Why Icarus Died Part 1: 5 Secrets To Learning Anything
Icarus died, because his father Daedalus was a bad teacher. The youngster flew too close to the sun, causing the wax binding his wings to melt and his body experience terminal velocity before it hit the sea.
But his father warned him! you may be thinking. He sure did, but the problem is that Daedalus did not teach his boy the secret methods to understanding the power he possessed. Without the understanding, Icarus did not learn. He did not learn, so he perished.
The legend of Icarus reminds me of education today. Fortunately, most of our students don't perish as a result of it. Unfortunately, many fall victim to miseducation. This is what Sir Ken Robinson suggests when describing a shortage of skills and abilities in the workforce needed to fill today's industry needs. To combat this, he emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning, which, I conceive, requires knowing how to process information effectively to understand, learn, and apply it in new ways.
Sadly, the quote above is from 2001 and is still very true. Frustratingly, we know what to do about it, but we're not emphasizing it enough in education. Luckily, these secrets are simple and easily applicable. Most teachers have heard of most, if not all of them, but they remain hidden, because schools emphasize curricula not skills. But they exist and must be made available to all learners. So here are the 10 secrets to learning anything and everything. Don't keep them to yourself!
Something is telling me that Icarus was so excited by the prospect of escaping captivity and flying high in the sky that he did not get much sleep prior to his fateful first and final flight.
The human brain consumes 20 percent of the body's energy, which produces metabolic toxins. The good news is that brain fluid washes these toxins away when we sleep. The bad news is that when we don't sleep enough the toxins stick around and cloud our mind making focusing, processing, and learning difficult.
You need in excess of 7.5 hours of sleep. Your students need at least 9 hours. Tell them about the toxins and how they impair learning and make sure they know that the 8 secrets that follow might not do them any good if they don't get this first one right.
Was it the years of captivity and not getting out much that prevented Icarus from thinking clearly?
Homo Sapiens did not evolve sitting on the couch looking at the tube. Our ancestors walked long distances looking for food and shelter, ran from predators, chased prey, and climbed trees and landscape. As they were doing all of those things, their brains got bigger and more advanced due to the stimuli bombardment offered by the changing environments, experiences, and interactions. By increasing their heart rate and blood flow, more oxygen got to the brain and it's processing capacity increased. This is still the case today. We understand and learn best when active.
So make sure you don't just preach to students the need to exercise. Make movement part of your classroom culture and plan your lessons to promote it. Station rotation does the trick.
Create Specific Objectives
As he got enamored with flying, Icarus forgot the sole purpose of his flight. It was to get the fuck out.
It's easy to get distracted by too many objectives or when goals are too big. This is why they need to be specific. Instead of "learn for [insert subject] test" your students should focus on having a goal of learning each main topic. Such chunking and focusing on one topic at a time, will help them study more effectively, as they will be less likely to become overwhelmed. Moreover, they will be on their way to understanding that Rome was indeed not built in one day; the most successful learning occurs over time.
For a learning objective to be effective, it has to fit a specific need to understand something. Model this by including only 1 (maybe 2) specific learning objective in each lesson your students and yourself can focus on.
Learn To Choose The Right Method
Daedalus' approach to teaching his son to fly was to tell him how to do it. It didn't work. Just ask the fishes.
The method has to fit the madness. Teach your students to ask the question: What am I learning and what's the best way to learn it?
I often see chemistry students trying to memorize chemistry definitions. This might work for a vocab quiz... Unless I paraphrase the definitions they've learned so intensely to regurgitate. Psych! Problem is, that to solve a problem, we need to understand the problem first, and then know how to start solving it. We need the right approach.
The right method that is specific to the problem has to be employed by your students for learning to occur. You can teach random verbs and nouns in Spanish, but if you're going on a class trip to Spain, they'd be better off knowing how to say Hello, Thank you, and Where's the bathroom 'cause I really need to go?
And make sure to tell your students that if they're trying to change their car's oil using a textbook, it probably isn't the best method for learning it. Also, it's important to emphasize the important stuff. Teach what is most useful and relevant to the students first, because everything else is just noise they want to cancel.
Due to less than fortunate circumstances and dad's lack of learning theory knowledge, Icarus had no time or opportunity to practice the proper use of his wings, let alone build up his skills the smart way.
No teacher would recommend his students take a test without preparing first, but it's important to teach and preach smart practice. This involves active learning, smart repetition, and interleaving. Active learning is about engaging as many senses as possible and application of knowledge and skills during learning. Smart repetition involves recall; the constructive struggle to find the information buried in the brain, as opposed to repeating formulas and definitions mindlessly. Interleaving means alternating the difficult with the easy and mixing up the practice of interrelated skills.
Don't just provide practice time. Design lessons that involve making of digital, physical, and intellectual artifacts that help students create meaning and understanding by application of the actual concepts and skills being learned. Paraphrase, summarize, compare and contrast, write a script, record videos, make graphics, build models, and talk about what it all means.
Icarus' life was too short for it to occur, but you can help your students become lifelong learners by teaching them the secrets to learning anything.
You have the power to change the world. Use it often.
This is Part 1 of a two post series in which I pick on Daedalus and Icarus to explain the most effective learning techniques. I will describe 5 More Secrets To Learning Anything in my next post. I will also tell you what the curse of education is today and why you don't need Betsy Devos.
P.S. Please don't keep these secrets to yourself. Teach them! Teach one or two every day. Reiterate one or two every day. Allow your students to intentionally practice them every day. When you discover new ones, share them! If you need an aid, check out my book "Crush School: Every Student's Guide To Killing It In The Classroom." My newest book "The Power Of Three: Simplify. Start. Succeed." shows you how to use learning principles to improve your life as well.