Exercises, problems, and projects

The standard learning method

Epsilon Camp, a children's math bootcamp, makes a clear distinction between problems and exercises:

"What makes the difference between an “exercise” and a “problem” is how readily a learner can figure out how to begin when faced with the question. All learners need some exercises at all stages of learning, but it is possible to go wrong by having too few problems in the learning process. Basically one can never solve too many problems."

A project is a task that has no clear solution yet, where finding the right questions is a prerequisite to completing the task.

A lot of exercises is what you get when you attend an university course or one of the new online courses (e.g. MOOC). You don't do problems often, and full projects are even rarer. It could be that you only get to do a project at the very end of the degree, after five years of exercises.

The Meerkat method

The Meerkat method goes against more established methods, where you go bottom-up (from simple tasks to complex ones) by starting with a project. In Meerkat, you start with the most complex task that a Mentor thinks you can complete. He'll start with something that is challenging maybe even for himself. You are helping him, like the Learners in middle-ages guilds helped the Mentors.

As a learner in the Meerkat method you have fewer choices to make, and this is a good thing. You piggy-back on the Mentor’s experience to find the best path. Even if the mentor is not very good at introspection and doesn’t know how to adjust the difficulty level at first, the meerkat method will auto-calibrate with iterations.

  • No need to find the right tutorial/book/whatever. The choices are made for you.
  • You spend more time at the border of your capability.
  • You save time doing exercises that would be too easy.
  • Higher project completion rates: all projects must have a concrete output, so you will see your own progress in tangible ways.
  • You will have an easier time demonstrating progress to yourself and to others (the Mentor vouches for the Learner).
  • You will get more hands-on training than with other methods.