This has been the week of Arts and Crafts. Bree is completely obsessed with making stuff. She finds inspiration on YouTube, takes notes on everything she would like to create and then spends hours, cutting, gluing, puncturing...the list goes on...
Yesterday, Elwood was searching for projects to make from recycled items. He just type "recycled projects" into Google images...you would be amazed at what can be made from old tires, plastic bags, claw foot bath tubs and a VW Bug...no kidding!
We are talking to a couple of very cool folks who may be presenting workshops during our three days of April Break Programming. Exciting stuff, so stay tuned. If you know of someone who would like to participate either as a student or as a volunteer please pass this on.
Newsday, a Long Island paper, printed this article Monday about families on Long Island OPTING OUT of NYS standardized tests. The Organization FairTest has endorsed the idea of Free/Democratic/Alternative schools and Learning Centers providing a space to families who would like to OPT OUT, but need a place to send their kids on testing days.
Deep Root Center for Self Directed Learning will open its doors to any student in the St. Lawrence Valley who would like to OPT OUT of state testing. Please contact Maria for more information.
Just do it. It seems everyone has co-opted Nike's iconic call to arms. What is it about those three little words that gets the heart pumping or at least makes us feel a bit guilty about sitting on our butts and not doing “it”, whatever “it” is? Even I feel remorse upon hearing those words though I usually disregard (blatantly) anything anyone tells me to do. If someone says you should try...my automatic (but silent) response is “I don't think so.” The list goes on endlessly. When I do something, it generally has to be my idea in the first place. Is it my provocative and perverse nature peeking out or is it something even more basic?
There has been a lot of information and news floating around about education lately, from the accursed Common Core to Opting Out (of standardized testing) to something some educators are calling Grit. This was the latest NPR news story about education that I listened to during my commute one day last week. The whole idea is that if folks (kids) are going to accomplish anything they need to persevere through the hard parts and tough it out. In other words, stick to it, even if it is something they despise or at the very least have absolutely no interest in. They are teaching kids Grit in schools; it is the “newest” thing.
I agree with one part of the whole concept, if you persevere, you will find success. The person being interviewed was dead on with the first words out of her mouth. She said,"This quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time, that's grit,". Yes! Amen! Then the story continued on to say we have to push and make kids do stuff they don't want to do, because it is “good” for them.
As I mentioned before, if someone pushes me to do something I do not want to do, I am going to darn well push back. Yup, quiet, shy, little ol' me. And, we wonder why some kids are acting out in school? Instead of finding and celebrating passions and interests, we are informing them of things they are not good at and making them do more of it. It has been proven in multiple studies, kids do not learn when they are under coercion. The one thing these kids will understand is that they hate a specific subject and in the end believe that they are either dumb or that education (school, learning, classes) is stupid.
Kids learn when they are engaged and happy. So simple, but yet so hard for so many who are so invested in our current system to understand. Yes, I can hear all of those “buts” flying around. But, my kid needs to learn math; but, she really needs to know how to spell; but, he really needs to understand how to write a cohesive essay; but, I really want her to get into a good college.
My answer is always, they will get all or most of that important stuff as they explore what they are most interested in. For example, I was talking to Bree and she said, “I hate math and social studies.” When I asked why, she told me that no one took the time to figure out how she learned math and they told her to “just do it this way”. And, she was totally fed up with social studies because “who wants to learn about dead people anyway? They aren't alive anymore, we are.” That conversation occurred the day I met her. One week later, she was on the computer researching photography and said out of the blue, “I want to learn algebra.” “What???” was my disbelieving response. “Why do you want to learn algebra?” “Because, I will need to know about angles and stuff when I am studying photography.” was her immediate reply. Bingo! This twelve year old is excited about photography; somewhere she read that she will need some knowledge about angles to be a successful photographer, so she requested an algebra class. Does it always happen this fast? Probably not. But in seven days, she went from “hating” math to wanting it enough to ask for it. Now, I need to find someone to teach this girl algebra. Any volunteers out there?
Building Rube Goldberg machines is an addictive behavior. We had talked about creating one for a couple of weeks. On Monday, for inspiration, we watched several Youtube videos of machines others had built. Elwood arrived on Wednesday and said, “I want to start building the invention.” With that one sentence, he instigated five solid hours of thought, experimentation, frustration and euphoria. We became so involved that he forgot to eat lunch and only realized it when his hands started shaking while trying to set up dominoes. At the end of the day, we filmed the machine in action, but it only completed the first sequence on its own. What you can't see in the video is my foot stamping in frustration which propelled the ping-pong ball on its way to the end. What you can't hear is my convulsive laughter as I rolled on the floor unable to catch my breath.
So what did we all do on Thursday? Yup, built another Rube Goldberg machine. See what I mean?
We are looking for kids who want to start their journey towards independent learning. Please share this with your friends.
DRC will be open Wednesday – Friday, April 16-18, during Spring Break. Join us for themed programming and tons of fun!
Thursday, Elwood and I were alone for the day. We had math 'scheduled' for late morning. I had a vague notion about using coins to explore probability; flipping, heads or tails, tabulating results and so on. Well, Elwood was more interested in spinning the coins than flipping and came up with a hypothesis that the quarter would spin longest, then the nickel, penny and finally the dime. He based his theory on diameter size.
He has an electronic gadget (he has told me the name of it too many times to count, but it obviously isn't interesting to me, so I have not remembered it). It is an android that he uses for gaming and surfing the Internet. Of course it is multi-functional and has the ability to become a stop watch. He was in charge of spinning the coins and I was in charge of timing. He spun the coins largest to smallest, three times each and I wrote down the time they each stopped spinning. As we were in the process, he revised his hypothesis to say the dime would go longer than the penny.
Once we gathered the data, we averaged the time for each coin and discovered that our results proved Elwood's revised theory.
My role as teacher in this scenario consisted of hitting the start and stop button on the electronic gizmo and to review the process of finding averages. He didn't 'need' me to supply the lesson or for anything else but a bit of memory jogging.
Later in the day, he wanted to do science experiments, so he looked some up on that same electronic thingy. Every once in a while he asked if we had particular 'ingredients' for the experiments. I answered with an explanation of where he could find it on the shelves. He implemented each experiment by following directions. He asked me to watch the 'lava lamp' he created in a jar and wondered if I knew how it worked. We each guessed and then looked up the scientific explanation to see if we were right. When he finished, he cleaned up the spilled veggie oil and put away all of the supplies.
Then we looked (lets be honest everyone looks at the pictures and very few of us actually read the articles) at an article in a National Geographic magazine about a guy who chased tornadoes for a living. He, his son and a meteorologist were killed last May while documenting a monster storm in Oklahoma. We discussed the craziness of being a storm chaser, (well, I thought it was crazy and he thought it may be kind of cool) and examined the diagram showing the paths of their vehicle, the tornado and where they met. The photo of the car showed a twisted heap of metal with three of the tires gone. The paint was even scrubbed off in areas.
The day continued in this fashion. I mentioned that art was on the schedule and asked if he wanted to continue on the mural that has been sadly neglected for the last couple weeks, or try his hand at a collage. He decided to draw a dragon, cut out little pieces of paper from another National Geographic magazines (it always breaks my heart a bit to see these magazines cut up, but the results are always so worth it), and glue the small pieces to the dragon and background.
He and Miguel finished the afternoon with another electric guitar lesson. He is learning to play “Iron Man”. I think it is the song that everyone learns to play at first.
We were equals throughout the day, working together on projects and talking about things we found interesting. At no time was I in charge or pontificating about any particular subject (well except for the few minutes after we watched Jane Goodall's Wild Chimpanzees. But hey, that was ANTHRO and I always get a little carried away!). I chose this day to document because it is the freshest in my memory. Everyday is completely unique at Deep Root Center, but the result is the same. I am a participant, not the dictator. I guide and assist, but I am also learning right along with everyone else here.
We have gained another member! Nate's sister Bryanna will be joining our crew regularly. She is very interested in photography and cosmetology. She spent time working on a very cool collage of different personal care products and make-up cut out from magazines. If you view it from a distance, it almost looks like a cityscape. Welcome Bree!
I am discovering the phrase “independent learner”, which is placed prominently in all of Deep Root Center's informational literature, elicits many emotions, meanings, and for that matter different responses for each individual who reads or hears it. For some it is excitement or relief, “wow, I get to choose anything in the whole wide world to learn about. Cool, I can't wait! I want to...” For others it brings on a feeling of pure panic or consternation, “Holy Cow, I have to decide what I want to learn? The world of options is way to big and overwhelming. Hold on, way to much responsibility, I can't do that. Please just tell me what to do.”
I have encountered both extremes while implementing and explaining our philosophy and methods to kids and parents. I am learning how to negotiate the advisor/advisee path for these completely legitimate responses to our program.
Some people are by nature very independent and self-sufficient. They hate it when someone or something tells them what to do or how to do it. They have their own plans and ideas and just want to get busy doing it. These are the folks who never (or very rarely) read instructions. They don't want to hear “you should do this… because someday you will need to know how to ...” They just want to learn by trial and error. “Get off my back already,” is usually the thought running through their heads. These are kids who are ready to get on with living life. For these youth, I will listen very carefully to their dreams and intentions. I want to know what they are most excited about. Then we can look at ways to implement those ideas and find the resources that will make it all happen. My role is to ask pertinent questions, help find people in the community who will be the most help to this student, and stand back and cheer.
Other folks are more tentative and unsure. The variety of choices even within one subject area is way overwhelming. “I don't know what I like, I haven't discovered everything out there yet. I don't even know what the options are, for goodness sake.” These are kids who need to feel the safety and comfort of a narrow range of choices. So, we will create a schedule with specific time periods assigned to several subject areas. Within each of those time slots there will be a small variety of alternatives. During the scheduled writing time, the student can choose whether they would like a writing prompt, a poem starter or free time to write an original story. At research time, we can listen to a podcast or watch a video and choose how we want to respond to it, a discussion, a written presentation or a visual creation. This method feels safe, while allowing for decision making and freedom of choice. These youth need a bit more nurturing and support, but in many ways my role is the same. I am listening very carefully; I am still asking questions, and finding resources within the community. But, my favorite part is responding to anything they have produced, created or said, with, “wow, that's awesome” and watching the slow smile creep across their faces when they realize they can do anything they set their minds and hearts to.