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Friday, October 11, 2013

Building A Better Student Series: Minor Details & Lego's #education

As a kid I heard the old adage about how to eat an elephant - the answer is, of course, one bite at a time.

From this I was supposed to learn patience and how to manage large tasks, by breaking them up into manageable pieces. Instead, my ten-year-old mind grappled with why I would want to eat a pachyderm in the first place. Tough and chewy, I imagined.

Then I heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, which, as a kid, made no sense, because who walks that far? Apologies to Lao-tzu, but my mom told me that our journey of a thousand miles didn't start until we went to the bathroom.
I've read that the University of Alabama inspires its football players by preaching The Process. It’s about doing the basics well, which inevitably leads to a better bigger picture.
Some call it The Process, some focus on a journey’s first step, and others imagine eating an elephant. I look at the same principle, but I think of it another way: Life is like Legos.

Yes, the little plastic bricks from Denmark. And yes, I'll pull all of this together within the next few paragraphs.

Building a better student involves a methodical, step-by-step approach, with education at the base. In order to achieve success at any endeavor - whether it’s a winning college football program or creating a Fortune 500 business - attention to the details is vital.

What trips up some people, including students, is confusing minor details with trivial details; it’s not a matter of proportion, but of importance. Each tiny ingredient contributes to the greater whole. A single leg of a chair might seem mundane, but . . . well, you get it. Little pieces and parts, which individually don’t stand out, become invaluable when assembled.

The truth is, we live in a shortcut world, and our students seem to have a remarkably short attention span. And yet watch what happens when you give any kid - or any adult, for that matter - a box of Legos. Suddenly there’s a patient, piece-at-a-time mentality that slips into play. One brick is placed upon another, then connected to two more over there, and before you know it you've got the Millennium Falcon.

Lego artist Nathan Sawaya calls this creation "Think!"

Education - and life - is based on the same concept. When we talk to young people about their education, it wouldn't hurt to use the little plastic bricks to dramatize. This block represents one year of math, this block represents one year of science, and so
forth. The finished product is a composite of pieces of various sizes and shapes. Sure, it’s a bit corny, but it’s something they relate to. If you want to build a good life for yourself, imagine your education modeled upon one of your favorite toys - one that stimulates creative thought, too.
For young people, it’s overwhelming to consider an entire school career in one glance. When you're in seventh grade, visualizing graduation is almost impossible because it’s so far away. A freshman in college stares at that first semester load, imagines it multiplied by eight - or more - and immediately looks for a frat party.

But education - and all of life, for that matter - starts with the minor details, not the bigger picture. Putting each piece together, with patience and reinforcement, creates a better outcome for the student. For all of us.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people embrace the idea that Smart Is Cool. More info at

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