Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Learning for Dummies

This past week I have been messing about with a Google program called SketchUp.  I tried my usual technique of starting out not reading any directions to see how intuitive it was to learn.  It wasn’t.

I drew some lines and rectangles of HUGE proportions, and some tiny.  Who would know?  The one that looked right had a measurement of over 1000 feet long, too big for for a house.  I went to the Help menu in the program, but it didn’t seem to do the trick for me. I needed more help than that.

Then I downloaded the book SketchUp for Dummies.  I have never. . . I repeat. . . n-e-v-e-r  e-v-e-r wanted to buy a-n-y book that said it was for dummies.  But at this particular point in time I was feeling like I might be one, so I bought it.  I read a couple of chapters, and it got me started, but I still felt dumber than I thought I was.

Next I went to YouTube to watch some demonstrations, and that is where I finally started to understand what the author of the book was trying to say.  It really isn’t that difficult a program, just not as many familiar functions as other “new to me” programs have going for them. 

As I watched the demonstrations, I tried to replicate what they’d done.  Sometimes I’d go back to the book after the demonstration just to reread parts of it.  Then I’d try it again on my own.  Slowly I’ve found it easier to work with.  Yes, chairs will still have one leg that seems to shoot out or shorten suddenly, a bit like Alice in Wonderland when she was changing sizes unexpectedly.  But more and more as I watch, read and try I am improving, and not so many weird and unwonderful things happen as I create a building or table.

What I like about learning things like this is that I can identify so much more with anyone I’m trying to instruct.  Even though this program isn’t one that I’d be teaching in my classes, there is definitely a benefit to students when I learn new skills outside of the education territory. I am reminded when I teach something that there is more than one way to learn, that hands-on is very necessary, that after learning in one way you can introduce the other methods which might now make sense, and that small chunks of learning are good, but don’t leave the new learning for long before picking it up again.

For most learning, the problems come from the way it is presented and the student’s perception of themselves as learners.  I tried three times before finding the way that worked for me.  I’m no dummy.  I know I’m not.  Kids don’t always know that about themselves; they’re waiting to find out from us whether they are smart or dumb.   Unfortunately, when they don’t get something, they assume the worst. . . they’re dummies.
Lack of time, knowledge or materials may mean that we don’t try another method. . . well, we may speak more loudly, but that is not technically another method and is rarely effective with students of normal hearing.

I am continuing to learn SketchUp on my own, another lesson to pass on to our children: they can find the resources and learn things on their own forever.  They are not dummies.  They are not dummies unless we tell them they are.

My mother once said to me
when I was
getting upset with myself
and getting tired
but refusing to quit
“Are you afraid that someday
someone will find out that
you really
aren’t smart?”
“Yes,” I said,
“I feel that way, too,” she whispered,
and gave me a hug.
“You have nothing to be
afraid of.”
Happy birthday, Mom.
I miss your wisdom.
I hope I have enough stored up
to use when I need it.
I miss your outlook on life.
I hope I can always remember
to see the world through your eyes.


  1. I bought Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies last year. I felt like an idiot when I bought it, but was thankful I did. It was an excellent resource!

  2. Love this! Love the poem at the end. I also have to keep working/learning because I'm afraid they'll find out I'm not smart enough! Really, I think most teachers think that--at least the ones who keep learning think that!

  3. Good Words to ponder as the beginning of the school year edges closer.

  4. I think you've just given me an idea to propose for professional development this year. I have to talk with my head of school this week to propose some ideas. I like that you showed us your process through this, especially when you connected it to students and teaching-so true that we need to take new challenges in learning so we can remember what it's all about. Then, to end on such a lovely personal memory of your mother. Our moms are very special, always with us in our hearts, aren't they?

  5. Learning is challenging. This is a good reminder as we head back to school. Good luck with your new learning!

  6. What a great post - you observed your journey as a learner, just being able to do that informs our teaching so much. Thank you for the poem, too.

  7. Donna...I had a very similar experience with that program only I gave up. I couldn't think of a reason I would use it in the near future and it was frustrating me to no end. Glad you persevered...now you can show me:)

  8. Great Post! It is good to keep learning new things to keep the knowledge front and center of what it is like to be a beginner.

  9. I spent 4 hours last night learning how to use my new phone - and thought I would write an entry about it - you've captured much of what I was thinking!

  10. I appreciate how you related your own experience to how children are learning. Great post! MaryHelen


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