My history teacher, Mark Croswell, is a man of many talents. He benches his weight, dishes out insults like that one aunt you sort of love but also hate, and knows a lot about the world. And every Friday, us tiny students are taught a little bit more about it. Our medium is the scholarly environment, and so last week's topic of interest was how to succeed in your studies. And so I am pleased to share with you the Mark Croswell Method for Education:
There is a limit to what you can memorize. Your brain builds new neural connections and pathways every time you learn something new, and destroys old ones. It also focuses on efficiency and conservation of energy, and therefore, so should the student. Learning efficiently is about working smart, and not necessarily just working hard. Blindly memorizing a sheet of written information by reading it repeatedly is ridiculously tedious and dull. Your brain hates this, because neural connections form most easily when the brain can connect information to a strong emotion, such as excitement or in some cases fear. In order to ensure that information is memorized, this information should be absorbed in a positive and engaging environment, like a group study circle or an interesting demonstration. John and Hank Green's show Crash Course takes this into account, and provides viewers with informative videos that tie together humor and education and create a pleasant, and effective, learning experience.
Your mental health influences your physical health, and vice versa. A healthy brain builds a healthy body, and a healthy body stimulates a healthy brain. There is a very strong correlation between keeping your body healthy and being able to learn more effectively. Exercise, a good diet, and 8 hours of sleep a night build a healthy and strong body, ensuring that the body's energy can be directed to intellectual pursuits when it is at physical rest. Neural connections in your brain and muscle tissue are both built in sleep, so it's much more worth it to go to bed early than it is to pull an all-nighter. Eating healthy provides your brain with the proper foods it needs to function, while drinking a lot of caffeine and eating a lot of sugar are instead detrimental to its natural function. It may sound very difficult to schedule all of this in your day-to-day life, but living a healthy lifestyle is about routine. Your body and brain like routine, and getting the hang of leading a healthy one has significant positive effects on nearly every aspect of life, especially learning.
Competition is a huge element of the school learning environment. Entire school systems are often based on separating the successful students from the not-so-successful ones, which leads to insecurity and negative emotions among both parties, and creates a significant social divide. The reality of the situation is that no one is naturally smart, and the amount of work you put into your studies reflects your evaluation results. It may seem like some people are born geniuses and fly by the seat of their pants but still end up being very successful, but those who manage their time and put effort into their work always end up as more successful. Second, you only compete when you feel that you need to be better than someone else. This is rooted in personal insecurities and self-esteem issues. Young people have tons of those, and this is one of the causes of this kind of scholarly competition. The best way to avoid it is to focus entirely on your self, and solely on your learning. Work hard because you want to, not because you're chasing a certain GPA or trying to get a better mark than that one girl in your chemistry class.
In the Learning Environment
- Your brain is social. Because emotions create strong memories, studying is most effective when done with others (although different people do study differently, and this may not be the case for you.) The school environment does a decent job of supporting this, by allowing for open discussion and time to be spent studying with classmates. The key is to take advantage of this, as well as making plans to study socially outside of school. This technique also allows you to practice communicating your learning to others, which is vital to succeeding on most evaluations. Give a lesson to your stuffed animals if you have to. Or do what I'm doing, and post your knowledge on e2.
- To learn, you need to think actively. Actually think about the material you are learning. Ask questions, and make connections to what you already know. This is how you think, even if you aren't aware of it. Relating topics you are learning to others that you already know increases your engagement and overall knowledge of both topics. Comparing and relating things is another very useful thing on evaulations. Creating symbolic representations and art that relates to what you are learning leads you to think about it, and is stimulating and fun.
- See the big picture. Instead of focusing on memorizing details, consider the purpose of your study and what overall themes you are trying to learn. Go from there, and expand to all the specifics and minute details. A good way to graphically lay this out is with a mind map. Write your subject in the centre, separate the rest of the information you're working with into sub-topics branching out from the centre, and then branch out from those sub-topics. This allows you to see the big picture and understand significant concepts while also including the details. Another good way to see the big picture in your studying is to read childrens' books on your topic. Yes, childrens' books. They simplify the subject and provide comprehensive images, which is exactly what you want if you're having trouble with a topic.
Learning can be fun. And that is why you should learn. So make it fun, and you will learn. It's that simple.
Amen, D. G. (2010). Change Your Brain Change Your Body.Ratey, J. J., & Hagerman, E. (2013). Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little, Brown.
Ratey, J. J., & Hagerman, E. (2013). Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. New York: Little, Brown.
Suzuki, W., & Fitzpatrick, B. (2016). Healthy brain, happy life: a personal program to activate your brain and do everything better. New York, NY: Dey St., an imprint of William Morrow .