Learning to Understand -- An Ongoing Endeavor: Part I

Learning to Understand -- An Ongoing Endeavor: Part I

Learning to Understand -- An Ongoing Endeavor: Part I

Author Joe Hackman

Dear Reader,

Learning is a big part of our lives; we spend seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months out of the year in school.  If you are like myself, school occasionally becomes a routine which we trudge through in a zombie-like state, memorizing material then forgetting it after the test.  

One day in Mrs. Lounsbury’s physics class, she proclaimed “You are here for the GPA, not the education,” and went on to express her upset towards said zombie-like mentality.  That got me thinking

This project questions the current attitudes towards school and aims to replace them with the true purpose of learning: understanding.  Before you is a series of interviews in an endeavour on which I have embarked to bring to light the true meaning of learning . . . and perhaps life itself.  Each installment of “Learning to Understand” will feature a different teacher and different questions pertaining to their area of expertise.  I hope you learn (and understand) as much reading this as I did during the two months making it.

I wish you the best in your own quest of understanding.

-- Joe

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Mrs. Lounsbury teaches science at Charter and is in her 13th year here.  Her understanding of biology, physics, and life contributed greatly to the creation of this project.  Photo by Connor Carp.

Mrs. Lounsbury -- a teacher in biology and physics -- has worked at Charter for 13 years.  She attended high school in Allentown, PA, college at University of Pittsburgh, and majored in environmental science.  Some activities she helps facilitate here are Envirothon, Science Olympiad, and Junior Research.  Before she taught at Charter, she founded a homeschooling group with other parents and 80 students, teaching the higher end physics and biology courses.  She came to work at Charter when the school needed a long-term substitute and became a full teacher when Charter needed more faculty.  If ever in search of her, listen for her distinct laugh.

Joe Hackman: Are you sick of standardized testing as much as us students?

Mrs. Lounsbury: Yes [pauses].  Yes, I am.  There are a couple of ways I’m sick of it.  I don’t think it’s proper to judge students by their standardized test scores.  It’s a way to gauge, but it’s really only a gauge at that particular time.  It’s kind of like taking your blood pressure, at any particular time is not necessarily accurate.  

Yeah, because your blood pressure varies based on your surroundings.

So it’s better to check your blood pressure every day.  I think a far better way to [measure students] is to get them to reflect on what they think they know, and to have a conversation with their teacher.  But it’s not really practical in the school system because the classroom size is too large.  That really is a huge problem in school.

And there’s time constraints too, like the time our brains care [laughs].

No, no. You’re absolutely right.  I think school should be shorter or have many more breaks.  Students focus for about three to four hours at most.

I’m fine in the morning, but around lunch, my energy fades.  Once I relax at home for a bit, I’m ready to go again.

That’s what I see as I teach, and even I feel it while I teach.  It’s biology: after you eat, you digest and that’s where all your ATP* goes [laughs].  This cycle happens throughout the year too. Everyone does fine in the fall, and then nobody does really well through January and February -- it’s really hard to focus -- then it picks up again but it’s never as much energy as the fall.  You just need a break, we covered that in the daily rhythm.  You also need time to acclimate yourself to your environment.  I need my time to wake up . . . .

* ATP is a nucleotide that provides large amounts of energy to the cells in the body.

In the classroom, Mrs. Lounsbury ensures that every student understands every aspect of the courses.  Photo by Connor Carp.

You have to love what you do.  If you don’t like it, you won’t care.

That’s what learning for the GPA really steals from people: they don’t care about what they’re learning.  They think life is something other than learning and it’s not.  They’re learning no matter what they’re doing.  They’re learning from Facebook, from culture, what goes on.  They’re learning to be somebody from something.  But if you’re always learning just for a reward, it loses its joy.  The other thing that happens is you don’t remember your learning, and that’s a biological thing.  When you just learn for the reward it physically doesn’t go to your long term memory; it goes to short term memory.  You don’t retain it and therefore, you don’t have a source of knowledge to make decisions with and to utilize. . . .  Now you’ve ripped you’ve ripped yourself off because you have nothing -- nothing to fall back on, no knowledge to help you be productive -- you have no identity.  You’ve just been formed by your culture and that isn’t you.  That makes you incredibly unhappy.  I’ve seen this millions of times in my owns peers and in kids I teach, and I just see so much in everyone who sits in one of those seats.  I see so much in each one of those kids -- some little thing -- in zillions of kids, but I can spot it and I see what they can do.  And I see some fear or something they think about themselves is holding them back.  When if they just stop and relax and just be themselves and learn -- and learn -- just for the fun of it, then they realize all of these things about themselves.  But if they have all these [distractions], they get in the way and stop them from being really able to understand themselves and know what their gifts are.  We all have our gifts and this is the time -- when you’re a kid -- when you discover them.  All this other stuff kinda just rips you off.  It rips you off from learning and seeing what you’re good at and what you like.

I guess that answers my next question about if students are wasting potential. 

[Laughs] I see so much in people.  I guess it’s because I like them.  There’s so much potential that’s untapped, it’s not like you have to tap it all -- you can’t.  You have limited energy and brain capacity, not to hold knowledge but to function.  I see a lot of things that people don’t see about themselves but when I tell them [about their gifts], but they recognize [them].

Sort of like it’s been right under your nose the whole time?

Exactly, or you thought you saw it in yourself but it’s nice to hear it from somebody else.

Hearing nice stuff about yourself is a really good motivator.

Right, and it helps you know that you [the students] are in it together, helping and supporting each other.

We need more interaction in school.  It seems like there’s too much competition, which is more amplified here at Charter.

It’s because you’re working for the GPAs.  People compete because they are not comfortable in their own shoes.  But everyone is smart here in their own ways.  They just need to learn how to be themselves, and to learn to understand.

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Gifted: Part Three

Gifted: Part Three