I've hit a tiny lull in the busyness to publish my book. We were out running errands today after picking blackberries and peaches, and I decided to stop at our local meat locker. After living in our town 3 years, I finally went in to check it out! Friday is a good day at our meat locker. Thursday is when they butcher the pigs, so on Friday, the case is stocked full of sausages, bacon, ribs, loins, and roasts. The great thing about meat lockers or local butchers is that they have the odd cuts of meat or organ meats that mainstream grocery stores don't usually have. Like suet. There are a few 18th century recipes I'd like to try that require suet, which is kidney fat, not lard, and it's very difficult to find. They had it at my local meat locker, though. Yay!
You might be wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, meat lockers got me thinking about one of the capstone courses I took in college. My research was focused on frozen foods in the 1930s, so I ran into a lot of mentions and articles about meat lockers. I always wanted to look further into the topic than I was able to do at the time. Maybe someday. :-)
When it comes to capstone courses, the crowning class for your studies at the end of your degree, I took mine twice.
Some people would ask "WHY??!" Who in their right mind wants to write a 20+ page paper twice? In fact, the nice secretaries in the History department office gave me a look that was somewhere between bewilderment and admiration and told me that no one had done that before. Haha! I had three very good reasons for doing it: hands on learning, retention, and no tests, less stress.
Hands On Learning-
I think most humans learn best by hands on learning. Getting in there and experiencing something. Because no amount of thinking about it will give you the experience to make you an expert. Of course reading and analyzing and thinking are invaluable to learning, but that is only one dimension. So many times I have learned a ton about something (like ration recipes), and thought I knew a lot. And then I went to do it and I realized how little I actually knew.
For me, I knew this about myself - that I needed to have a hands on experience to really learn anything from my class. Writing a substantial research paper forced me to learn about a topic from the ground up and then present my findings in a way that was interesting and relevant. I also had to include all the footnotes and a complete, correctly formatted bibliography at the end. And could I still tell you about that topic today? You bet!
That leads me to the next reason, Retention. What good is learning if we don't remember it? In two words: it's not. Consuming and regurgitating for a test is not learning. It's what cats and dogs, birds and owls do. I don't think it's what people should do for learning. One reason that we homeschool our kids is for this very reason. I want them to have an immersive experience, to have the freedom to delve the breadth and depth of a topic to their heart's content. And they remember it. They go back to it and dive in deeper. It's one of the most refreshing things I've seen, because half the time I just sit back and watch it happen. It's proof to me, that that is the real way humans learn, so that they can remember, and learn, and add a layer to their amazing treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom.
No Tests, Less Stress-
You might be thinking that writing a 20 page paper does not equal less stress, and you're probably right. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't zero stress. But it definitely was the better way for me. The class time for my capstone courses, when we did meet, was devoted to learning about the broad topic we would be researching within, and discussing. I'm a big fan of discussions over lectures! Then we were turned loose to do research with only meeting two final times to present our papers. Procrastination was not your friend at this stage! (Is it ever??) But I paced myself, read books, made a zillion photocopies, highlighted like crazy, and began crafting my thesis and eventually my paper. I gave myself enough time for my drafts to sit for me to come back to after a few days. And by the end I had a paper I was proud of, and a topic I knew a hundred times better than when I started. That process was uninterrupted by silly surprise pop quizzes or highly stressful tests with no purpose other than for the professor to gauge how much we were listening. To me that equaled less stress and with it - freedom. I'm a BIG fan of freedom in the classroom!
So, if you ever have the choice to do a project or research and write a paper, or do an internship, take it. Take it and leave the tests far behind. You will be a much more rounded and knowledgeable person if you do. That is the kind of learning that is fulfilling. That is the kind of learning that we need.
P.S. Just for fun info's sake, my two capstone courses were as follows:
The 1930s. I focused on the birth of the frozen food industry in the U.S. in the late '30s. SO cool!
Propaganda. I focused on the image of women found in 1940s women's magazines. That was a fun one. You wouldn't believe some of the shocking messages out there in the '40s!