“Let me know if you need my help and I hope a few things go wrong.” Those were my words to Adam, an eleven year old Gadget Lab student who is building his own PC. He bought compatible parts through a website that matches PC components that assemble together seamlessly but… I hope they don’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to drum up business. I’d like Adam to hit a few snags because when the process gets frustrating, that’s when the real learning begins. I learned this in grad school when I took economics for the first time.
Macroeconomics turned out to be as hard as it sounds. I was in over my head and I was certain I would fail. So for the first time in my life, I read every assignment and completed each exercise in the workbook. Halfway through the course, I encountered two workbook problems that were simply unsolvable. I worked them backwards, forwards, sideways and cried just a little. Still, my solutions never matched the answers in the back of the book.
I gave in and asked the professor for help. He took a quick look and said, “Oh yeah, those answers are wrong. A couple grad students made that workbook.”
I was furious. Furious about the hours I had wasted and even more furious at his lack of regret. I went home steaming and once again, cried just a little. But when I calmed down, I realized that I had actually mastered the concepts in those two problems more completely than anything else in the course.
Thinking about it from all sides, rereading the material, and checking my calculations clarified my understanding of the material and even the material in other chapters. More importantly, I realized that I could manage this course and that I actually like Macroeconomics. In fact, once I stopped crying I ended up loving all my econ classes.
And that’s why I hope those PC components give Adam a little trouble. I hope he has to do some research on firmware, drivers and other aspects of home computers that are invisible to most users. And I hope he finds his answers by using the wealth of information that other computer enthusiasts are happy to share online. If he does, this skill will serve him better than anything else he learns building this PC. Because the euphoria of discovery doesn’t come when the pieces just snap into place. It comes on the other side of frustration. That’s where the miracles happen.