Thursday, October 30, 2014

Using a metaphor, story, or visualization when trying to learn a concept is one of the best ways to remember and understand it. Welcome to the story of…
Sir Learn-a-Lot
Or: How to Defeat a Dragon and Gain Your Lady’s Love in a few Easy Steps

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a young knight named Sir Learn-a-Lot. Every time the local dragon captured a local lady, Sir Learn-a-lot would procrastinate and when at last he rode the rescue he was always just in time to be much too late. Needless to say, Sir Learn-a-Lot had a lot to learn.
The trick to beating procrastination is to realize that it has become a habit. There are four parts to habits: The Cue, The Routine, The Reward, The Belief. To change the habit, you must first change the reaction to the cue.
One day a wise old man came to visit Sir-Learn-a-Lot. He found him engaged in one of his favorite pastimes: surfing the interwoven webs of the enchanted palace spiders. He said to the young man, “My lord, have you heard that the dragon has stolen the blacksmith’s daughter?” On hearing these words, the young man felt a familiar sense of dread, and picking up a new surfboard, he was about to hop onto the web again, when the wise old man caught his arm. “Do you not desire to rescue the lady, my lord?” he queried.
“Of course!” the young man replied, “It won’t take long though—I can do it later. The dragon won’t eat her for at least another hour or so.”
“A wise learner doesn’t waste time,” the old man commented. The knight was on the verge of arguing when the old man reached into his satchel and brought out a parcel. “It is for you, Sir Learn-a-Lot,” said he.
Pleased at receiving an unexpected gift, the knight eagerly tore off the paper. He stared at it incredulously for a long moment. “It’s a tomato,” he said at last.
The Routine: make a plan, get rid of distractions, and focus.
“It’s a pomodoro,” the old man corrected.
“Oh. I knew that,” the knight said, blushing slightly beneath his helmet.
“You must focus on the process, not the destination,” the old man said, taking the pomodoro (which was in fact a magical timer) and setting it to twenty-five minutes. “If you will dive into the process of saving the lady, the dragon that you must face will not frighten you as much.” And with that he drew a knife and disconnected the interwoven net of webs so that the knight would not be tempted to avoid the rescue any longer.
“Well, all right,” Sir Learn-a-Lot said, “twenty-five minutes isn’t too bad, I suppose I could reach the cave by then.” He paused, “But what do I get out of all this? Even if I did like her, the blacksmith’s daughter is already engaged.”
The Reward: Have something to look forward to when you finish the task whether it’s the satisfaction of a job well done, drinking a latte, or watching a movie.
The wise old man smiled, “Have you met my daughter, Lady Luck?”
The knight’s eyes lit up with delight, “Ah, she is most wondrous fair! I would give anything to gain her favor!”
“Lady Luck favors those who try, my lord.”
The young man put on his armor with renewed alacrity and leapt upon his horse. As he was about to ride away he seemed suddenly struck with doubt. “Will it really work?” he asked the old man.
The Belief: Believe that your new system will work. Find like-minded people to keep you on track.
“It will, Sir Learn-a-Lot,” the wise man replied, “The blacksmith’s daughter is Lady Luck’s friend. Now hurry, you have only twenty minutes more, then you may pause to rest.” He pressed the weird ticking pomodoro into the knight’s shiny metal gauntlet.
The knight rode on and was so focused on the journey that he didn’t even notice when the timer ended for he now had a greater motivation. As he rode, he planned his mode of attack. He knew that he was prepared—he hadn’t spent all those years in dragon-fighting school for nothing. He could almost hear his teacher’s voice,
It’s often helpful to pretend you are the concept you are trying to understand.
“I am a dragon,” Sir Learn-a-Lot said to himself. “I am a dragon. I am a dragon. I am a dragon.” He could see it now: the dragon rearing up to roar and spew flames at him. In fact, he really could see it, and hear it as well, for he had just come upon the dragon’s lair. Suddenly he found himself understanding what the dragon would do next! He must act quickly. He leapt from his steed, drew his broad sword and slid the blade neatly into the dragon’s innards. The dragon fell over, dead, so Sir Learn-a-Lot scooped up the maiden (who was just inside the cave, petrified with fear) and galloped home. He met the wise old man waiting at the front door with his lovely daughter, Lady Luck.
Recall—after you’ve worked on something, practice remembering it. Especially in places outside of your regular learning space. This makes test taking easier as you won’t be thrown off by being in an unusual room.
Working together—when you study with friends, they can catch what you miss. Explaining what you’ve learned to someone else helps solidify it in your own mind.
Lady Luck invited Sir Learn-a-Lot to dinner, where he told her how her father had inspired him to rescue her friend. “It’s amazing, this little pomodoro,” he said, holding it out for her to examine, “Simply setting a timer and cutting down my web was all it took to get me started, and once I got started… well,” he looked smilingly around, “Having your father to keep me on track helped a lot too.”
Lady Luck was much impressed. They became engaged that evening and were married within the week.
The End

This was written as the Final Project for the class "Learning How to Learn:Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects" which is taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski and is available on


Natalie said...

Creative way to do the final project! Nicely done!

Sue said...

Very creative indeed!