Friday, April 28, 2023

F ³: Up Close and Personal


I was once sent to a workshop for educators and, other than a few engaging exercises led by the keynote speaker, I don’t remember anything other than being excited that I learned a new word:


Metacognition is a fancy word that means thinking about thinking. It also means learning about learning. Not to get too precious here, but, I’ve been doing some thinking about learning this week as I’ve been enjoying a birthday gift from my husband. It’s a camera-equipped bird feeder with artificial intelligence capabilities and wifi so it can film birds as they eat, identify them for you, and send the images to your smartphone.

Feeding the birds became my pandemic hobby and stayed with me when I unexpectedly retired. I’ve been supported in my new interest by my husband who has continued to buy and mount different kinds of feeders to stay ahead of the squirrels. My sister and her husband sent me a bird book to help me indentify the creatures I’ve been seeing and a diary to make note of their comings and goings.

Despite all this, my ability to identify birds remained pretty basic. I knew the most common: cardinal, blue jay, robin. The small brown things were probably sparrows. Over time I learned to identify redwing blackbirds and brown headed cowbirds and the occasional woodpecker.

Something rather dramatic occurred when the new bird feeder went online. I suddenly had the ability to view the birds at very close range without danger of startling them off. I could replay the video multiple times if I wished, and (most of the time) the AI was identifying them correctly. I could grab my trusty bird book to double check if their analysis seemed dubious. For example:

In a short amount of time I have found myself able to identify a much larger number of the birds coming to the feeders in our yard, including: mourning doves, Carolina wrens, house finches, white breasted nuthatches, black capped chickadees, the tufted titmouse, and yesterday’s new discovery: gray catbirds.

If I were taking a traditional school class on backyard bird identification I’d have a textbook to read, lectures to attend and take notes on, and I’d probably be encouraged to make flash cards and review daily. I might be required to write a report about one particular kind of bird or bird family and, with any luck, I’d really connect with that topic and that’s the part of the course I’d remember forever.

Running flash cards every day? Ugh.

And yet, in a sense, that’s exactly what I’m doing with the new birdfeeder. I’m having the opportunity to review recently acquired knowledge every day, and to incorporate new bits as they arise. But the process comes with video footage from my own yard, not flash cards and lectures and textbooks. It’s “up close and personal” and each vibration on my phone brings with it a little dopamine hit. 

Ooh! It’s a gray catbird! A redwing blackbird! A pair of mourning doves!

Of course if I were in school I’d be responsible for keeping up with multiple subjects daily and I’d be required to sit still in a classroom and take in information presented in a limited number of ways. How hard can it be to make progress when you only have one subject and you can pursue it whenever you want?

We call those things hobbies. They are still “learning”, nonetheless. The topics we choose to pursue tell us a lot about ourselves. But how we pursue them tells us a lot more about how we think, and how we learn. I came away from schooling feeling as though there was one way to “do school” and that I wasn’t very good at it. The teachers teach a particular way and the students are supposed to receive and achieve in a particular way.

No one ever asked me, “how do you think you learn best?”

That’s metacognition.

I kept thinking back to a quote I had read attributed to Michelangelo: “Ancora Imparo – I am still learning.” He had said it when he was 87 years old and working on St. Peter’s Basilica. I first heard it when I was in my thirties, and with each successive year, its significance has increased for me. It seemed to be saying “look at everyday as something new, learn something new, do something new.”  - - Pat Ginn, from the essay, “Ancora Imparo — I am still learning”

How do you learn best?

Village Green/Town² Comments 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.