How I learn from a 6 year old

This was long time due. Cold, flu, work, fever, work, more work, more flu, and much more work and a couple of drafts later here it is.

My ex-boss told me once, never discourage the enthusiasm and questions of children. I follow his advice. Religiously. Well, try my best to, and I think I do it well to a large extent.

I was fascinated by the idea of unschooling that was triggered by this video that I watched a year ago; and also by the buccaneer scholar, James Bach. It was also very fortunate to hear more from the man himself when I attended the Rapid Software Testing course that he was teaching a few weeks ago.

The six year old in question is my son who has a fascination for technology and is ever keen to see, work, explore and play with any gadgets he can lay his hands on. This was since he was about a year old or so.

The only thing he would talk when I used to visit his school during parents evening was about the over head projector, how it works, the computers children were allowed to use, what software it had, how it worked, why some things appeared different on the school pc than at home… the list is endless. One of the teachers even confessed that he knew every teacher’s password and they willingly allowed him to ensure every pc was logged in at the start of a session and correctly closed down at the end.

Whilst that made me proud, I attempted to know how it benefitted him, what the school did, if anything, that allowed him to progress and most importantly, me trying to understand how he learnt things.

The very first thing I noticed was, he wasn’t afraid of giving anything a go. He wasn’t worried about him not knowing anything. My parents have a completely opposite approach. They would be scared to use my laptop in fear of messing something up despite me insisting they work on it. It’s a different matter that my Dad has a sort of an “anti-midas” touch and I’ve seen things not working when he uses them but works perfectly fine if anyone else uses it!

I could see some sort of correlation between age and technology. Perhaps the older we get, we fail to catch up with the progressing technology and we form a shell around ourselves. We are more likely to enjoy our own comfort-zone. Most of us know that children are like sponge and they grasp things very quickly. We as parents have been able to throw more at our son and he has been able to do things faster than others at his age.

I have a tic-tac-toe game on my mobile phone. I gave my phone to him once to play this game and within 5 mins he showed me how the game had a delay before placing the next move and how he could just place three consecutive noughts or crosses in that time and win every time.

On the little big planet, how he could go to the main screen, select another user using a key combination and get that character/user in the game, how he can then use them to press a button that would allow him to progress ahead and move onto the next level! I was speechless when he showed me that.

The other day, despite me warning not to mess around with the TV menu – especially software updates, he showed me how he could create a list of favourite channels for everyone and how it would save us from going to menu, searching for our channel list and just use the up/down keys on remote. The fact that he made the excuse of “and it doesnt even mess the TV at all” was the best part of all!

Anyway; I got the chance of speaking with James during the course breaks on how I (and my son) would benefit from or go about encouraging his unschooling (defined by James as allowing yourselves/your child drive your/their own education according to the natural rythms of your/their own minds – which I read as their potential, their ability to learn – very rapidly in most cases). He encouraged me playing different games and observing how he does things, how he observes and learns from his experiences.

Over a weekend, after the course ended, father and son bonded over many things, including food – especially a breakfast at McDonalds – and a game.

The game was to see how an object behaved albeit with me having a slight advantage of having an identical looking one and having different properties.

The rate at which he formed his own testing heuristics/oracles were fascinating:

“Thats interesting, this bounces when I drop it, but does not when you try”
“I think there is a bouncy surface and a non-bouncy surface”
“The shiny side makes it bounce, the other side doesnt”
“I know its because one of the side is sticky and so it doesnt bounce”
“I think you cant get rid of the stickiness by wiping it off your trousers, lets try this paper towel”
“Let me see if it bounces on this table, this cushion, this floor, this food tray…”
“Let me see what happenes if I tried to throw it on the floor real hard”
“What if I dropped from a very high place, like if I stand on a chair, or even a building”
“My hands are warm so when I touch it warms and so it bounces, but yours are cold so it doesn’t when it gets cold. Let me see if it stops bouncing if I make it cold by placing this under the cold tropicana bottle”
“I tried to cool it down for 1 minute but it bounced back, let me try to make it colder by doing this for 2 minutes”
“Can I borrow your coffee mug so I can warm it to see if I can see any change”
“Why is it that I can press this part (of the object) but I was not able to do so last time”

This immediately reminded me of two things “rapid testing” and “context-driven testing”. He was applying his own heuristics to test an idea and rapidly swapping it for another when it failed.

“All heuristics/oracles are fallible” (James Bach / Michael Bolton, Context Driven Testing)

I think I’d prefer calling them “Fallicles” or even “Fallacles”(fallible+oracles; although happy to acknowledge anyone who has already coined this term, more importantly, in this context before! and will need evidence too!)

We carried on for a good 20 minutes and I could notice he never gave up; at least not until I had to stop. It was truly inspiring. He has such moments, but not always; but thats okay, I guess. His persistence with trying things out with whatever was available to him was commendable.

How many of us give up when we run into dead ends? I know I almost did this, this morning!

I decided to stop when I heard the last one, I said, “Do you think that Dad might be tricking you with yet another object like this one?” He said “No, that’s not possible.” I asked “Why?” and he innocently replied, “because I know you wont!”

Once we stopped, he asked me “Where did you get these from?” I answered “I got them from the best tester in the world. Do you know who that is?” Without a moment of hesitation, he replied “You!”.

Now there were two instances, that reminded me of James Lyndsay and his work on bias (which was also a topic of my previous post). There was faith, but there was also an element of biasness in my son’s honest reply.

I repeated what I said to James Bach when he asked me at the start of the RST course if I was a tester. I said, “I am, but not as good as I would like myself to be”.

James replied, “That’s good. That’s how you keep learning and strive for more.”

Agree. And the learning does not necessarily have to come from peers, sometimes children teach you a lot too!

Thanks for reading! Please do leave your comments, critiques, suggestions, tips ‘n tricks; and if you liked this post, please do share it with others…