Every month the students at my school do a "main lesson".  The idea of the main lesson is that students spend their morning, when in theory they are at their peak focus, engaged in a month long deep dive into a topic.  At the end of that month they produce a "Main Lesson Book" which shows what they have explored and learned in that month.  

Every grade does a different main lesson each month.  The first month of school I taught the seniors a main lesson on evolutionary biology.  The next month I worked with sophomores studying chemistry.  I am currently working with the juniors on a month long exploration of embryology.  

There are philosophical reasons for engaging in a main lesson that revolve around the teachings of Rudolf Steiner.  I haven't read enough of his work to know why he chose this format or why he recommended that schools teach particular scientific topics at the high school level.  This post isn't about him so much as it is about why I think there is tremendous amount of merit to main lesson books and why it is worth it to use this paradigm as a way to organize your life.  

People are excited by novelty but succeed in familiarity.  We want to learn new things but are daunted by the difficulty of learning something out of our comfort zone.  

The main lesson idea helps to straddle this middle ground.  Each month a student is deeply engaged in a new idea (the novelty) but is approaching the month in a format that they are used to (the familiarity).  As the novelty of the subject wears thin the student goes into a new, completely unrelated subject (more novelty).  So students who finish a science main lesson will do an art block or something that exercises different muscles.  

I think there is something to the cyclical nature of these projects that would be useful for most of us.  Committing to a month of consistent learning of a subject is long enough to learn something interesting but not so daunting as to stop you from even beginning.  

So each month I am going to commit myself to a project.  At the end of each month I will produce some kind of work to show for myself.  The work can be anything but it has to have some kind of shareable product.  Right now I am engaged in a drawing project for embryology (next post) that has me engaged.  

The project nature of it has kept me more engaged.  I have learned more about embryology this time around than I think I learned in the past.  I can't be sure if the drawing is influencing that or if it is my renewed sense of mission focus that has helped me learn more this time.  Either way I am pretty pleased with how this work is going.  

I think my list of projects for next year include:

  • doing a set of pistol squats successfully on both legs
  • successfully publishing a short story
  • publishing an essay
  • continuing to learn GIS
  • learn to program and do data visualization in R

That isn't to say there isn't a problem with this idea.  There is a very dilettante aspect to this work.  If I dedicated every day to honing a specific craft I would be much better at that particular thing.  If I spent a year learning R I would probably be able to double my salary!

I think the key to getting breadth and depth is to commit to dedicating time to both.  So ideally there is the "depth" project that you dedicate daily time to achieving.  Then there is the "breadth" project that you dedicate daily time to achieving but that changes monthly.  

So my breadth project this month is focused on my embryology sketching.  My depth project is to improve my writing and write a book.  

My preference for engaging in dilletante work is showing - I am far more motivated by my learning about blogging, mapping and drawing than I am about writing my book.

I think that is because there is no chance of failure in the dilletante work.  Because I am just dipping my toe there isn't a chance that it will suck.  The book will suck and will have stumbling blocks.  I haven't figured out how to work through that yet but hopefully just getting momentum in this medium will help with the bigger project.