Education is Exploration

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

My progress was slow as a swimmer in high school. After early improvements, my times were flat year-over-year. So, my coach decided I should try something new. Our top swimmer in breaststroke was graduating the following year. I would spend a few days practicing only that stroke and serve as our second swimmer in that category.

I moved to a lane with some younger swimmers for about a week while a second coach helped me refine the technique. We would watch underwater cameras of Olympic swimmers. He would occasionally get in the water mid-practice to move my arms or legs into the proper positions.

Then, after practice that Saturday, we held scrimmage races. I coincidentally stepped to the starting block at the same time as the team’s fastest swimmer. (He was also the other breaststroke guy.) To the shock of literally everyone, my hand hit the other end of the pool before his. My teammates began to cheer and the head coach jumped from his chair. “Again, do it again,” he said. “If you get beat again,” he warned my competitor, “you’ll swim the 500 [yds] at the next meet.” (Some people love that event, but those people did not join our swim team.)

Our second race would be front crawl. I felt fast through the water for what seemed like the first time in my life. We tied and I went from a “meh” competitor to a member of our lead relay team. The confidence got to my head – in a good way. I cared more for my teammates, became a captain, and presented my coach with an individualized practice schedule to prepare for our conference/regional swim meets. He sensed my newfound confidence and helped me turn it into something productive for the team.

Education and Training – Show, Observe, Shape.

Phired Up, a company focused on recruitment, was a staple of my fraternity’s growth efforts and educational programming. I have seen dozens of Phired Up presentations since I first learned from its founders during my sophomore year of college. They have had many memorable “bits” over the years, from Spam outfits to stories about mules and horses. My favorite; however, was one to help members teach good recruitment practices to their brothers.

“Show, Observe, Shape – S.O.S,” the speaker said before launching in to a “learn how to play golf” analogy. It is perfect because it is simple and rooted in reality:

  • Show – A swim coach shows a handsome and promising swimmer (really? me? aww) footage of Olympic athletes. He explains the thought behind their form and movements.
  • Observe – The coach asks the exceptionally-talented young swimmer (again? oh stahp!) to get in the pool and put what he learned into practice. Coach watches from the side, then throws on some goggles and hops in the water to get a 360-degree view.
  • Shape – Coach offers instruction to his athlete, occasionally grabbing the swimmer’s arms or legs so he knows what it feels like for them to be in the best position.

Learning & Development

Teacher’s write a math problem on the board, show you how to solve it, give you math problems to practice, then offer corrections in red ink. My mom demonstrates how to roll the crust of my favorite Assyrian cookie, she watches me do it, then belittles me in front of my sisters perfects my technique.

Education is exploration. Anything else is a lecture.

Think of your obsessions – either as a child or now. You fell in love with a musician, an actor, a hobby, or a craft which consumed your time. I invested hundreds of hours as a child uncovering every possible secret in the fictional Pokémon universe. That means I played the games*, watched the show, and read guidebooks to uncover cheat codes or secret monsters to catch.

Beyond the fictional characters are games which teach kids to strategize and which emphasize certain moral values. This isn’t by accident. Nintendo, co-owner of the multi-billion dollar Pokémon empire, regularly creates fun and educational content. Their business strategy is to bring a smile to customers’ faces and for parents not to worry when their child is playing a Nintendo game. [1]

Education via Gamification

The Nintendo Labo product is being used for STEM education in schools and at home. [2] Software was created for several museums, such as The Louvre, to feed exhibit information to Nintendo handheld systems. [3] They even have a well-documented philosophy when it comes to video game tutorials. [4] They’ve tinkered with “quality of life” products, including a Pokémon game which encourages players to get a good night’s sleep. [5]

We understand that “play” is a part of learning when we are telling friends how to be good parents. Why doesn’t that apply to the rest of life? Every chase is an opportunity for a cheetah to improve its hunting skill, whether that cheetah is a cub or fully grown.

The most basic ACT/SAT prep advice I can give to a high school student is to start with the writing assignment which most interests you. That same tip applies to math or science problems – complete all the ones you know how to complete, then return to the challenging problems. We need to apply that same concept to learning – it’s why “one size fits all” is a utopian theory and nothing more.

How To Nurture Exploration

If we want to help someone change their behavior, we must understand who they are, their interests and motivations. (Understand: not “what motivates them,” but their existing motivation)

There are legal reasons why every student needs to attend a lecture about the dangers of hazing. My B.S. meter goes off the charts; however, when we imply that we are “educating” students at those lectures. What do we need to do to educate students, rather than lecture at them?

First, we need to restructure our organizations and get away from a “bigger is better” mindset. Students need greater ownership of the chapter experience. That will automatically limit the ability for business-minded special interests to homogenize the fraternity experience. By respecting the unique niche of each chapter of each fraternity, we allow students to show us what interests them and how they learn.

As alumni, advisers, or professionals, our job is to then work within the identity of each chapter to help its members make the most of that niche. Say, for example, that a chapter is going to focus on community engagement. There are many members; however, who don’t buy in to traditional community service projects.

Some want to plan a big event, and so we help them plan a big event which caters to the community. Others may just need to know that “service” has nothing to do with the IRS classification of a corporation. Maybe their idea of service is helping local businesses or entrepreneurs with pro bono work. Each member of the chapter is involved in a project which he is interested in and proud of. Members help others with their projects to learn and understand the value of “social collateral.”

Education For You: Explore New Ways To Teach & Learn

That’s just one example. See this post about a Pizza-oriented fraternity to understand how easy it can be to couple interests with learning outcomes. Suddenly, your job and position becomes less about making sure a chapter complies with 50 items on a list, and more about helping them learn with passion. Find someone who is good at coming up with metaphors to teach other necessary lessons or life skills.

Fraternities are meant to enhance one’s college experience. They are an extra-curricular activity. There are opportunities to learn, but they should be rooted in the purpose of the organization. The checklists have got to go.

*Sidebar: If you played Pokémon and didn’t choose Squirtle it is okay to admit you were wrong. Just tweet your apology to @FraternityNik