Stormin' Bob Swanson

Blogging Bob

Project-based learning

When I’m not playing music, I’m teaching. When I’m not teaching, I’m learning. In reality, I’m often doing all three things at the same time. The bottom line is that, being a professional educator, I probably spend more time than the average bear thinking about how people learn new things.

If you’re like me (and I know I am), the best way for me to learn a new skill is to have an immediate application (and sometimes a deadline). For example, I wrote the song, “The Weather Safety Polka,” twenty years ago on guitar. In my head, I have always heard a different arrangement than the recorded version, but I didn’t play accordion or know any polka musicians at the time. A few years later, I would acquire an accordion, but since I was not playing many shows in those days, I lacked the necessary motivation to master this new skill. It wasn’t until I decided to add “The Weather Safety Polka” to my set list in 2018 (“Taking the State By Storm” tour) that I worked for months in getting the song performance-ready on accordion. The following summer (“Out of this World with StarMan Bob Swanson” tour) I would add an accordion-based version of “Just a Phase” to my repertoire.

Short story long is that I like to learn, but I’m as lazy as the next guy. Sometimes I need to be forced or find a reason to force myself. One of my current projects at my real job (instructor/lab coordinator in MSU’s Department of Physics & Astronomy) is to give our physics lab manuals an overhaul (new look and new content). This means that I have been given a brand new set of software for editing photos and laying out documents. I’m not a graphic designer (or much of a visual artist) so the learning curve is steep. It’s one of those things that is easy to send to the back burner when there are more pressing fires to put out . . . .

What’s one way to force myself to tackle this daunting task? Make a promotional flyer for my shows this summer. This is something that librarians who book me are often asking for so it’s a win-win. They get the product they want, and I pick up some new skills — with the “push” of wanting to promote my upcoming shows. So here’s what I’ve come up with (with the help of my eldest son, Daniel, who does have an eye for fonts, logos, and layout). Hopefully you’ll see a few at your local library if your town is a tour stop this summer. What do you think?

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