#TeachingTips – The magic of self-motivated learning.

Feb 03, 2015
Tarun Markose

Once I’m on a self-motivated path to know more about something, there’s no looking back. I’m climbing the bean stalk of knowledge on my own, so lost in my journey of discovery, that i’ve forgotten the world around!


Some of the most fascinating things I learn these days are self directed – the process usually starts with a cue – words or images or a conversation that have just the matter required to capture my interest. There’s an opportunity today for teachers to use such “learning baits” – words, images or videos carefully chosen to arouse curiosity. Once students are interested and on their self directed learning paths, the teacher just has to guide and moderate their progress. That’s all there is to this method.

Compare that to classrooms where information is conveyed in full, for the sake of conveying in full – this may legally “cover the syllabus” – but students in that classroom need not be mentally present. Learning in that way is passive and often lacks excitement. Uptake and memory recall are less than ideal.

Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about this concept in the below video. He calls such cues “soundbites”.

“A few words that are informative, make you smile, and are so tasty you might want to tell someone else — there is the anatomy of a soundbite. And don’t think that soundbites aren’t useful if they don’t contain a curriculum. A soundbite is useful because it triggers interest in someone, who then goes and puts in the effort to learn more. … Take the moment to stimulate interest, and upon doing that you have set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven because that soundbite was so tasty — why do you think we call them bites?


And it’s kind of what Twitter is — it’s almost like haiku, actually. … When I compose a tweet, I feel like Rodin who said, “When I make a sculpture, I just cut away everything that isn’t the man or the woman, and then that’s what’s left.” … You trim, you carve the words such that all that’s left is the most important concept communicated in the simplest, most direct way. And that does not mean using big words. So I don’t have a problem with that.”

Here’s a bit about my last self-motivated learning journey.

That’s a nearly 60-foot-wide meteor plunging into Earth’s atmosphere and exploding over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk with the force of about 30 NUKES. The blast injured around 1,500 people. The Chelyabinsk meteor was undetected before it was spotted by local residents as it streaked across the morning sky on Feb 15th, 2013… The blast of the explosion was momentarily 30 times brighter than the sun, and large enough to generate infrasound waves that were clearly recorded to have gone around the globe…. twice! Bet the previous night didn’t see so much action.

It made me wonder.. why does a meteor produce such a blaze of energy on its way down? Is is because of friction with air on the surface of the meteor? To the contrary!

“A meteor traveling through Earth’s atmosphere produces a shock wave generated by the extremely rapid compression of air in front of the meteoroid. It is this “ram pressure”, rather than friction, that heats the air, that in turn heats the meteoroid.”

This took me on a self-directed learning journey that started with “ram pressure” and led quickly onto “ram turbines” that make use of ram pressure to generate force. I then read an interesting story about a plane nicknamed the “Gimli Glider” – a canadian aircraft that was involved in a rare and unusual aviation incident in 1983.

This aircraft, at about the halfway point of its journey and at an altitude of 41000 feet, had run out of fuel because of a imperial-metric measurement goof up by ground staff. The flight crash landed, but all those onboard survived due to the ingenuity of the pilots, and the fail safe mechanisms built in by Boeing.

A (very rarely used) “ram air turbine” was the most important fail safe for that fateful 737.


You see, an aircraft’s engines power not just forward flight, but also sensitive hydraulic systems that are used to steer them. When fuel runs out and the engines die, the primary energy source of the aircraft is shot. Ofcourse, there are emergency batteries to take care of things for a little while, but they would have run out sooner or later. So how did our gilmy glider glide about to its sweet and safe crash landing?

The saviour was a little “ram air turbine”, which was auto-deployed by the aircraft when it sensed a complete power failure. This turbine was driven by the forward motion of the plane in the air (ie, ram pressure), and the energy it generated was used to power the flight’s hydraulics and navigate about.

A word of mention for the pilots – a lot of skill would have been required towards the end of the glider’s ram-enabled descend towards the run-way – the energy the turbine generated would have reduced proportionally as the speed of the flight reduced in preparation for landing.. which means that they wouldn’t have been able to steer the flight easily! Imagine cutting a careful balance between being able to steer and a deadly crash landing!


Want to know more about how the pilots of the Gimli Glider glid it to safety?

Have an inspiring journey of discovery! 🙂