This past month I decided to join a 30-day learning challenge from one of my blog heroes, Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. The challenge was to choose something you wanted to learn about, or learn how to do, and spend a little time every day in the month of June working on it. At the end of the month you just had to report back about how it went. Easy-peasy.
The thing I chose to learn about was mathematics. More specifically I chose to learn as much math in 30 days from the Khan Academy as I could.
I was draw to the challenge for two reasons. For one, it was motivating. I’d been working on Khan Academy for a long time but I wasn’t consistent and I tended to quit when I got into math and science subjects I didn’t know. This challenge gave me a reason to try harder. It’s also gave me a reason to make learning a daily habit.
What’s this challenge all about? It’s about motivating ourselves to finally tackle learning whatever we’ve always wanted to learn. It’s about developing the learning habit. And along the way, maybe learn some effective learning techniques.
Do a daily study session (at least 10 minutes) for as many of the 30 days of June as possible.
2. Optional: Journal about your learning.
3. Optional: Join the Sea Change Program (http://seachange.zenhabits.net) for articles/videos on learning, daily accountability and weekly reviews.
4. Mandatory: Report how you did at the end of the month here: http://bit.ly/1HB3Su7
– From the The 30-Day Learning Challenge sign-up form
I’m getting older and I want to keep my brain as active as possible, more than just doing puzzles everyday. I want to push my brain to actually learn new, and often complicated, things, then retain the information over time. I also want to get into a habit of trying to solve problems without first being told how to. I want to practice thinking logically.
Khan Academy is great for all of these things.
The problems are set up like a test you would have gotten in school. A paragraph describing what they want from you, or an equation to solve, and a graph or image to work from, plus a space to enter your answer. That is it. There isn’t any fancy graphics or anything to distract you from the reason you are here, to learn to solve this problem.
The math concepts are broken down by grade for K-8. You are given a percentage of how much of that grade you have completed. Each concept has four levels of completion. First you must practice something, such as multiplying by 10’s, or finding cube roots, or recognizing conic sections, whatever that is. You can practice anything as much as you want.
In order to move up through the levels though you have to wait for the “Mastery Challenges”. These give you one or two problems from the concepts you have already practiced. If you get it right, you move up a level, if you get it wrong, you move back down. I moved down a lot not from not knowing how to solve the problem, but from not reading the problem all the way through before answering. It was incredibly frustrating.
The thing is the Mastery Challenges are only offered every 12 hours or so, so you have to remember what you learned, you have to retain the information. That’s good and all but it also limited the amount of work I could get through in a day.
So how did I do? *drumroll*
Well, not as I would have liked. I didn’t make as much progress as I wanted to and there were many reasons for that. For one, Khan Academy is always adding more stuff. You will think you have completed everything in one of the grade levels but the next time you log in you will find that it is no longer at 100%. I had to go back twice this month and work on things in the lower grades due to added content. Not a bad thing at all, but my stats don’t look as good now.
Another problem was simply me making stupid mistakes on things I really did know. This was especially bad on days when I was tired. I would accidentally add instead of multiply, I would not see negative sign, or I would just type the wrong number in, these things caused me to drop back down a level where I would have to wait until the next day to move back out of.
And lastly, and purely my fault, was not working on it everyday. I did work on it most days but there were some where I was busy, tired, or had gotten frustrated the day before and felt discouraged. Then I would feel bad about missing days and missed more days from being disappointed in myself.
BUT I have not given up. If you look at the above picture, at the bottom of the list, under “All of Math” yo will see I am at 50%, halfway there! Yeah, a lot of what I have done so far has been easier stuff, but still, 50%! That feels good and makes me want to work even harder to get there. I want to continue to develop this daily learning habit.
One of the questions Leo wanted us to consider going forward is what worked and didn’t work, and what adjustments can be made going forward.
What worked was just sitting down and going from problem to problem without worrying about how far I wanted to get that day. If I didn’t know how to solve something it took time to learn it, but when I wanted to make a lot of progress I would only choose to do the easy stuff. This wasn’t a problem at first but when I ran out of easy things to do I would just give up.
Going forward I will just do the problems in the order the Khan Academy gives them to me instead of picking and choosing what I want to work on. It will slow things down but I will get more of a challenge every day rather than mindlessly doing things I already know.
Another thing that worked was not doing these first thing in the morning. At first I thought I should work on this challenge early in the day to get it done but I found myself distracted by thinking of other, more urgent, tasks I had planned. I changed up the times after the first week and found that doing a bit, 10-30 minutes, of math work during my lunch was the best. I wasn’t too tired and I didn’t have other things to do then.
One thing that didn’t work was not choosing a more measurable goal. I just wanted to do “as much as I could” but that gave me a lot of leeway to slack off. If I had said something like “get through all of K-8th grade math”, or Algebra, or Geometry, I would have a better idea of what was possible and could adjust for the future better.
All-in-all I enjoyed the challenge and I did learn a ton too. I’ll continue to work on the math going forward but I think I will also do more months of learning with different focuses. Already I am thinking about using Khan Academy’s science videos for a challenge in July, then reporting back more specifically about what I learned.
Could be a fun blog project :)
Bonus: Learning tips for your top challenges are here: http://zenhabits.net/learning-tips/