#AdlerWall 00: Engage!

by Shane L. Larson

One of the sad truths of the modern world is that many of us have unpleasant memories of school. Indeed, students of all ages, from elementary school through college, often regard the entire educational endeavour as a long and arduous battle, and have no greater ambition other than to survive.

Sometimes, we don't let people learn by preventing them from responding to their passions [Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Watterson]

Sometimes, we don’t let people learn because we don’t let them build on their passions [Calvin & Hobbes, by Bill Watterson]

But there is another great truth in the modern world: we live in an age where your education need not be confined to a small room with rows of desks. Virtually everything our species knows about the Cosmos has been written down, and is available to the masses. Long after most of us have walked out of the murky hallways of our schools, almost all of us rediscover the joy of engaging with the world. We rediscover what learning is about.

Some of us cook. Some of us dance. Some of us paint or craft. Some of us write apps. Some of us write fiction. Some of us read about history. Some of us learn guitar. Some of us garden. Some of us birdwatch or stargaze.


We are engaged and learning about the world through all the myriad of things that we “do for fun.” We are learning for learning’s sake because it tickles some long forgotten corner of our minds, and brings out a bit of the wonder and joy we experienced when everything in the world was new and every adventure was an experiment.

Somewhere in the process of “growing up,” that simple wonder and joy gets weeded out of our souls, ostensibly to make room for “being responsible” and “acting grown up.” But our brains do not forget — that’s why people learn to love learning again on their own terms.

Can you learn to re-engage with the world, to reclaim the carefree sense of exploration you had as a child?

Of course you can! But like all skills in life, it takes practice. You have to break down your old habits, and connect new neural pathways in your brain so your natural behaviour tends toward being an explorer, not a Walter Mitty.

At the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, there are two giant explorer walls. Each one is covered with ideas, suggestions, and encouragement to go out and engage with the world. People I talk with often say, “These will be great to do with the kids.”

The "Explorer Walls" at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, located in our stairwells. [click to enlarge!]

The “Explorer Walls” at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, located in our stairwells. [click to enlarge!]

Of course your kids will love doing this stuff. But these activities are also for you. Simple activities like these awaken corners of your mind that you may have forgotten, or that you don’t exercise nearly enough. Not all of the activities will be interesting to everyone; perhaps none of them seem interesting to you. They are provided as guides, as impetus to look at the world somewhat differently than you do every day.

I’m a teacher by trade, so I often think about what it takes to get people to do something new. I just imagine the little secret voices in your mind that are throwing rocks of doubt that keep you from learning. There are insipid little notes tied to all of those rocks.

This will be scary. This is intimidating. It might be boring. What if I do something wrong? I don’t know how to do this!

My job is to take all of those little notes and burn them. My job is to show you the path, provide an example or two, and give you a little nudge out the door.

The Cosmos is all around you, all the time, constantly clamoring for your attention, if you can train yourself to notice! It's funny, it's awe inspiring, it's mystifying.

The Cosmos is all around you, all the time, constantly clamoring for your attention, if you can train yourself to notice! It’s funny, it’s awe inspiring, it’s mystifying.

This is as easy as walking out your front door. The world is there, right out there, within reach. You don’t need a big trip to find your place in the Cosmos. It’s easy to start, and you can’t screw it up! Voltaire’s aphorism applies here: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” Exploration is dirty, not perfect. Let it happen, and the Cosmos will let you peek behind the curtain of wonders.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to follow my very advice to you. I’ll embark on a journey to do everything (and maybe then some) on the Adler walls. I’ll head out into the world, I’ll peer into my life and surroundings, I’ll wander and wonder. I’ll document what I find and discover right here, and as I often do, I’ll ramble on about what it means about us and our place in the Cosmos. So come… take a walk with me.


PS: As you follow along, post some pictures or stories for your friends and family to see on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  When you do, include the hashtag #AdlerWall, so we can share in the joy of discovery with you.

PPS: One of the things on the #AdlerWall says “Take a photo everyday.” This hardly seems necessary that this should be a thing in the modern age, where smartphones are taking pictures of every latte and kitten on the planet. Never-the-less, let me exhort you to take a picture every day, but make it of something new — something you’ve never noticed before, something you don’t understand, a single moment of majesty and grandeur in life or nature. Whatever it is, make it a new one for you. I’ll do the same, and we’ll come back to this at the end.


This is the introductory post in an entire series about the #AdlerWall. I encourage you to follow along with the activities, and post your adventures, questions and discoveries on social media using the hashtag #AdlerWall.  Links to the entire series of posts is as follows:


8 responses to “#AdlerWall 00: Engage!

  1. Very well written and the opening words about education limiting creativity is true to the core.

  2. Pingback: #AdlerWall 01: Write Down What You See | Write Science

  3. Pingback: #AdlerWall02: See What’s Hidden Under Rocks | Write Science

  4. Pingback: #AdlerWall 03: Look for Patterns | Write Science

  5. Pingback: #AdlerWall 04: Look Up and Sketch the Moon | Write Science

  6. Pingback: #AdlerWall 05: Share Interesting Observations, Ask Questions | Write Science

  7. Pingback: #AdlerWall 06: #XPLORESTEM | Write Science

  8. #AdlerWall #XPLORESTEM has really encouraged me for something that’ll continue to expand my experiment about my critical thinking on making it work as how cost by the way I see people in my country Nigeria shows their work of critical thinking skills and knowledge . I’m very happy of pursuing your blog till making me feel that your brightest learning courses could favor my experience by focusing more often digging deeply into creativity . Thanks

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