It was my sophomore year of college, and I was taking one of the most challenging classes I’d ever had. I was an engineering major at the time, and that department at my college was known for having a robust set of “weed out” classes. These were intentionally, deliberately difficult courses early on in the degree plan, aimed at being a skill gate to completing the major.
Students who couldn’t hack it at those would switch to some other field of study, and students who made it through the muck proved that they were ready to tackle the more advanced stuff the major had to offer. Engineering is not easy, so the weed out classes were a way of making sure that nobody was wasting their time: professors didn’t want students who weren’t going to be able to succeed, and students didn’t want to get years into a major only to realize they were in over their head and unlikely to pass their remaining requirements.
Let’s pretend you’re an Algebra 1 teacher, and this week you’re teaching your class how to factor trinomials. You know, turning something like 2x² + 10x + 12 into 2(x + 2)(x + 3).
You check your email Monday morning and see that you’ll be getting a new student in your fifth period class. No sweat — that kind of thing happens all the time.
Fifth period rolls around and you welcome the new student, threading the fine line between not putting him on the spot for being new but also not pretending like he’s invisible. Over the course of the week, within your time in the class and halls you make it a point to chat with him and get to know him a bit. You also make sure to work with him one-on-one for a bit so that you can get a feel for what kind of student he is and what he already knows.
That’s when you realize there’s a big problem here.
The student doesn’t know what’s going on with factoring trinomials. Not even close.
In my previous post, I described how I set up a robust system that creates content treadmills across a variety of media, each of which helps me to navigate ever-increasing libraries of items that interest me.
That post covers what I do before I engage with media. The unspoken flipside of that is the story of what what happens after I'm done with something.
There's a short summary and a long narrative to that story. The short summary is that, like my Media Captain, I simply log things in a spreadsheet. Every movie I watch; every game I play; every book I read gets its own entry in an ever-growing list.
The long narrative, however, is what those entries look like and, more importantly, feel like — in aggregate.
I wish I could say that my decisions to do so were principled, but the truth is that I was honestly just fed up. People had gotten mean, and I was sick of it. Every time I came online I felt like I was walking into a warzone of words.
But the second time I smoked weed, I did, and I decided to make myself a sandwich.
At the time, this decision was life-changing. My high mind could hardly conceive of such a wonderful idea: a SANDWICH! How ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! And I can MAKE IT MYSELF! With things I ALREADY HAVE! Right here in MY OWN APARTMENT! What A JOYOUS DELIGHT!