This year proved to be no exception but it also provided a good reminder for me of why I love the work I do so much.

Lost in all of the to-do over objective learning outcomes, performance indicators, off-the-production-floor ROI, project [mis]management, the emergence of Learning 2.0 functionality, capturing/fostering informal learning, Connectivism vs. Constructivism vs. Objectivism vs. Behaviorism vs. MyBrainIsGoingToExplodeism, proper modality selection and rigorous adherence to application of andragological  principles…  well, it’s easy to see why we sometimes loose sight of the forest for all the trees.

Last week my kids and I spent a couple of short hours at the Discovery Gateway in Salt Lake City.  It was, well, it was… dare I say… fun.  My four year old ran from one area to the next – obviously far too quickly to acheive any measurable long term performance/skills enhancement (subjecting her to inquisition later proved this true).  Without fail, all of my kids failed to complete even one evaluation form or competency assessment.  But they all (especially the 4 year old) knew that we left waaaaaaay too soon and that it is imperative we go back there again.  If I had thought to record it, I could ODEO our ‘negotiations’ meeting – we got them all in the car but it was not cheap.

Our trip also reminded me of one of the coolest learning experiences I’ve had.  While visiting my inlaws in Santa Rosa, California 2 years ago we went took a day trip down to the Exploratorium in San Franscisco.  I enjoyed science in school, taught middle/high school science for 5 years, and have always thought of Science as a pretty enjoyable domain (as domains go) in general so I think of science museums as a good way to spend a day with my kids.  Usually, I can see the exhibit as I’m walking up to it and have the “science” pretty much figured out before I get to the display itself.  Then it’s jut a matter of playing around with what’s there…  at this stage in my life I think of 99% of this stuff as “cool” but not necessarily insightful or particularly ‘wow’ inducing.  Not that I’m Dr. Smartypants or anything, I’ve just seen a lot of it.

So, I’m casually making my way through the “Life” section of the Exploratorium and I see this display.   In the plexiglass case there are petri dishes with a chick embryo at various develpmental stages.  Starting at the “1-3 days old” end I think “That’s pretty cool, nice little plastic models”.  The I get to the third dish and see… the heart beating!  HUNH?!?  Then I look closer… they are petri dishes with a piece of plastic wrap lightly covering an actual, developing, live baby chick.  I didn’t even notice the heart beating on the second dish which, on closer inspection, it was.  I was completely blown away!  It wasn’t a time-lapse video, it wasn’t even an egg in my own hand (back when we had a rooster and one of our hens would get broody, I used to spotlight the eggs with my kids).  It was there inches away from me… a real, live piece of life that caught me completely off guard.

Now, I don’t intend to ever become an embryologist, a chicken rancher, or even a biology teacher but that moment of discovery is still crystal clear in my mind – when not much else is 🙂

That, for me, is what I love so much about the work I do… nurturing moments and environments of discovery.  I guess I just need a four year old to remind me. 

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2 Responses to “What learning is about”


  1. 1 Allison January 12, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Hey Paul – you know, it’s Friday and my brain is about done for the week. So much as I want to say something really intelligent in response to your post (and I do have thoughts) – I will instead just tell you that I just LOVE your blog. I love your take on things, I love your observations, and I really enjoy your writing style. So this is a global comment – GREAT work!

    Best,
    Allison

  2. 2 pfender January 12, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    Thank you, Allison. I’m flattered that anyone would even bother reading this stuff at all… I think of it as a space to air what’s on my mind and that means it isn’t really well written most of the time 🙂


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