Thursday, February 26, 2015

Unschooling and Observing Learning in An Unlikely Classroom

I have a confession to make, I am a reluctant unschooler.  Am I really too repressed to let go and allow authentic learning to happen without my careful orchestration of the environment and my controlled laid out scope and sequences of a thoughtfully constructed lesson plan?  I try and allow for unschooling elements or moments, but I have a hard time in letting go... allowing that authentic things to happen where a learner is in control of their own learning. I honestly do not trust the concept of unschooling and the concept of free range learning enough to let go of the edge of my own control of direction. I know "IT" happens, Authentic Learning. I also know chaos ensues and is part of the process. I see that it is good to let go and allow authentic learning too just happen but I am nervous  to let it.  Some of it is about my ego and my dog and pony show, some of it is about the chaos and mess of letting kids go feral causes me to have to clean up. Controlling from behind the curtain is my forte.  I do create a wonderful environment to learn and create from.  I am good at setting that stage. I had yet to just let go other than staging these little maker movements and stepping back during my orchestrated lessons is never hard for me, but allowing a learner to do what ever he wants and all that, that implies is uncomfortable to me.
Recently I have been taking courses online and my carefully planned year of subject units outlined at the beginning of the year has fallen by the wayside. It has allowed for more unschooling moments.
 I have been teaching biology and geology this year.  Earth science had its own agenda this semester with the perfect Arizona winter days my son gravitated to outdoor activities and began digging a hole in the dirt in our back yard.. While I taught Conor astro biology of Mars lessons along with studying extremophiles life forms( Link to free nomenclature cards and MARS Ed Lessons ) and the five kingdoms work of Montessori he had his own idea about applications. He read nomenclature cards of the five kingdoms, the NASA cards on Extremeophiles and used the new information to created and idea for a submersible spherical robots on paper. This robots is a camera drone for the methane lakes of the moon Titan. We have been writing story boards this year and from digging and finding rollie-pollie bugs in the dirt he created several conceptual storyline ideas for Dr. Who episodes with characters created by ideas found in dirt.
Concept of a spherical subversive robot with cameras to probe the methane lakes under the frozen ice of the Moon of Titan.

Board Game and Cards for Mars game called ASTORBIOBOUND

The link above is invaluable for finding STEAM's lessons

"Digging in"  The Arizona soil looks Martian
Studying Fossils
Examining each fossil and looking it up by label.  He classified them by geography and by chronological order on the timeline
Timeline of Life on Earth and Fossils
Filling up the hole with water.

Making Mud
So what happens when I let go of the lesson plan and just let my son go.  He created a project and it turned out to be all about earth science and biology.  From the dirt piles Conor made mud and then began flinging it on the wall.  We had a lot of fun and got dirty then we began to play with designing landscapes with mud using the wall as a canvas and observing how the mud dried and cracked.  We added layers upon layers to create ridges and mountains making a model of a biosphere surface out of our materials.  The wall art showed me some interesting information for my own studies in geology and the the history of the Earth and Mars. We can easily see with real soil models how chemical reactions  and erosion happen.  We learned what is predictable, what is possible in outcomes, what other experiences can we pull from and out of all this knowledge and our experiences and how to form a working and authentic hypothesis and practical experience for problem solving.  For example what to do with the all dirt was solved by creating models of Mars on the cinder block walls and making mud sculptures.  Lots of natural learning from playing in the mud. I did some more reinforcements with my Montessori nomenclature cards on Prokaryotaes and Portista examples.  This 5 Kingdom Charts and Cards gives some great information.
                                             here for 5 Kingdoms charts and nomenclature.
Montessori Nomenclature and Chart work
The art of making a model
Crater forming
Conor experiments with the Archetype of the Spiral
The mud hole 24 hours after flooding it. 
All kinds of observable occurrences and wonder happening.

So Conor's work keeps evolving and the hole may become a cave or a lab.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Resistant Learner-Tricking the Cat

It may be something I do but all my kids have been resistant learners to the scheduled lesson plans, both academic and life ones.  As an educator, many of my learners, at times, have made me felt dismissed and ignored.  Since homeschooling my youngest with autism I have learned a whole new depth and scope to being tuned out.  I thought my adult children as teenagers had schooled me in this phenomenon and I was desensitize, but the autistic teenage mind brings a whole new dimension of skill sets to "I am ignoring you Mom".  So this post is going to focus on tricks to motivate and reel in learners.
So firstly let me say I spend a lot of time figuring out what my learner is passionate about and is drawn too in a his interest.

Here is an outline of his interest.
Science - chemistry-biology-earth- physical-botany-geology
Roller Coaster -building and design
Dr. Who
Gaming- Minecraft- Roller-Coaster-Tycoon Three
Watching video's of cartoons- "Ed and Eddie" - "Adventure Time"
Maker Movement
Engineering- Lego anything- Zome Tools-Vex Robotics

Here is what he doesn't like.
Transitioning to anything that isn't his idea.
Language Arts

 Likes Dr. Who TARDIS at local Library

 Tolerates Geometry Lesson

Here is what he will tolerate
Geography and Culture
Thinking about Geometry in how it relates to his Interest

His Strengths
Hyper Focus
Spatial intelligence and memory
Obsessive tendencies
The ability to tune out distractions

His Weakness
Auditory processing disorder
Reading and comprehension difficulties
Language Delays
The ability to tune out distractions
Difficulty in transitioning to certain task.
Delayed reaction times

As far as meta cognitive taxonomy processing my learner is able to comprehend, recognizes, compare, analyze, use stratagems and synthesize new concepts and ideas, however he lacks the language skills to explain and defend his arguments.  He can show me by drawing it out in story board form or building it but is often not able to tell me what he has learned with language fluency or writing.  So my goal is how do I adapt any curriculum to his weakness in those areas, and how to build upon how his brain is wired to learn.
Work books

Teaching any learner who is resistant is challenging. How do we captivate interest and motivate?  I don't know of anyway to force learning.  I do know that if I find what motivates him and adapt that subject to include his weakness, like language skills, but without focusing on that exclusively I can get him to go deeper into subject mater he is interested in and use the skills he doesn't like by doing something I call "Tricking the Cat."

Here is an example of using alternative ways to learn about calculus concepts with fractals manipulative.  I took a online course with Natural Math educator Dr. Maria Droujkova at Moebius Noodle. Here are some of our ideas of using her concepts of making math fun. link to it Here

Ever try and get a cat to come to you when it doesn't want too?  Did you resort to food and have the cat ignore you?  Ever put your hand under a newspaper or blanket and move it?  The cat's interest is peaked by it's primal need to hunt.  Make a game out of getting the cat to come and it will pounce. This is psychological tool is what I call "Tricking the Cat".  You have to make your learn think he wants what you are selling them.
This process rooted in behavior science, using incentives and finding out what drives the student's interest are key in motivating resistant learners.

It is a lot of work to prepare any unit of study and when the students fails to engage it feels pretty bad for educators.  So without using intrinsic rewards getting from point A to point B in a lesson plan is difficult without a passion based individual learning plan.  Hard to do this in a classroom as each student is compelled by their own interest.  However many learners direct themselves in a classroom and stay on task.  I am focusing here on one on one prescient- resistant learners.

Keep it Simple
Don't choose a hard complex unit with wildly complex concepts and vocabulary to get a mastery of how to do this style of education right off the bat. Start off with something you know your student will like and hopefully self direct with.  Prepare a list of links or materials that will interest them.  My son connects to videos so if I am teaching astrobiology I find Ted Ed video lessons on the subject and let him go to other links that follow on You Tube about the subject.  I may use a lesson plan like MARS ED -stem-lesson-plans but I am not tied down to it.  Real learning for my student may happen between the lines of the lesson plan.  We may use it for base and go far way from it's plan.  As an educator I must observe all learning and see with an open mind what the student connects with and try to objectively see how the learner learns and have the wisdom to allow him to go there. The child is the curriculum.  Still a good firm base of information like the above link is excellent and keeps us grounded to a precises plan that is aligned to global standards and tested by other educators.  I am not going to be able to guide my learner in Astrobiology with out the help of real science and tapping into a professionally written curriculum plan is going to give my learner resources in scope and sequence.

Going with the Flow
This is the area of education where I as a teacher need to quit the dog and pony show and allow my learner to self direct his own education.  I have to allow him to go deeper into to subject matter he is interested in.  I have to direct him from the side by feeding him bits of information to peak his interest and let him to go further without forcing him to follow me.  Allowing him to think "he thinks" up where to go and how to do it.  A good educator knows when to let a child struggle and even fail.  A great educator teaches how to fail and the importance of bouncing back from failing.  Resilience in life is an important lesson and we are actually learning more when we are getting the answers wrong and self-correcting than we we get it right the 1st time with little effort.   Model learning persistence as a life long learning power life skill. Show by example how to get the answer right after failing too.  This is super important life lessons for all of us.

Don't be afraid to take breaks and put projects down.
Learning is a process and not so much an event. Allow ourselves to move on and start over doesn't mean we did not learn anything when a project is dis-guarded.  It's all learning.  We just have to change our mindset to recognize and value all the steps of this process.

Other links and subjects that relate.
Dr Judy Willis work at