Learning is a Fluorescent Light

Me: I know this new concept feels hard. But you know what it’s like turning on a fluorescent light? It flickers on, then goes dark, then goes bright for an instant, then goes dark again…

Student #1: Then bright?

Me: Yes, because…

Student #2: And then dark again?

Me: Right. And what I…

Student #1: And then bright!

Me: Yes, yes. And eventually the light comes on, but it’s slow, and there are these alternating moments of illumination and darkness. And that’s how it is understanding tough math. You feel like you get it, then you don’t. There’s a moment where it’s perfectly clear, then a moment where it all seems hopeless. Your understanding flickers at first, but eventually it becomes steady and bright.

Student #3: Oh! I get the analogy!

Me: See? It’ll come to…

Student #3: Wait! I lost the analogy.

Me: Oh… well, I can…

Student #4: Ohhh! Now I get it!

Me: Hmm. Are you just mocking my…?

Student #4: No! It’s gone!

One student starts flicking the light switch off and on, as others cry and shout:

All students: It’s all so clear! No – I’ll never get it! Wait – I see! No – I’ve lost it! Hold on – yes!

Me: I love you guys. Also hate.

9 thoughts on “Learning is a Fluorescent Light

  1. Sounds like you’ve been doing a good job of at least engaging your students…as can be seen from how often they steal your analogies and run away with them. 🙂 Congratulations!

  2. I think that’s how long it takes our brain to properly form the right neural connections. It says is this one right? What about this? Hm, nope, went dark, okay lets try that first one again and add this one. Oh better! Okay, now this-crap, we lost it. Go back to the first two, carefully add the third… Okay! We’re good!

    1. I like the idea that my brain is a little electrician, tinkering with the wiring. I trust electricians a lot more than I tend to trust my neurons.

  3. I’m trying to turn this into a creative journal prompt. Thanks for writing it!

    A minor error that I noticed: you’ve misspelled fluorescent in the title.

Leave a Reply