[Question] Self-study ideas for micro-projects in “abstract” subjects?

Music and the arts, programming, and cooking have a wonderful property in common. They are all extremely compatible with micro-projects. By this, I mean that it’s pretty easy for an artist, coder, or cook of any skill level to find a real-world, interesting project that’s targeted to any given new skill that they’re trying to build. Trying to learn sixth position or expand into the third register on the trombone? Working on callbacks in Javascript? Learning to cook vegan food? The passionate community surrounding these activities will have songs, coding projects, and recipes galore for you to build those micro-skills on micro-projects. Even if you’re studying sociology, you can often explore the theories by sitting in a cafe and observing the behavior of people around you.

I think one property people point to when they refer to subjects as “abstract” or “hard” is that they aren’t very amenable to such micro-projects. Some examples of subjects like this include math, chemistry, and microbiology. There might be lots of applications you can pursue once you’ve developed a sophisticated understanding of the subject. If you’re able to get an entry-level job in the field, you might be able to get lots of exercise on a small subset of the skills that go into the subject. If you’re willing to spend a lot of money, you can sometimes buy the equipment to do at least some practice with these subjects at home, though you might also face regulatory and legal barriers. Perhaps you can find tractable, fun projects that are thematically related to the subject, but they’re unlikely to precisely and comprehensively target the material on, say, the level of chapter sub-sub-headings.

Usually, curriculum designers and teachers tackle this challenge with homework problems, exams, labs, debates, and classroom discussion. But there are two problems. First, a self-studier might not have access to all those resources. Second, those tasks often lack the juicy, real-world applied interest that creates a genuine enthusiasm in the student.

If you’ve had some success with this challenge, or know of useful resources for exploring it further, I’d love to hear about it!

Note: All subjects and experiences are welcome. It’s OK if answers stray slightly off-topic or lead off in different directions.

No answers.