Finding The Best Teacher

I used to photocopy physics laboratory reports. This was before I had access to a personal computer and the internet. The fastest way to answer questions in a physics laboratory report was to copy someone else’s. No thinking, only reacting. I made it thru my senior year in high school with a high score in physics and a pile of photocopied reports.

And, then, there was university.

Real laboratory with real experiments – a centrifuge, Bunsen burners, oscilloscopes, circuit boards, etc. There was no other option but to DO experiments. The laboratory reports should reflect the outcome of the experiment. I couldn’t just guess nor copy answers. I had to DO and observe. It’s in one of the experiments that I proved my friend’s claim about boiling water at temperatures below 212 F (100 C).  And the lesson stuck – even after two decades.

Nothing much has changed. In today’s age where answers to questions are simply a matter of typing keywords on Google, we all copy. Developers and programmers still copy sample code posted on a forum or a newsgroup. System administrators simply take a consultant’s recommendation. No testing, no validation. It’s the fastest way to answer questions.

Learning isn’t simply knowing answers to questions. It’s knowing how to answer a question by “it depends” – not the joke about consultants always providing that response – and also what it depends on. It’s a by-product of doing, testing, validating assumptions and even making mistakes.

Because the lessons that really stick are the ones where you figured things out on your own – by doing.


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