4 Prepare to Struggle

The goal of science is to find answers to questions. In order to accomplish that goal, scientists discover questions we don’t have answers for, figure out what work needs to be done to find the answers, and then do that work. We will examine the scientific process in more detail at the end of chapter two, but essentially doing science means starting out confused and then thoughtfully struggling through steps necessary to become unconfused. That also happens to an effective approach for in-depth learning on many topics[1].

Everyday Example

Jamie works at a small business owned by a family friend. The owner told Jamie that another friend used a spreadsheet to track the budget for his own business and that it was helpful in keeping costs down and doing taxes. Jamie’s boss assumed that because she was young she would be good with computer stuff so he offered Jamie some extra pay to make a spreadsheet and start tracking the budget for the business. Jamie was excited about the extra pay and putting budget management on her resume, and she wanted to impress her boss, but she had never worked with spreadsheets before and that worried her. Jamie decided she would just have to learn, and quickly. Jamie found a free spreadsheet program online and tried working with it, but it was too complex to figure out by trial and error and she felt frustrated that she was wasting time. In order to get the sheet done as quickly as possible Jamie tried searching the program’s help feature for the specific operations she wanted to do, but she didn’t even really know what words to search for. Also, it felt like the help pages were written for someone who already knew the basics of the program and it was a struggle to follow the examples. Jamie thought it wouldn’t take long if she asked some of her friends who were into computer stuff for help, but they just ended up taking the mouse and doing things for her with little explanation and too fast for her to follow along or remember later. Jamie did get some parts of the sheet completed quickly this way, but she didn’t learn much and wouldn’t be able to finish, adapt, or improve the sheet on her own. Jamie worried that she might make a mistake in the budget later on if she relied too heavily on her friends. Jamie was really frustrated, but not yet ready to give up. Jamie searched the web for help with spreadsheets and found some video tutorials. It took some time to figure out which videos were for beginners, but she eventually found some. Being able to pause the video and repeat the operations in her own spreadsheet was slow, but really helpful. After a couple of hours she understood the basics of the program and had built a simple budget spreadsheet. As she worked to adapt her program to her specific business Jamie found that she could now effectively use the help feature of the program, which allowed her to make a lot of progress. Jamie was able to add a function that automatically updated and graphed the business profits when new payments and expenses were added and that moment felt really great. Jamie wanted to add some fancy features to really impress her boss, and asked her friends for help. Jamie found that now she could usually follow along and had the confidence and the language to ask questions when she couldn’t. In addition to creating an efficient spreadsheet and picking up a useful skill, Jamie learned that there isn’t really a shortcut to learning something complex. Knowing that hard work and perseverance will be required, Jamie can actually save time by not trying to avoid the difficult and sometimes slow learning process.

Until the science fiction of implanting information directly into the brain becomes reality, we must all experience some amount of confusion, struggle and discomfort during any learning process, including during this course.  Rather than fear struggling and being confused, recognize that when you are struggling is a part of in-depth learning. If you avoid struggling with a topic, you may learn it at a shallow level, but you avoid learning it in depth.   Embrace your struggles in this course as an indicator that you are learning. Enjoy the ah-ha! moments of becoming unconfused.


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