“Learning is a restless activity.”

This quote from, How We Learn, by Benedict Carey describes my thinking since the return to school in September. I’ve been trying, without success, to succinctly write about a variety of ideas that are living in my head and in my classroom: renewal, rethinking education, re-learning and unlearning concepts, and the percolation and incubation time that is required for deep learning. So where does this leave me?


The first week or two of school there is a sense of renewal that permeates the building and beyond. Renewal – a new class, a new teacher, new curricula. But there can also be a sense of trepidation. How long will it take my new teacher to find out that I haven’t mastered the eight times table? When will my students realize that my art skills are severely lacking?

Honesty, trust, and empathy can help us with these feelings of trepidation. But my thinking and concern lays with the patterns of identity that we fall back into so quickly – particularly our students, who re-identify themselves as “not good at math” or “not a strong reader.” I want students to embrace not just the beginning of the school year with that wonderful sense of renewal, but to feel a sense of renewal every day.

What happened yesterday is a part of my learning, but it doesn’t have to be my identity. Each day brings new opportunities to re-learn concepts, to try new activities or to try old ones again, and to see each other in new ways. This is my ultimate hope for students and teachers this year: that each day brings the true gift of time and space for renewal and a feeling of endless possibility.


I had the chance to listen to Kath Murdoch on a couple of occasions in September, as well as to listen to other speakers at TEDx West Vancouver on the topic of Rethinking Education. The excitement about enacting change in education or perhaps seeing education through a different lens is contagious; however, I am drawn to Kath Murdoch’s statement that rethinking education simply means to think again.

To think, to question, to inquire. To guide students as they inquire into themselves as learners and the world around them. Inquiry teachers and classrooms can showcase this thinking… but what about re-thinking? Do we have time built into our classroom schedules for students to start again? Do we provide a chance to revisit the same concept or idea weeks and months later?

How We Got To Now, a documentary on PBS, discusses six designs that changed the world and the innovators behind these designs. Most innovators need time and space away from their research to let ideas digest. The program also suggests that the varied interests and hobbies of these key innovators allowed them to make new connections that ultimately led to success. On first glance of BC’s draft curriculum for science, I had some reservations about the dilution of content across many grades. However, the revisiting of content and rebuilding of knowledge each year may lead to deeper and greater understanding. Students will be given the time and space to reflect, to digest ideas, and to see and to make connections with other areas of their lives.


This leads me back to Benedict Carey’s work, How We Learn. Although half of the book discusses ways to better memorize and perform on tests, the latter half of Carey’s work outlines brain research that reinforces some of the ideas mentioned above.

The percolation of ideas is important to allow more learner ownership over ideas; this allows the time to think for oneself rather than to simply restate research. However, interruption is key to percolation. We need to encourage students, and ourselves, to start working on big projects early and to get stuck or interrupted. When we revisit ideas after these interruptions, greater connections and deeper learning can be attained.

Carey also outlines the benefits of mixing things up – interleaving subjects as well as interleaving new content with familiar content. This is particularly interesting for a 30 minute math or music lesson: spend 10 minutes on new material, 10 minutes on familiar or previously learned material, and then 10 minutes with fun and/or unexpected material. If we have mixed practice or learning, our brains are not only reinforcing the previously learned skills and concepts, we are teaching our brains to expect the unexpected.


Where does this leave me? Restless, to say the least, but not in the negative way I used to look at the word restless, as bored or disinterested. I prefer the definition of restless as: active, changeable, and unsettled. Perhaps the feeling of restlessness is the brain’s attempt to make connections, to seek patterns, and to consolidate learning. If so, let’s embrace restlessness in our students and ourselves this year.

  • What are you restless about?
  • How can educators find the time and space in their classrooms to allow the interruption that is required for deep learning and connections?
  • Does the BC draft curriculum provide opportunities for learning, re-learning, and percolation of the big ideas?
  • Teachers are trained in units and yearly plans. How can we un-learn and re-learn to see our role in the percolation of ideas across grades?

One thought on ““Learning is a restless activity.”

  1. Curiousity is one of the great joys of being human; restlessly seeking. The quote from J. MacKinnon, “Searching itself is not a bad way to live,” has stuck with me for years and I was reminded of it while reading your post. Perhaps we don’t get beyond restlessness, we just get used to being restless…

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