Why excitement is key to learning

Anyone will tell you that you cannot learn if you are bored. You will learn very fast though if you are excited by what you have to learn.

Children and adults learn things all the time.They can learn how to steal a car if that particular subject grabs them. They can learn to plant flowers or to work under the bonnet of a car. If there is interest and motivation then learning can and does take place.

I am currently reading an e-book called “The Woman Who Changed Her Brain” by Barbara Arrowsmith Young. It is a fascinating account of  how a young woman who until she was 23 years of age suffered from severe learning difficulties but had great powers of memory and perseverance managed to use new findings in the field of neuroscience to  create new connections in her brain that released the power of logic and many other skills that she did not possess before.

I have recently been reading a lot of books and articles about neuroscience and in particular those aspects of the subject that refer to education. I find myself excited by it all and have found that I have quickly picked up many scientific terms in relation to the brain (i.e. neurons, synapses, dendrites).

There are many of you out there who may well find the subject less exciting! If you were asked to read the material that I have been reading then you may well use that often heard word in schoolrooms everywhere “boring”.

I have to admit that, when I was at school, I did not find mathematics interesting at all. I learnt what I had to learn of the many algorithms that I was taught and would mechanically attempt to find answers to questions that meant little or nothing to me.

I became a primary school teacher and had to learn to teach the subject to children. I discovered something that was never there when I was at school “learning” mathematics…. it was really interesting. It had a language all to itself and was, at its best, involved with exploring practically every aspect of our existence on the planet by searching for patterns or explanations to physical phenomena.

I started to get excited by the subject and found myself wanting to learn more. I went out and bought some interesting  books (I was particularly taken by the work of the now largely forgotten mathematician W.W. Sawyer).

There are those who have told me that they found history boring when they were at school. Many of them now say that they find it fascinating because they have become excited by watching something about the subject on T.V. or by getting interested in exploring their own family history. I always found the subject fascinating because I enjoyed the various dramas. I was fascinated as a child by prehistory and ancient history. My history teachers did not have to work that hard to get me motivated to learn. I found the subject very easy to learn and quite quickly grasped the connections between the main players. I later developed an interest in politics and finished up doing a degree in the subject.

Apart from mathematics the subject area that I have found more and more fascinating is science. I did not do well in the sciences at school because I could not get on with the mechanistic way that it was taught. Physics was a nightmare of what seemed to me to be applied mathematics. I could not get excited by working out forces and electronics seemed too complex after we went past simple circuitry. I gave up biology after my third year in secondary school.The idea of learning about cells, biochemistry and genetics would have seemed as exciting as learning French had been! (My very poor fumbling attempts at speaking the language attest to how much I learnt or was interested by the subject).

I feel that excitement is really the key to learning. We learn fast those things that grab us whether it be fishing for trout, Egyptian hieroglyphics or flower arranging. It is not enough to say that a subject can afford to be dull and unexciting because it is somehow “good for you”. As we discuss curriculum chanhttp://malbell.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpge we need to consider that it is not what is taught that is important but the way that it is taught and presented to the learner. Over the years I have followed the many programmes of David Attenborough on T.V. His passion and charisma sell the natural world to so many people. Marcus Du Sautoy is doing the same kind of thing for mathematics.

We neglect excitement and interest in learning at our peril.

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