Sunday, April 06, 2014

And some Ponies

This week's new episode. I just have to say...once again, I'm struck by the sophistication of the concepts the writers are putting in (and even better: making totally palatable).

Last week's episode centered on the placebo effect, on "when do you let a white lie slide and when do you tell the truth" but really mostly on the placebo effect. (And also, pony synchronized swimming is a thing, which I find wonderful.)

This week's was on different ways of learning. No, really. Rainbow Dash had a big test to study for to try out for the Wonderbolts Reserves. Twilight tried to help her but as Twilight is the traditional "egghead," Twili's study methods didn't work for Dashie.

(Heh. I recommended making flashcards to my Principles I class. Once again I am like Twilight. Well, except I don't highlight in books and I don't recommend doing so - I may underline IN PENCIL passages I want to find again BUT ONLY IN BOOKS I MYSELF OWN. I was actually surprised at the "highlighter" scene...)

So they tried other methods: Fluttershy got her animal friends to put on a play about the material. Rarity used visual learning (it's super effective!) - the historical Wonderbolts uniforms (and, oh my Celestia, the 1970s-fabulous one she put on Fluttershy! It was just a brief moment but I was laughing and squeeing all at the same time). Pinkie Pie did a rap, complete with an 80s-style hip hop video.

And a digression here: one of the tiny little things some people might not notice, but that I think is actually a huge wonderful thing, is how the writers or storyboarders will do subtle shifts of animation style. This is probably most noticeable in the MMMMystery on the Friendship Express episode, where Pony Joe as Con Mane is shown in a James-Bond style movie, and Gustave The Gryphon is an old "Perils of Pauline" style villain, complete with "grainy" black and white film and twirly mustache, and Mulia Mild is a ninja, with the "film stock" of her episode slightly degraded in the way some of the old "samurai warrior" movies' film stock is.

Here, Pinkie Pie's rap is 80s-style video, complete with the slight "tape degradation" that you see on old, much-played VHS tapes. It's a little thing and maybe a lot of the kids watching it didn't notice it, but I did, and it made me happy.

(How soon before the Pinkie-does-a-Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air-theme-song-style rap, in the fanart?)

Applejack isn't much help, she just says, "Oh, I've been doin' this (learning about apples) for years. How long you got?" and when Dash tells her "12 hours," Applejack basically says "you're on your own, then."

(I admit, at one point, I was fearful: "Oh no, this isn't going to be a Very Special Episode where we learn Dashie has a learning disability and they go all heavy-handed about it, is it?" But they didn't, thank goodness)

But later, Twilight realizes that Dash learns by "multitasking" (Well, I would actually say it's kinesthetic learning - she learns by observing subtle stuff while flying, and she remembers it, even though she's not consciously trying to learn it). And so, Twilight (who can fly now, remember?) takes Dashie "for a fly" and the other Ponies, down on the ground, demonstrate the things Dash needs to learn. And she does.

And while the ending is perHAPS a bit pat....still, it's a nice episode and it had me thinking about how I learn. And perhaps one of the reasons I've been so successful over the years is that LOTS of methods work for me. (Well, not rapping, in fact, I find it vaguely distasteful when it's implied that educators need to become entertainers to "engage" students). But I learn visually: all the plants and insects I know, I know because I've seen them enough times to make a "search image" in my mind that I can call up when I need to remember them. And I learned my stuff over a long timespan - in college, I'd start studying for a big exam 2 weeks before the date, and just study a little (like a half-hour) each day, and that seemed to work so much better than trying to cram. And also, with knowing stuff like plants and insects - I have worked with that for a long time. When some of my students seem amazed that I know as many plants as I do, and ask how I learned them, part of my answer is, "Well, I've been doing this for probably as long as you've been alive." (And yes - my first summer of fieldwork was in 1992, 22 years ago now).

But I also learn well using traditional methods - I always liked lecture classes just fine, and I can learn from reading.

But I also find I am somewhat of a Rainbow Dash-type learner; I tend to pick up stuff figuratively on the fly (see what I did there?) and there's a lot I notice but might not consciously be trying to remember - like landmarks and stuff. Or things I happen to read in passing. Or things I hear while I'm knitting. (I can remember what I was watching on television when I look back at what I knit over past days.)

Anyway. I really liked this week's episode and I think the writers of this season, by and large, are doing really well. And in some ways, the topics they are covering are a lot more sophisticated than the average, say, sitcom aimed at adults. Yes. A cartoon supposedly aimed at 7-12 year olds is smarter than a lot of shows aimed at people in their 30s. That's kind of sad in a way, but also kind of not. And anyway, I'm free to watch and enjoy the show even if I'm not in the 7-12 age group.

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