Projects and the mistakes we make.



“I hope I remember everything,” said Toni.

“You won’t,” said Trapp. “That’s how you learn. But after you make the same mistake one, or two, or five times, you’ll eventually get it. And then you’ll make new mistakes.”

Louis Sachar, The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a Joker



This quote from Louis Sachar (my favorite author as a youngin’) came to mind this last week. As I am reading Seymour Paperts book on learning theory, Mindstorms, it got me thinking about how I learn, the struggles I had along the way and how formed my teaching style.

Papert suggests that the greatest way to learn a subject such as math, would be through computer technology. That by utilizing computers, the student no longer gets taught math in the typical sense, but instead, through interaction and “living” math, they absorb the knowledge and develop a more complete understanding. While Papert goes further into detail, the initial idea is what piqued my interest. That initial idea is what first brought the eternal wisdom of Luis Sachar to mind.

I have always been someone who learns by doing. While a teacher can talk my head off, or I can read until my eyes go dry, I will never truly grasp a new idea until I am tasked to live it. At Fresno State I teach a few courses, one of which is an Intro to Media Production course. On the surface it may seem like my students are learning software, how to operate a camera, and so on, however what I am truly imparting on my class is the greater skill of how to tell a story. My class heavily relies on computers and software such as Premiere Pro, Photoshop and Audacity, to edit and create. By using these programs the students are learning how to operate the software, and all the ins and outs of similar software. More importantly, by using the computer software, they are learning how craft a well told story.

When the programs are updated, when the technology becomes obsolete, the students may not fully understand how to use the new software, but they will always comprehend how to engage an audience with a well thought out narrative with structure and personality.

I could spend the entire semester talking to my class about structuring a story. I could lecture day after day on exposition, theme, plot, style, tone and so on, but I tend to believe what Papert claims, that learning by experience with the topics is far superior. Letting students play, providing feedback , and encouraging “debugging” is the way to go.

I look at the 2 most recent projects I have assigned my students, a photo essay, and an audio project. We spend much of the class time editing on computers. But they are editing to learn a bigger and more important idea. While the production quality of these projects may not be that of Spielberg or Scorsese, the storytelling technique, the ability to self edit, the ability to understand what is and is not important, improves drastically throughout the span of the class. With this technique mistakes happen. Lots of mistakes! The first project is typically a mess, but each sequential project gets better and better.

My students will never remember everything I say, but hopefully through the projects and the mistakes they make on these projects, they “will eventually get it.”


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