Thursday, October 13, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} how to build (+ destroy) a lesson


How to build a lesson/curriculum 

Even if you use a full service curriculum, there are times when you will want to create your own experiences and content. There are 3 things you will need to do this.


1. Pick a subject

Subjects seem to bubble up from life and are usually easy to catch if you are listening.

They might be:

-kid or adult chosen
-based on what is happening in your life (getting stitches, sailing, seeing an inspirational YouTube video)
-based on what is happening in the world (election, local issues, art shows or museum exhibitions)
-based on travel (where you or your friends are going)
-based on something you read
-any other way interest is piqued


2. Start gathering resources, general information, books, documentaries...

This is my favorite part. Your research strengths might determine how you approach this step. I love internet research so my fingers tap their way through dense and winding webs of information and leads. Coming up with unique word combinations to unlock new educational websites or book reviews is thrilling.

You might also:

-cluster map - you
-cluster map - as a family
-order books from the library
-find local experts or resources who can help you
-ask your online groups for suggestions (there is a great FB group called Homeschooling with Netflix)
-research movies and documentaries at PBS and TED talks and Netflix
-check for local museums or art exhibitions that will support your subject (we were recently studying navigation and attended a Maya Lin show that explored artistic ways to depict topographies - talk about interesting connections!)
-pinterest as last effort
- in your research start to ask some bigger "what if" questions and see where that takes you

* A warning based on my own experience, you can cluster map exhaustively and won't actually get do it all. When you are generating ideas, don't limit yourself. Think of the cluster map as a menu (a cluster menu) that you can refer back to as needed. You might even leave a subject area and come back to a year or two later and find ideas worth exploring.


3. Do something with all those resources. 

You want engagement of some sort with the material. You can do worksheets or prescriptive projects you find online, but I have another idea.  Plug different subjects into the area you want to study and see if you come up with any cool ideas.

your area of proposed study + one the subjects below = a new approach 

creative writing, science, craft, food, history, geography, politics, art, poetry,
 personal history, architecture, biology, animals, humor, cartoons ...

What happens when you combine bones and poetry or fish and personal history or architecture and poetry? This is where the fun begins!

How to disrupt a lesson

As important as it is to create or curate lessons, it is also important not to get too attached (it is a hard balance, I tell you). If a subject goes stale, give it a break. Realize that this is not a one time shot, you are planting seeds and everything can be (and will be) circled back to when the time is right. Resistance and frustration end up teaching something very different from the content that you are trying to share. 

This might seem tricky. What about making your kids stick with something. Giving them grit?

Finding the middle ground between forcing a kid to finish something they started and having the autonomy to quit something when it no longer serves them is tough. For us, our learning community (co op) provides one instance where quitting is not really permitted. We know that we are working as a group and when one person does not do their part, the whole experience is compromised. In addition, as my kids are older and are starting to take classes though the online virtual school, they are accountable to a teacher.  These natural opportunities have the benefit of teaching grit in a real way Our children live and work along side of us and we are constantly up against deadlines and problems that require us to dig in and push through. They learn grit by seeing us living grittful (?) lives.

On the other hand, I think it is important for them to have to opportunity to evaluate situations and know when things are not working for them. So, we might set a standard and then give them the choice to continue or quit after the standard is met. For instance, all of my children participated in swim team. There are upfront costs to join the team and buy supplies. I asked them to participate for one full season before giving up (9 months). That gave them time to try the team in all different types of weather and circumstances. When the season was over they decided if they would continue, take a break or stop completely.

We are not opposed to quitting things, but are learning to give them a real chance first. 

Need some ideas to get started? Here a few fun ones:

25 cool topics to explore
girl music groups of the 1960’s 
coal mining
sailing
cooking
local flora and fauna
the physics and art behind skateboarding
navigation
your home town
fashion history
brains
Alaska
fishing
Egypt
carrier pigeons
simple machines
optical illusions
local agriculture
the history of money
immigration
child labor
solar power
magic
bioluminescent
inventors
human rights


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} process over product


Life is trying things to see if they work.
-Ray Bradbury


One of the hardest things is to move away from the over emphasis on final products. There is a time when it is important to be able to present a polished project for sure, but for much of their education, I try hard to focus on the process of learning and skill acquisition. True mastery and confidence comes from the ability to get deep and dirty with the content. We are always better for trying something and failing and I would go as far as to argue that a finished project does not mean that more was learned - no, it means learning has stopped and been wrapped up. Doors have been closed. And the amazing thing is, when you focus on the process, a lot of shit gets done as a by product. It is inevitable. 

Last fall, we rented a booth in an antique mall. It lasted a few months and we barely made enough money to cover the booth rental. Failure, right? Nope! I knew going in that at best we would break even monetarily. I also knew my kids would learn about contracts and scheduling, and heavy lifting and staging, and pricing and history and how to deal with people... the process taught them (and me) so much that will go into our arsenal of awesome and will inform us when we dream up another commercial venture. 


How to embrace process:

1. Look for it (and write it down) - I have journals filled with observations from when my kids were younger. Every time my confidence would waver, I would write down what we were doing. I journaled details about how they problem solved while digging a mud pit, how they built an argument while asking to make ice cream, how they taught each other skills, how they compromised on projects and how they showed kindness to others. So much of what is really good about homeschooling does not translate into traditional transcripts. So, learn how to make your own, even if it is just to calm your own anxious heart. 

2. Talk about it - Open a dialog about what you and your children are doing while you are doing it. When they are young, you can simply narrate what is happening. As they get older, ask them questions and show that you value the how as much (or more) than the final. Ask about their LEGO building strategies, how they thought up a dessert combination, ask how they do anything. And listen, really listen to their strategies, understand them and reiterate back to them what you hear. Explain how you are solving a problem at work or while fixing something or while dealing with a contentious person. As you recognize the processes of your daily life, reveal and share them with your children.  

3. Talk about your failures - Go beyond extolling the virtue of failure by using inspiring quotes by Thomas Edison. Explain and share the failures that made you who you are. Acknowledge your pain or embarrassment but also stress that failure is just part of the game. It is normal and necessary. Ask your family and friends about they failures and what they learned about them. Make failure-talk a part of day to day life. In recent years my husband  has shared the details of various job interviews he has gone on, where he was stumped, what he excelled on and then examined the corollaries of job offers (there was none!). I have shared and shown them my rejection letters as well as celebrated the successes of sticking with things. It is my hope that they will grow up ready to try hard, take a risk and fail.

Journal:

How do you encourage process?

What is your family culture on failure? Can you have a failure storytelling night - where you (and others) share their most devastating and embarrassing fails?

Document for an afternoon or an hour, your children engaged in an activity. Work your noticing skills and try to see what is really happening below the surface. 

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