Why Things Stick

Figuratively, that is.  I’d have to spend some more time learning why things literally stick to offer you a proper answer.  

From a young age, learning has been a passion of mine.  As it turns out, there are several reasons for that, and Swarthmore’s Ann Renninger and Diane Anderson have devoted quite a bit of time to researching and publishing why we learn better when we’re actively engaged in what we’re learning.  Think about something you love doing.  I’ll bet you could tell me a lot about it.  In fact, I’ll bet you could still tell me a lot about something you were interested in when you were ten or fifteen years old.  The reason(s)?  Not simple, but simply put, we retain things better when we are actively interested in them…and even better when it’s a long-term interest, not just a fleeting one.

I was fortunate to attend Wingra School from K-8 in Wisconsin — all of the teachers were great at encouraging us to run with our interests; it’s part of Wingra School’s approach.  And learning about things I was actually interested in always stayed with me longer…or permanently.  The Philly Free School has no teachers, per se, as students direct their own education.  Author’s full disclosure: I was involved as a Founder of the Philly Free School and am currently on their Board of Trustees.

So, why talk about the role of interest on a blog post?  I’m proposing that intertwining part of our work (as appropriate, of course!) with things that interest us will ultimately lead to learning that sticks with us for longer.  Another upshot?  We’re probably not the only ones that would be interested in whatever we’re intertwining; it’s likely there are others who would “take” to our interests because they share same or overlapping interests.

What does this look like?  Here’s an example of a math problem that a student in Peter Smith’s Worcester Academy class wrote:

Via Instagram: Ben’s Problem: You and your friend bake a cake. Your friend’s stomach is 2/7 full. The cake is broken up into 14 pieces. The whole cake fills up 84/56 of your friends stomach. He also drinks a gallon of sprite zero. The sprite fills up 161/392 of your friends stomach. How many pieces of cake can your friend eat without his stomach exploding (his stomach being too full), how fill will your friend be (reduced), and how many pieces of cake will be left for you?

If I had seen that problem in middle school, I would have been hooked — partially because my classmate wrote a problem that I would actually want to solve.  In fact, I actually have so many more questions as a result of this math question!  Is it possible to eat cake *and* drink a gallon of Sprite Zero?  Who has over half of their stomach volume left after drinking a gallon of anything, let alone a fizzy beverage?  Could I be invited to this friend’s house to watch this all go down?  Peter Smith wrote on edSocialMedia about the way his students are involved top-to-bottom in the creation and solution processes of such problems.

I always try to inject a bit of fun or creativity into most of what I do — it keeps me engaged, and I hope it’s fun for others.  But more than what I find fun, I’m always asking what other people are fascinated by and what their influences are.  Would you share yours?

jprice1 {at} swarthmore {dot} edu