Friday, November 20, 2015

Final Learning Blog: Learning is a journey!

I remember first learning about this class when I taking the orientation in the summer of 2014.  I remember Debbie telling us about the learning blog, and that she did it right along with her students.  At that time, she had finished teaching herself how to crochet.  I remember being so impressed that she, the instructor, made herself learn right along with her students.  The learning blog was fascinating to me, and a big reason why I switched from the on-campus class to online.  The past eight weeks have been wonderful, and I love seeing how I've learned and developed!

I've loved learning basics of sewing, but more than that, I have loved the opportunity to apply the learning process to a skill I've been trying to learn.  It has been so real!  Being able to see my thinking change from week to week has been eye-opening.  And to recognize patterns that have followed me from one project to another during my life... and to understand why some learning was so much more successful than others.

I'm a people person.  The weeks in which I learned the most about sewing were weeks I worked hard to learn from others.  From my sister teaching me the basic parts of the sewing machine, to my mother-in-law fixing the perplexing tension and showing me which stitches had been used to make my favorite clothes,  the wonderful craft-store sales representatives who helped me find the tools I needed, and my mom happily letting me raid her fabric bin.  Moments in which I could connect with others and seek input from them energized and motivated me to keep working.  This is part of why learning about cognitive apprenticeship was thrilling to me.  I love learning from "old timers", their tips and tricks, and the thrill of in return, being asked for advice by others! (My mom read about my tension problems, and asked if I thought what had worked for me would work for her sewing machine.  I'm a long way from being an expert or old timer, but it was wonderful to feel like I'm getting there!)  I loved understanding that as I learn skills from others, my cognition is developing along with whatever skill I'm developing. And learning that sociocultural education focuses on the learning and development from participating in an activity, whether "in the middle" or from the periphery, reassured me that it's okay that I'm often reserved and on the outskirts of group activities, because I'm still learning through observation and reflection.

I tend to overestimate what I can learn and accomplish in a given amount of time.  I love this quote from week two, "I've excited-I feel like the children's [toy] set and the baby blankets will be easily accomplished this semester, and I'll even be able to start on the jean blanket." Haha!  I said what? With two messed up online orders for blanket supplies resulting in not even one finished blanket, and I learned that polyester stuffing tends to poke out of cotton fabric so I need to restuff my little critters with cotton stuffing...  This is a great example to me of a pattern I have demonstrated throughout my life:  underestimating how much time it takes me to get through a learning curve, tackling bigger-than-normal beginners projects, and not accounting for the time needed if things don't go according to plan.  However, this course has helped me evaluate this pattern.  I'm grateful that I learned that I can view this pattern as a learning habit that can never change, or, preferably, I can take responsibility for my learning and view myself as having the ability to change, and learn incrementally (even if small) more and more.  

Another learning behavior I've demonstrated is that I continually struggle between wanting to know all the detail before starting a project, and needing to feel like I have freedom to experiment.  Both in week one and five I talked about the liberation of discovering and rediscovering examples of sewing from people who made do with what they had, and didn't feel restricted to following patterns.  Knowing that I have guidelines to follow helps me feel secure, while knowing that I do have the freedom to make changes and experiment (accepting that there may be consequences I might not like) helps me have the gumption to keep learning something new.  This reminds me of cognitive education, where teachers do not shape students, nor do they give them correct answers.  I've been broadening my mental models about what sewing is and isn't, and through my own failures and successes, adapting, changing, and augmenting those models.  

Last week, I felt like I had been stuck in my rut.  I was looking at a pile of unfinished projects, with only a dim hope that I would actually be able to finish any of them before the deadline.  That's when I read this warming paragraph from page 117 of Michael E. Martinez's Learning and Cognition:

"In our lifetimes and in our work, we should adopt the perspective that the subject will not be neatly laid out and dissected, with all mysteries dissipated through scholarship and research.  Instead, let's reside in the middle space acknowledging that we know a lot already, but also appreciating that many questions still endure.  What we know can guide our practice as educators, and what we don't yet know can make us suitably humble about our assumptions and decisions.  This halfway state can also help us to anticipate future discoveries...(pg. 117)" 

Remember, Ivy? It's a journey!  Learning is a journey.  The mind is continually developing.  I am learning how to learn, and that skill will bless me for a lifetime.  In just eight weeks, I was able to learn the parts of a sewing machine.  I learned about thread needle sizes, fabrics, how stitches interact with different fabrics, and different kinds of batting.  I finally learned what "grain" is and how to find it, and learned about tension in formal and informal contexts.  I may not have any finished the "big" projects, but they've been started, and I finally have the tools I need to complete them.  And I did make my however-unconventional-it-is-"I-did-it!" garment to wear around the house.  :) Next week I'm going to my in-laws, and can have a sewing party with people I love learning from.  And this will be a fun activity to continue with my sister and mom!  I did learn basics, and I'm excited to keep learning more.  How grateful I am for this "middle space", where I can acknowledge where I am, and look forward to future discoveries!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Learning Blog 7: Ruts, Not-orders, and happy applications

That title pretty much sums up my mental state this week: not very well organized with ups and downs.  We've been warned all semester that we would hit mental barriers with our learning blogs, and I thought I'd avoided mine until this week.  Last Friday I [thought] I placed an online order for batting so that this week I could tie the baby blankets I've planned on finishing, and when I finally checked my account, I learned I apparently didn't place the order at all.  However, I did learn that my mother-in-law has an adjustable sewing mannequin she is willing to let me borrow for sewing projects.  That was a huge plus.  I've learned I'm more motivated to learn how to make clothing than baby items, especially when I don't have a clue when I'll actually need the latter.

I loved this week's reading.  It is so applicable right now, and has helped me feel like I'm climbing out of the sewing rut and gearing up for this final week.  Several quotes from How People Learn (HPL) on pages 60-61 really helped me.  "Humans are motivated to develop competence and to solve problems...learners of all ages are more motivated when they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and when they can use that information to do something that has an impact on others--especially their local community." This week I've been fairly distracted by working on a project to acquire funding for a water-efficient landscaping initiative.  This project is something I'm passionate about, and can see how it would benefit our drought-prone state.  Right now it is much easier to focus on a community benefit rather than sitting down to tie yarn knots in a baby blanket which I don't know when I'll use.  So I've been trying to broaden my perspective by remembering that while I may not have a baby now, or even soon, learning to be patient and to finish through a simple sewing project will help me when I tackle bigger sewing projects, and will give me a heads start when we do begin that phase of life.

That ties in with the principle of needing time to learn skills.  I loved how HPL states that world-class chess masters require 50,000-100,000 hours of practice to reach that level of expertise (pg 56).  I'd heard that to be really good at a skill (not world-class, just really good) requires about 10,000 hours, or two years.  I'd rather start taking the time to learn basics and fundamentals of sewing right now, rather than trying to start the 10,000 hours even later.  It seems similar to the principle of earning compound interest-it's better to start sooner with little chunks of time invested, so that there will be enough time for processing the skills and information, rather than trying to cram it all in later.

Making myself think about why I'm feeling in a rut has helped me "educate myself" out of it.  I think it's similar to the stress the reading placed on "making students' thinking visible" so that educators can identify misconceptions and correct them to avoid wasting time and effort.  I've been able to apply the reading to identify why I felt like I was in a rut (not feeling motivated because the project isn't as interesting or potentially beneficial as other immediate projects), and placing myself into a perspective that making the effort now will result in long-term benefits that I maybe can't comprehend right now.  I'm very grateful to be in a course that actually helps me evaluate my thinking, and gives me tools to use to make myself think better than I have.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning Blog 6: Stuffing, Lofts, and Chopsticks

I loved our reading for this week, and how it applied to what I've learned in sewing.  We've read about cognitive apprenticeships.  Unlike normal apprenticeships where just a skill or trade is learned, a cognitive apprenticeship implies that in new-comer and old-timer relationship, the new-comer actually develops cognitively and integrates new knowledge into their being while they are in the process of becoming an old-timer.  And any of those apprenticeships occur within communities of people who are working within similar trades.  I loved remembering two room-mates I had in the same apartment, both of whom were excellent sewers.  One is a very detailed, precise, and orderly seamstress who would wear dresses we thought she had bought at the store.  The other was just as talented, would whip up her own patterns or not follow one at all, and made sewing seem much more whimsical.  It makes sense to me that even within communities of practice, old-timers will differ in their views and micro-culture, and that those will rub off on the new-timer.  

I've seen examples of this while researching online.  In forums or on product reviews, there are people who talk about making up sewing crafts as they go, or those (like me), who spend a ton of time reviewing product after product, or blog after blog, trying to find the exact match for the question they have.  In my case, learning about batting.  Did you know that stuff between your blanket has a vocabulary all of its own?  Like loft.  I thought a loft was in the top of a building.  But apparently it also means how thick batting is, and this affects the look of a finished product.  Batting also varies in density, grain, stiffness or softness, and material.  Apparently cotton breathes so that it is cool in summer and warm in winter, polyester doesn't breathe, and wool can have inconsistent loft.  I didn't realize I would have so many options choosing innards for a baby's blanket.  But I'm finally settling on polyester, which wont shrink like cotton would after washing.  I figure if babies puke as often as Facebook moms say they do, those blankets need to be the most resilient they can be.  

I've also started stuffing my soul-less critters that I put together last week.  I'd heard it was better to leave as small an opening as possible for turning the fabric in and out to minimize the needed hand-stitching.  I did not factor in that stuffing a cow is a lot easier when more than just her foot is open.  The batting I bought came with a "free stuffer", which is nothing more than a non-food grade chopstick.  And it seemed somewhat useless... my fingers worked better.  But maybe it would work better on a "higher loft dense batting" than the lightweight cloud I'm using.

On a stuffing note... does stuffing shrink over time?  I like having my little sheep be only partially stuffed.  It looks a lot more home-y.  But I dont know if it's better to stuff-until-it-nearly-pops in case stuffing compresses over time.  The mouse certainly looks better stuffed to a brim...  Any personal opinions on your end, "Old Timers"?    ;)