In an experiential learning event, I wanted to learn how to build benches to go with my farmhouse kitchen table. I didn’t set a time limit on how long I’d investigate it. I didn’t even set an amount of resources to study. Instead, my learning goal was to learn about it until I felt confident that I could build one.
After several days of reading sources, websites, even a trip to the home improvement store to pick the mind of an employee, I knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t want it to be expensive and therefore chose to use 2x4s. I knew if I made an error, I would not be devastated about destroying a good piece of wood. I also knew that I often have small children in my home eating. (My nephews and nieces.) I didn’t want to feel tragic about accidents. This knowledge quickly formed many of my decisions.
The experience was incomparable to anything I’d try prior simply because I’d never done anything like it before. I’d never worked with wood. I had little experience with power towels. (I even had limited power towels! I had to buy several pieces before I could start!) There were a few tools I simply couldn’t afford. I pondered how I could do the project without the tools recommended by the experts. In this reflection moment, I came up with several ideas that worked just as well and with the same amount of effort. (Although when I pulled out a quilting square to get the right angle, my teenage son broke out laughing -loudly! The joke was on him when it worked!)
When my project was completed, I sat down on my new bench and smiled. I pulled out my learning journal and reflected on what I learned. I recognized the similarities in angles between cutting wood and cutting quilt pieces. It was a connection I’d not made before.
The greatest benefit from my experience was the pride I felt. I’d tried something crazy and succeeded. I feel this pride weekly. I see the benches and know that I built them. You know what is even better than that? Listening to my husband tell everyone that I built them! He is proud of my accomplishment as well. (Even if he probably could have built them in half the time I did since he has worked construction.)
Challenge yourself and record your experiences. Of course, there will be failures. I’ve had those too. Building raised garden beds nearly set me into a nervous breakdown. In this experience, I relinquished and got some help. I learned from this experience that it wasn’t a failure. It was a job that required two sets of hands.
What about academic challenges? I’ve tried those too. Have you ever read Carl Sagan? I can say that I have. It was a journey which took me months. The goal was to read about a few pages a week. That was all I could get through. What did I learn? Well, I admit, I’m no Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. But I do have a new appreciation for the galaxy.
Try something challenging. What is the worst that can happen?
By Tracy Atkinson
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.