Westlake on a sunny day

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Here’s an idea for learning on an ordinary day, and the beauty of this exercise is its adaptability to any age group. That is, high school or college students casting about for an essay topic might find this a refreshing alternative to “beeline for Google”; and kids of all ages might find an exciting new angle on something familiar.

First, make a list of what you do in a typical day. Then, ask yourself what you know about the origins of those activities. For instance, you might find in a typical day, you

-eat some food.
-use the computer or a cell phone.
-take a walk on a sidewalk.

So, do you know where, exactly, your food originates? If you’re having a glass of milk, what do you know about the dairy industry? About the business of agriculture? About cows? Organic milk? Soy milk? Nutrition and the difference between vitamins and minerals?

What do you know about the first computers? About how landline phones were invented, and how cell phones differ in operation? About when cell phones became commonly used instruments, and how, and why?

That sidewalk: how is it constructed? Where do we get concrete and asphalt? When did these substances replace simple dirt or gravel roads, and why? Who is in charge of paving our city streets?

And so on, and so on.

These examples illustrate how good questions – sometimes simple questions – can start you on a journey of learning. Of course, learning expands and deepens as one progresses educationally: while a grade school youngster might write a report all about the history of computers, a college student might write a more focused essay about one aspect of computer science ethics, or one of the various debates surrounding e-learning.

In all cases, good research questions were necessary. So choose your own topics to explore, perhaps from the most mundane of circumstances, and push your own limits as you find out more.

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