Friday, November 15, 2013

Lesson 8: Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est

Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est. Knowledge is power. And it is, indeed. I am so grateful at the end of this class, because it turns out I not only learned about jewelry and learning, but I also learned a lot about myself, some of which is pretty insightful and eye-opening.

Qui Audet Adipiscitur. She who Dares Wins.

Jewelry making was something I have always secretly admired, but I had never really had the guts to try it out. Am I a jewelry expert after two months of learning about this topic? No. Have a learned about jewelry making? I am happy to say, yes! Make that a big YES! 

Sure, I set the goals too high: thinking that I will easily learn four different techniques in no time. It did not go that way exactly, but I do not plan on stopping here. I now distinguish and handle quite a few new tools in my life, which is a transferable skill in many different areas of my life. I walked down the memory lane a bit, and reconstructed my high school knowledge about Friendship Bracelets. But, I also learned how to make extensions, clasps, and loops, as well as pearl knotted bracelets, wire wrapped bracelets and earrings with wire wrapping and head pins. In addition, I fixed most of my broken jewelry, which is a victory in itself. 

Per Aspera ad Astra! Through Difficulties to the Stars!

I have been fascinated by learning for the past 20 years, but I have never actively thought about learning through my own learning. This experience definitely put things in a different perspective for me. Having myself as an object of observation was a tougher position to be at, since I had to both create instruction opportunities for myself and evaluate my learning process, but in the end, I think it served a wonderful purpose, as I gained very deep understanding. There are a few things that particularly fascinated me!

First insight is in relation to recall and short-term memory. Learning that short-term memory is not only limited, but can also get severely overloaded was a true revelation for me! I now think of it, and it seems so obvious to me, but when it happened to me in the middle of my Michaels shopping spree, I was not amused at all. I almost took it as a defeat, and yet it is perfectly normal. Long-term memory, on the other hand, can be quite a warehouse: huge, but quite disorganized. I always knew that you need to work on creating those chemical connections between different pieces of information to improve recall and memory, but that I would remember a 20-year-old event from my past, out of the blue, is quite fascinating!

Second, working on this blog made me think a lot about novices and experts. In particular, what are the things you need to do to achieve that "expert thinking". One of the things that I believe is crucial in learning is the fact that you need to learn to distinguish the things you understand from the things you need more information on. Once you achieve that stage, learning becomes less difficult and much more enjoyable.

Vincit Qui Se Vincit. She Conquers who Conquers Herself.

Like I said before, throughout this blogging process I learned the most about myself. To begin with, I learned that I am my own worst enemy. Once I manage to conquer my own fears and convictions, I strive. The problem is, I do not always manage to identify the problem is in me. On that note, I have to learn to believe in my previous knowledge and experience. At this point in my life, there are pretty extensive and solid, and I can use them both to my advantage, because it is not about how smart you are, it is about how much work you put into it, right?

I learned other things, too. For instance, I learned not to be too certain about the things I believe I am certain about. Many times the mind can play a trick on us and when I am most certain, I may just be wrong. Next, I realized that I rely too much on external memory, such as notes, cell phone, my laptop, calendar and so on, while I should actually work on developing my memory skills. In addition to that, I am where I come from and though I do not identify with it too much, it is a big part of who I am, and I need to learn to acknowledge it. Finally, as research shows, I, too, learn better when I already have some experience in the topic and/or when I can connect the new with some of my old experience. 

All in all, awesome experience! I hope I create other opportunities about learning that I can blog about.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Unit 7: Learning how to Fix Things

This week has actually been quite rewarding for me. I watched my next video and it talked about extensions, clasps, end loops and so many other techniques on how to fix things! Did she say fix things? Ding ding ding!  I quickly ran into my bedroom and grabbed that little bag of "forgotten" earrings and other jewelry. We all have them! Tucked in in a little bag or a drawer, wounded and unwearable, rusty or chipped, but still kept. What on earth for? They are memories, that's why. A bracelet I bought in Greece that is missing a few beads and a clasp because I got stuck at a door handle somewhere. A pair of earrings my friend brought from India that is missing a loop, another pair that I got for my birthday that is too rusty to wear (a pair I absolutely adore!!! even they are worth nothing!), and so on. Oh, and that necklace I wore in high-school that is now too small.

I never kept them because I actually thought that I would ever be able to fix them. Was I in a state of learned helplessness, as Dweck would call it? I adore that article, as I am convinced it changed my life by changing my mindset. At one moment in my life I stopped believing that I can develop. Sure I could work on my existing skills and talents, but I was literally convinced that I am "too old" to change anything radical in my life, or learn a new skill. Jewelry making was one of those things. Is this a matter of losing creativity or maturing? Or both?

I would say that my learned helplessness has to do with some sociocultural experience. When you are little they keep urging you to study because "the train will pass" (it is a Serbian saying! it means "a time will come, when you won't be able to do anything about it"). And while that is true for many things in life, I really wonder if it is true for learning. It seems to be anything but true. But our culture is very fatalistic about learning. There are numerous ominous sayings like the one above. We say "you do not put hooves on an old horse", meaning you cannot teach older people how to do things (agism??!!) and so on and so forth. I wonder if some of that comes from the utopistic post-WWII politics. Anyhow, I have lived among people who literally did stop learning after securing that first job, and who defended it by the fact that they are "too old to learn" now, but that I should not take that against them, because they too "had learn when they were suppose to" (????!!!).

As it turns out, it is all a matter of having the right zone of proximal development. Max Goodman, the craftsman from provided enough scaffolding for me to develop my craftiness to a quite useful level. Obviously, my actual development was not far from it, even though I would never have thought it. And before you know it, this old horse got some brand new hooves! :)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lesson 6: Head Pins and Earrings

This week I added head pins to my wire wrapping technique from last week to make some earrings to match the bracelets I had made earlier. Finally! Earrings! Here is an image of the end products:

It was pretty easy, I must admit. I am getting quite comfortable with creating beauty (well, beauty according to my standards!) out of these miniature pieces. I think it is because I took firm control over my learning. Just like the book says, "people must learn to recognize what they understand and what they need more information" on (p.12). And I do recognize both. Every time I do not get something, I search for terms, images and explanations. I watch additional videos and do my best to improve my technique. Every time I do something well, I stop to think how I can repeat it, so it is not just a random outcome. Thanks to this blog, I also self-assess myself and reflect on my learning process. It has been a genuinely active learning experience. 

Another reason why I think it was a successful learning experience so far (well, successful according to my standards, of course!) are my well-developed metacognitive skills. I think it is safe to say that for myself at this point of my life, right? Since I am aware that metacognition happens in the form of an internal dialogue that we are often not aware of, every time I experience a problem, I try to make myself think out loud. By doing this, I try to notice (and correct) the beliefs which have negative effects on my understanding or performance. It is quite fascinating actually when you learn how to, sort of "be your own coach" in your learning process. 

Finally, there is the influence of the context in which this learning takes place. I do not always give my husband full credit, but the truth is the norms we establish at home for each others' learning endeavors have very strong effect on both of our achievements.  I remember when we first met, I was suppose to prepare for my exam in American Literature. I had to read a list of 22 novels. He just appeared one day at my doorstep with a box full of books, all 22 of them. Nothing changed in that regard. I always feel comfortable enough to invest into supplies and invest time into learning.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lesson 5: Wire Wrapping

Hallelujah! A miracle has happened! haha! I made a flawless piece of jewelry, and... you know what? I enjoyed the process! Will you take a look at this beauty?

Well, ok, it is not that beautiful, but at least it has no obvious flaws and it is wearable. I actually might wear it to class this week. Wink! Wink!

Wire wrapping seemed to have wired my brain properly. (Got it? Wires wired my brain! Sorry, I couldn't resist that pun.) As it seems, the critical period might be over since I notice that my learning curve is starting to pick up. Perhaps, as the book mentions, enough cycles of synapse overproduction and selection happened for a change to occur in my brain. When watching the tutorial on wire wrapping, I was not overwhelmed trying to memorize every single detail. I was actually able to focus on the details that matter and that make this technique different from those I had learned before. 

These alterations that happened in my brain due to learning made my nerve cells more efficient and powerful. I noticed that as I was trying to wrap the wire (even though I did it for the first time in my life), I handled the pliers and the wire cutter much more efficiently. Even though the technique was different, it was much more natural for me to hold tiny beads and pearls and manipulate them to my wanting. 

Finally, perhaps, even the time was a big factor. This is the eighth week or so that I am actively thinking and researching (and learning) about jewelry making. The book mentioned that different parts of the brain are ready to learn at different times. Perhaps I once had the potential to learn jewelry making but that ability has died out as I never did anything about it. However, after spending a significant amount of time working on it, a piece of that ability got revived. 


In either case, may I just be happy with my new bracelet? Thanks.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Lesson 4: Friendship Bracelets - What Can I Learn from Previous Experience?

A funny thing happened the other day in class. Xavier, Erica and I were talking about our blogs and I mentioned how we used to make these bracelets in high school. It was an absolute imperative for everyone to have, make or give them away. Xavier said: You mean Friendship Bracelets? Upon google-ing them, we realized that all three of us share a memory about this object (or should I say phenomenon?), a memory which originated in three different continents! So, I guess I lied when I said I had had no experience with jewelry making! Oops! Sorry! 

This conversation made me think! Here I am struggling to tie knots between pearls, all clumsy and imprecise, when I should actually build on my prior knowledge. BUT, is my knowledge about Friendship Bracelets relevant to this new learning situation? Can I activate it to an extent that would help me improve some of the more modern techniques I want to master? Or am I perhaps misinterpreting new information because I subconsciously use this experience to construct new understandings? The book says "all learning involves transfer from previous experiences" (p.68). I decided to investigate this sudden memory and the transfer I might be experiencing (Still shocked about that, by the way! Isn't human mind an absolutely fascinating thing? I guess our buddy Martinez is correct in calling long-term memory the warehouse of the mind!).

Here is an image of my first attempt! (Looks like a snake a bit, doesn't it? :P) I used embroidery floss and tried to recreate the Friendship bracelet from my memory, but it turned out to be all curled and twisted. I think I experienced a bit of negative transfer there, because I now have the knowledge of pearl knotting in my mind, which involves one knot only, while the friendship bracelet needs double half-hitch knots to prevent the curling from happening. However, even though I made plenty of these 20 years ago, that detail somehow got erased and the new knowledge hurt my performance in my first attempt.On the other hand, there was a lot of near transfer that helped me work on it almost automatically. I got used to the knots, tension I need to apply and hand movements I need to coordinate. Luckily for me, with bracelet making, "deliberate practice" is doable. The second I make something, I get visual feedback on whether it looks good or not. Not only that I do not want to wear a "snake" around my wrist, but it is all twisty and annoying. Hence, I decided to prompt myself with a Youtube video on how to do this.

This "deliberate practice" as the book calls it provided much better results. Watching a video after making an attempt to make a bracelet actually prompted me to specific details that I was vigilant of, such as the details from my long-term memory that I could not recall and that caused problems in my end product. For instance, how to avoid the twisting situation, or how to buckle it up temporarily. Therefore, my second attempt was pretty good. Finally, progress! :)

Lesson 3: Automaticity

Reading about expertise this week made me work on automaticity. Last week when I worked on my first pearl knotted bracelet the feeling was a bit overwhelming. Hold the pliers! Pull! No, untie the know! It is too far away! Hold the awl! Pull! No, too soon! Aghhhh! 

So I thought why don't I spend this week perfecting the procedure I've learnt last week. There aren't that many steps! It should be fine! The cognitive demands of pearl knotting will change for the better. The burden to my working memory will reduce (Martinez, 2010), and I will be able to learn new techniques quicker once I master holding the tools and tiny beads and pears.

You know how it all makes sense when you listen to the teacher or an expert explaining the procedure? You have no questions! You are ready to go! You even think some pieces of advice are kinda silly (shhh!) so you neglect them (sort of) when you start working on your own! That's what happened this time. I had plans to replicate my success from last time (this time for a present) and try another pearl type.

End result? Complete disaster!

The knots were too obvious (read: ugly!) because the pearls were too small (just like the expert explained in the video!). But the greatest disaster of them all happened at the very end when I only had one step left - to put the buckle. My needle got stuck with the silk inside the last pearl, which made my whole project totally useless. (Need I say, just like the expert warned might happen if you do not match the right tread size with the pearl hole size.)

How curious! As if my procedural knowledge was organized in a completely interrupted and illogical manner. My "big ideas" and principles, as the book calls them, turned out to be irrelevant (Did I miss the main points? Or do I lack experience to be able to form them properly?). I tried avoiding leaning on superficial attributes in my sense-making, but it seems that the relations between concepts in my mind were formed in an inefficient way.

Hence, I started all over again. :( I cut piece by piece of the silk to liberate the pearls. I tried applying my newly gained knowledge to correct my mistakes from the previous mistakes and I made a pretty decent bracelet. Was it perfect? Well, it had one tiny mistake. The buckle does not lock properly, but hey! Progressing from making a completely useless and ugly bracelet to making an almost useful bracelet, I think deserves to be called a success.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Lesson 2: Pearl Knotting

Week 2! Time to tame that shrew (aka fear of failure) and start making some jewelry. It sure was difficult to get myself started. I kept making excuses: I don't have all the tools! I need to finish bigger homework first! I've always been this "brave" about new and tough things! I tried to re-teach myself not to think like that, but the truth is we are "all victims of our upbringing", as one of my friends sometimes says, and yes, I was taught that being smart is all you need. I now know that effort is 80% of anyone's success (Just look at Tesla! I read somewhere that he only slept for four hours a day.), but that little hint of doubt always comes to my mind. Funnily enough, I saw an interview with Richard E. Clark, instructional technology professor from USC, who said he kept postponing learning statistics as a graduate student until one day he said to himself "Alright! Stop this!". That tickled me because he is dry eminence and I am string beans. So, if he can overcome his fears and beliefs, so can I! (I just need to keep reminding myself that if I fail, it is because I am new to this, not because I am utterly stupid. Hence, the value of this assignment is for me to grow and learn. It was not created to test my IQ.)

Before I start contemplating on what I learnt this week, here is a video on the technique I tried to learn. It is called Pearl Knotting. 

Surprisingly, making this bracelet did not take long. Overall, it is a simple technique. However, my first piece is full of flaws. It turns out that tying a knot right against the pearl is close to impossible. There are all sorts of physics and chemistry laws that are working against you, so after a few clumsy attempts I told myself: "Alright! This is not gonna work! Be smart! What do you already know that can help you do this in a more efficient way!" 1. Cyanoacrylate is super glue. I have a brand new coffee table. Move to the other room! 2. Pearls are heavier than the tread, so if I use gravity to my advantage and try to hold the string with already attached pearls vertically, it might be easier to tie the pearl right next to the knot on the other side. (Will you look at that? It worked!!!) 3. You need to hold the tread, the awl and the pearl at the same time! However, there is a tiny problem: you only have two hands! Apply pressure to the tread to easy the movements of the awl! 

Pressure? Gravity? Cyanacrylate? I was always avoiding physics and chemistry, so the fact that I can meaningfully applying some of those concepts just amazes me. I guess my Type II Elaboration (Martinez, 2010) came into play :) I connect with prior knowledge like nobody's business. Or did jewelry making just helped me understand gravity? Hm...