I learn by going . . .

At our SIMIODE Staff Meeting Friday held at SIMIODE World Headquarters (the dining room table at our home in Cornwall NY USA) I had shared with SIMIODE’s two technical directors, Leigh Noble and Mark Tourtellott, some fortune cookies I had not opened from a previous take out meal as a snack, very modest snack illustrating how at SIMIODE we spare no expense or is it we spare expense(!) Hey, but I gave them water too!) [Actually, after our morning time together working on SIMIODE we go out to lunch to share non-SIMIODE things in our life too.]

My fortune said, “I learn by going to where I have to go.” Immediately I thought of lots of endings for “I learn by . . .” Since this is my blog I thought I would share some of my fill-ins with you and ask you to fill in your own and reflect upon how you learn, how we all learn, how your students can learn, because the latter is what SIMIODE is all about.

“I learn by going where I am not supposed to go.” We have all been doing this since we are kids. Aunt Louise tells us, “Now do not go in that cabinet.”  Guess what! And boy oh boy what we discovered about  her or what goodies we found or whatever. Indeed, when the Pope would issue warnings for good Catholics NOT to go to certain movies guess what happened!  Yup, my friends went because such admonishment assured juicy stuff.

“I learn by not going anywhere.” I just sit and think. I toss ideas around in my head – the older I get the more emptier the space would appear to be so lots of room up there for tossing (indeed you can call this mulling.)

“I learn by going where it is scary.” Or put another way, “I learn by taking risks.” I launched three academic journals (Cryptologia, Collegiate Microcomputer, and PRIMUS) and now SIMIODE, not knowing what would happen or how to proceed or even what I was getting myself into, perhaps investing too much time, money, and what little mental capital I did have left. They all worked out, paid off, and rewarded the learner in me over and over.

“I learn by doing harm.” I could do harm to myself (as a youngin’ touching fire or swimming out too far). I could do harm to others (neglect of children, a caustic word – or slew of such words, thus teaching me to be more careful in HOW I say something). How about harm by forgetting a commitment or obligation? There are lots of harms by commission and omission. The thing is to learn from them.

“I learn by just listening.” When I came to West Point as a senior faculty and mentor for younger faculty back in 1995, having never been involved in the military, I decided to shut my mouth (tough task for me!) and just listen. Throw in watch as well (watch body language in conversations, watch wonderful traditions, watch postures – they looked something like this |||||). I also work hard at stopping the usual pattern of interrupting in my conversations and truly listen. I also watched quietly, often on the side lines, for as Yogi Berra said,  “You can observe a lot by just watching.”

“I learn by going.” Just travelling to a different place (perhaps in a different manner even) and visiting with folks, tasting foods, seeing their traditions, going through buildings (castles? temples? their homes? hotels?), listening to conversation vicariously, seeing what they see, all help me learn about the world around me.

“I learn by reading.” Quality reading! I skip the Politics section (and that is lots!) in the New York Times and go to the Science section, the Arts section, the Human Interest section, the Obituaries  (you learn lots by reading these personal histories), reviews of plays, movies, and music (here you learn another perspective you never thought of, because the reviewer just ain’t you!) I also read manuscripts, lots of them, submitted to journals I have edited, to this SIMIODE project, by others shared with me just to read over as another set of eyes. In the latter read learning I learn about the wonderfully rich and creative spirit that lives in the minds of others at a fresh stage of development, in draft as it were.

“I learn by writing.” Putting down one’s thoughts is a helpful organizational skill (and I can always use more organization in what I do and offer others). Moreover, by writing things down I engrain the material in mind.  BTW I mean not handwriting, but actually typing on a word processor as I do now, for I cannot read my own writing any longer – nor can anyone else. Indeed, in my 20’s while working for the National Security Agency they said, “Just let Winkel write it out long hand and then send it. The Russians will never be able to break THAT code!” But writing helps one reflect, organize, correct, embarrass oneself, get a chuckle in spite of oneself, and so much more. Besides, when I pick up that writing later I learn lots more, e.g., how I have changed and grown since I last wrote that.

So to paraphrase a modern credit card ad, “What’s in your learning?” and “How do you learn?”  Have you given this any reflective thought lately? Do so and you will learn even better, possibly in a new and different manner. Good learning to you!



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