Guest Column: What have you learned today?

H. Nelson Crooks, Jr., CCAC North Math Cafe

I ask my 7th grade granddaughter this question every time I help her with her math homework. The other day she told me that she learned something about how turtles breathe (it’s interesting – look it up). What she learns isn’t as important as the fact that she learns something new each day. 

You may learn something really important, like how physics applies to shoveling snow; or something not so important, like when you realize that the words to a song are not what you thought they were (or what you’ve been singing for years). You may learn something that causes you to think, “I never thought about it that way.” The important thing is to be continually open to learning.

Take advantage of this time at CCAC when you focus on learning. You may not have the opportunity later to concentrate on particular subjects. But that doesn’t mean you should stop learning when you finish your formal schooling.

Always be on the lookout for new things to learn – and not just related to school. They’re all around you. As Yogi Berra pointed out: “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Don’t think of this as studying; that is, learning something because an instructor or a textbook or a syllabus says you should. Rather, approach it as looking into something that fascinates you – something you want to know more about. The internet makes this very easy to do.

Be curious about things. For example:

1: Why are manhole covers round? (“Because the manholes are round” is technically accurate, but not the right answer in this case.)

2: Why are stop signs octagonal?

3: There’s a pattern in sunflowers – what is it?

4:  Why “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight…”? 

5: Why are the red lights in traffic signals always at the top?  (Answers below.)

Show interest in other people. Engage the people you meet – even during this time of social distancing and staying home – even over Zoom. Find out what their interests are. You can learn something from anyone and everyone.

Don’t just accept what you experience at face value. Think about why things are the way they are. You may be surprised when you actually do use something you’ve learned in school (like comparing unit prices or figuring out how much carpet or paint you need).

Jim Lovell, commander of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, spoke at my daughter’s college commencement. He based his address to the graduates on Dr. Seuss’ book “On Beyond Zebra.” In the book, the main character thinks he knows all there is to know because he knows a word that begins with every letter of the alphabet. The narrator of the story shows that there are always more things to learn. Mr. Lovell encouraged the graduates to go beyond limits, to never stop learning.

So, what have you learned today?