Camp Creek Blog

This is a pic of my daughter on the “tiny sewist program”. She wanted to do a princess dress for her friend’s birthday. Of course, I freaked initially. Then, we discussed the steps (choosing fabric, making patterns, cutting, etc.) and I wrote them on a board… — M, in the forum

• • •

Every Wednesday we share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

My son (7) announced this morning he wanted to sew.

We saw a book at the library Sewing for Children (and I just saw a recommendation for it on the sewing thread — I think it is a nice intro to sewing, lots of felt, easy projects) and the kids have been looking through it for a while.

We have done some sewing in the past, and I have not been able to not take over. So I was a bit nervous. Luckily I have spend a great deal of time catching up on the threads here last night. ;-)

The kids each picked a project and started, both projects had lots of buttons and they started sewing it on haphazardly and I just couldn’t help myself given them a button sewing lesson and getting them to do a practice run on a scrap piece of felt. After that my son lost interest and I thought I blew it. And I felt so bad, I could kick myself for falling in this trap again.

We went to visit friends, while driving I reflected why I react in this way. Part of the ‘problem’ is that all the materials, tools, etc., are my sewing stuff. They do not have any sewing materials in their project cupboard.

On our way back we stopped at our little local sewing shop. They chose a few colorful felt pieces, needles and embroidery thread, and a plastic box to keep the thread and scissors in. They were so excited; they ran to our workspace and started working.

My son used his practice scrap and turned it into a little bag, sewing the seams all by himself. He then proceeded in hand sewing little bags for his sister and me. I was so impressed. He glowed and made each of us a pincushion as well, stuffing and hand sewing it with the utmost patience. He asked if he could make each of us a little felt needle case tomorrow (ever the practical one ;-).

My daughter, who just turned five, has her heart set on a mobile phone felt soft toy. I have helped her holding materials, threading the needle, tying knots, etc., if asked. I haven’t taken over — I have managed to be there to move her project along without her getting too frustrated or feeling it is too hard. And she is so happy and proud. She is still working on her project and tomorrow I am going to hang back more, now that she has practice with some of the skills.

We worked like this for over 2 hours and when I went downstairs to start dinner they both brought their work with them and sat at the table working. I hope I have turned a corner. I find it hard to let go if there is a definite skill or sequence involved; I want to teach them the basics. All with best intent of course: helping them to succeed. Yet the joy and pride they had this afternoon was so wonderful for me to witness. — L.

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week? Whether it’s related to PBH or not, please share in the comments!

F sewing a stuffed solar system. — Dawn

F making cat ears. — Dawn

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2014 at 09:15 AM

“If you don’t take the time to get really clear about exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, then you’re forever doomed to spend your life achieving the goals of those who do.” — Steve Pavlina, Personal Development for Smart People
 

Here’s the problem in a nutshell: School isn’t really for learning, and in fact, it inhibits our kids’ ability to learn.

Since learning well is the foundation to all success in life, that is no small problem.

This was a particularly depressing visit, not because it was atypical, but because of how typical it is

Consider the following two examples:

A ‘regular’ (non-honors) English class. Thirty-six students are sitting in rows in a darkened classroom at 10:00 AM. The teacher is showing final minutes of a video on a 1950s classic high school text. As I scan the rows, I see four students asleep with earbuds in place. Six students in the middle facing the teacher are carrying on a conversation having nothing to do with the subject of the class over the top of the teacher’s attempts to engage the class in a discussion. Four students sitting in the back are engaged in a valiant attempt to salvage the discussion by responding to the teacher’s questions. The teacher calls on these four students repeatedly. The remainder of the class sits silently, staring into space, waiting for the bell to ring.

An ‘honors’ English class. Thirty-one students are sitting in rows in a brightly-lit classroom, each with a fat three-ring notebook. By their dress, their ease of interaction, their casual demeanor of privilege, it is clear these are the ‘chosen’ students. The topic of discussion for the class is how to organize the notebook into a portfolio–which papers and quizzes go into which tabs, where to put teacher comments, what to do with class notes, etc. It is clear that the students are having a good time doing this; it is also clear that they have written a total of about ten pages of prose between January and May; and it is clear that the main reason they are having a good time is that they are forestalling whatever the ‘work’ is for that day. After 45 minutes of excruciatingly detailed, rule-oriented discussion of what goes where in the portfolio, the teacher suggests that the students spend the next 40 minutes silently reading a section of the text.

I wish these were exceptional examples. They are not. I wish that the teachers and administrators who were observing classrooms with me were as outraged by what we saw as I was. They were not.

“Mostly what I see in my visits to middle and upper grades classrooms are examples of what of Michael Sedlack, et al. (1986), long-ago characterized as ‘the bargain’ — ‘you give me order and attendance, I’ll give you passing grades and [minimal] homework.’

The only other public institution in our society that works this way, with this degree of focus and dedication, is the prison system. ”

“I wonder…whether [they] are aware of what classrooms in American secondary schools actually look like — the dismal, glacial, adult-centered, congenially authoritarian, mindless soup in which our children spend the bulk of their days.

I wonder whether people are aware of how robust the old ‘bargain’ is in the face of so-called ‘high stakes accountability’; how little the monolithic beast of American secondary education has been affected by the bright, high-minded optimism of professional reformers; how little the exemplars that professional reformers use to justify their role in society have actually affected the lives of adolescents.” — What Would Happen If We Let Them Go?

I wonder, too, whether parents really have a good grasp of what school looks like today. An professor of education told me that part of her job is observing student teachers who are placed in local schools. She is horrified by what she sees there. She says if her children were still in school, she would pull them out and homeschool them.

I gave a talk to a university class of elementary education students. They behaved exactly the same as the “chosen” students in the quote above. Out of two dozen students, two or maybe three were leaning forward, paying close attention, wanting to learn. The others were killing time until the bell rang. And they are our kids’ future teachers.

Last week I wrote:

Why are teens so uninterested in their own future? Perhaps because they’re so entirely uninterested in their present.

As a person who loves to learn and has two teen sons who love to learn — and as a person who has owned a school and spent seven years trying to create the optimal environment for learning — this makes me pull my hair out. How can this be happening and why don’t we change it?

Here’s a clue:

“[A 10th-grade girl] asked me:

I understand what you’re saying about trying new things, and hard things, but I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?

I was floored. All I could think as I talked to this poor girl is ‘America, you’re doing it wrong.’

I was 15 in 10th grade. If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

“Do we want a society that dreams new things and then makes them happen? I hear that we do, every time I hear a teacher, or a politician, give a speech. So why are we trying so hard to teach the next generation to do the exact opposite?” — Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail

It’s almost like this student doesn’t realize that school is for learning.

Students are rational beings. They know that school is about grades, not learning.

If schools were for learning rather than showing off, we would design them entirely differently.” — Schools Are Good for Showing Off, Not for Learning

Everywhere I turn these days, people are writing about Carol Dweck and the growth mindset. I am a big fan of Dweck and have been written about her a lot. But it is very evident that the way we are organizing education today is not for a growth mindset. This 10th-grader is not focused on growth. She is focused on protecting herself from failure.

Think about the way we punish schools for not meeting benchmarks for standardized test scores and you know our schools are not focused on growth. They are focused on protecting themselves.

So what do we do? Lots of suggestions here:

Realize that Out of School time tends to be more inspiring and powerful to lead to a life of creativity than school time.

Innovators tend to take responsibility for their own learning when they are on their own time.”

Show how getting Out of One’s Comfort Zone, taking risks, persevering and being energized by failure builds character and stamina which leads to breakthrough ideas.”

Have Adults encourage, support, and listen to children to better evoke a constant sense of wonder. Aunts, uncles, teachers, parents, friends of parents and even siblings who listen and mentor are more valuable than those who provide too much structure and rules that want students to be someone they are not.” — How to Inspire the Next Generation of Creative Thinkers and Innovators
How would that 10th-grader react to this list? I read it and think simultaneously “Yeah!” and “LOL nope, not gonna happen.” Because what part of this can be quantified and put on the test? How does this correlate to letter grades?
 
The first sentence is the most salient thing in the article: You better get your creativity out of school, because you’re not going to find it inside.
 
Here are some kids who did that:
“Ryan Orbuch, 16 years old, rolled a suitcase to the front door of his family’s house in Boulder, Colo., on a Friday morning a year ago. He was headed for the bus stop, then the airport, then Texas.

‘I’m going,’ he told his mother. ‘You can’t stop me.’

Stacey Stern, his mother, wondered if he was right. “I briefly thought: Do I have him arrested at the gate?”

But the truth was, she felt conflicted. Should she stop her son from going on his first business trip?”

“The college-or-not debate neglects other questions that high school students like Ryan and Louis and their families are wrestling with now: Go to class or on a business trip? Do grades still matter? What do you do with $20,000 when you’re 15? And when the money rolls in, what happens to parental control?

Things used to be linear. You went to a good school and you got a good job, and that was the societally acceptable thing to do,’ said Ms. Stern, Ryan’s mother, who was a straight-A student and is a graduate of Duke University.

Now, she said, ‘there is no rule book.’” — The Youngest Technorati

If you can start doing real work as a teen, is a college degree still important?
 
I don’t even think that’s the point. Why is it that we pit college against doing real work? Shouldn’t college be equivalent to doing real work? So what we’re talking about is doing real work and getting paid for it (and learning your skills primarily on your own, I’m guessing) vs. doing real work and paying someone else for the privilege (and being taught to do real things by professors — that isn’t what college was like for me, but let’s assume). These aren’t terribly different things; they are very similar things with terribly different price tags.
 
As pointed out by readers on Facebook, any kid who can write an app and earn $30,000 in high school should be able to figure out how to get a college degree if he or she needs it or wants it. Why the false dichotomy of school vs. real work/real world?
 
If we really believe that trite phrase “life-long learner” (and we don’t — please feel the power of my air quotes) then the transition from childhood to adulthood would look a whole lot different. We would be able to do real work and keep learning. They would complement each other, not be pitted against one another in the world’s most meaningless cage match. (Although it’s always fun to watch twins fight. Because that’s what meaningful work and learning are — the exact same thing.)
 
We were talking amongst ourselves on Twitter about how this article about teens doing real work started out strong but ended with a balloon-releasing-air noise:

Louis is committed to college, a view that solidified in the fall, partly after bearing witness to the experience of friends in the working world. ‘Their Facebook posts are all about work,’ he said. ‘Their lives don’t seem that interesting.’”

“He applied to Carnegie Mellon. He also applied to Georgia Tech, without parental prompting. It wasn’t lost on his father that both schools were far from Silicon Valley.

Louis said he wants ‘the full college experience.’ It’s almost as if he’s been given the gift of seeing an alternate version of his life — that of a passionate developer who leaps into the tech fray — and realizes that the real world is a lot of work.

I want to have fun,’ he said. ‘I still feel like a kid — kind of.’”

Is this a big win for parents who want their kids to go to college? It’s not like he’s on fire to go to college to learn. He wants to have fun. I’m seeing kegs in his thought bubble, not books and study carrels. This goes back to the idea that your four (or more likely five) years at college are a social rite of passage, not a deep immersion in learning and working — because, hello, work is boring. Louis already has that figured out! It’s work or fun and fun wins. Poor Louis. No wonder kids are taking longer and longer to finish their degree.
 
If your kid opts for college because he wants to hit the pause button on real life, that, to me, is not a win.
 
Here’s another quote from that same article:
Kane Sarhan…said that 20 percent of [teen] interns [in his program], making $25,000 a year, come directly from high school. But he also encourages college for many people, saying it’s the rare teenager who is ready for the “work, motivation and time” that it takes to go directly into the real world.
Okay, um. Let that sink in. Your teens aren’t ready for doing real work. They don’t have the motivation. They aren’t ready for the real world. Which means, presumably, that those things won’t be found in high school (and weren’t acquired in high school) — or even, apparently, in college. Only in the real world of work, which they will be completely ready for at age 22. Or 23. Or maybe a bit later; we’ll see.
 
Stating the obvious, but teens should be doing real work. Work and fun are not opposite poles. And if kids are just partying in college and not doing real work, then we’ve pretty much blown it. Our education system is a “delaying adulthood” system.
 
I’m going to end by quoting Meg Jay, whose book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter should really be read by all parents:

The longer it takes to get our footing in work, the more likely we are to become, as one journalist put it, “different and damaged.” Research on underemployed twentysomethings tells us that those who are underemployed for as little as nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers — than even their unemployed peers. … Twentysomething underemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age even after becoming regulrly employed.

Twentysomethings who think they have until later to leave unemployment or underemployment miss out on moving ahead while they are still traveling light. No matter how smoothly this goes, late bloomers will likely never close the gap between themselves and those who got started earlier. … Midlife is when we may realize that our twentysomething choices cannot be undone.

It is almost a relief to imagine that these years aren’t real, that twentysomething jobs and relationships don’t count. But a career spent studying adult development tells me this is far from true. And years of listening closely to clients and students tells me that, deep down, twentysomethings want to be taken seriously, and they want their lives to be taken seriously. They want to know what they do matters — and it does. — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter

I know you don’t need me to connect the dots for you, but let’s just say it out loud: As important as it is to not waste your twenties, it’s just as important to not waste your teen years.

This is a time when kids have the most freedom to learn and try and explore and do. And instead of encouraging them to make the absolute most of it — instead of filling that time with meaningful work and real experiences — we tell them to focus on getting good grades. Protect their GPA. Build a resume to get into the best possible college so they can enjoy a four- or five-year vacation before they have to face the real world and real work. If the economy’s down, that’s okay — throw a graduate degree on there as well. A few more years before reality has to set in.

If we really believe these incredibly negative things about life — that work is bad and fun is good and never the twain shall meet, that grades are more important than learning, that learning ends as soon as you get your diploma — then no wonder our kids are floundering.

There aren’t enough adults living lives that blend meaningful work and continuous learning. We somehow think our kids are going to spontaneously seek out something they’ve never experienced — a balanced life, challenging work, self-directed learning. But if they’ve never lived that way and they don’t know anyone who lives that way, how are they going to find that path and what is going to motivate them to walk it?

 

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

 

Small Wins Wednesday: Authentic writing

Published by Lori Pickert on March 12, 2014 at 07:37 AM

Kit (age 3) is now plowing through the old Birds & Blooms magazines so she can figure out what to plant in the garden. #butterflyproject #pbh

She is insisting on writing all of the flower names herself. — Sarah

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Every Wednesday we share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

My 10 yr old has been between projects since his football project waned, possibly as a result of the season ending. A couple of weeks ago he was reading a magazine article on the seven wonders of the ancient world when he became inspired by the information about the creator of this list. He began thinking about making a list of his own. Great, I thought — until he said he would make a list of the top Mario games on his blog.

How did we get from the ancient world to Mario video games? My eye began to twitch as it always does when video games come up during project time, but I know enough now to not say anything and not to jump to the conclusion that he’s just finding excuses to play games during project time.

He wrote his top 10 list and then decided, after getting his feet wet, he’d make another top 10 for the best galaxies in Mario Galaxy. He wrote this list over the course of three days. He researched other lists, watched videos of top 10s, and really considerd the best galaxies for his list and why they should make the top ten and their individual placement. By the time he was done, he had created a thoughtful and entertaining piece of writing that was also quite lengthy I might add (at least as long as any school report would be required to be and far more interesting to read). He had catchy openings and varied sentence structure and, although it wasn’t very academic in topic, it was authentic and I could see a budding talent for writing.

Never could he or would he write anything so amazing on any topic I told him he must write on. He might squeeze out a few boring sentences to compliment a topic he deemed boring, but it wouldn’t be anything close to this blog post on Mario. Even better, he came to me with his “to do” list one day so he wouldn’t forget what he needed to do the next day! Now he’s creating Mario pixel art. He’s using graph paper for his designs and then building them in Minecraft. He’s planning a post on that as well.

PBH can be hard, but I’m so glad I’ve stuck with it through all the struggles and doubts and difficult times. Both my boys have produced some amazing stuff in the last year, but I’ve had to see it with my fresh new PBH glasses. My old traditional school glasses would never have seen the value in all this work or even let it proceed. We would have missed out on so much!Christi

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week? Whether it’s related to PBH or not, please share in the comments!

Kindle matchbook: Project-Based Homeschooling

Published by Lori Pickert on March 10, 2014 at 03:59 PM

Photo by Kara Fleck! Thank you, Kara!

If you bought the paperback version of Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners from Amazon, you can now get the Kindle version for just $2.99. PBH on the go!

 

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on March 7, 2014 at 07:43 AM

“The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset.” — Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol Dweck

 

I am a fan of Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. (My favorite quote from that book: “Common sense is not common action.”) This week I’ve been reading his new book:

“As it turns out, IQ and technical skills combined predict only 20 to 25 percent of job success. That means that over 75 percent of your career outcome has nothing to do with your intelligence and training

If IQ is a bad predictor, maybe SAT scores, a more modern testing tool, would be better? Not the case. As a matter of fact, they are much worse. SAT scores predict only 8 to 15 percent of college freshmen’s GPA, which means that for around 88.5 percent of college students, SAT scores are no better at predicting academic success than a pair of dice. …

High school grades are twice as predictive of college success as SAT scores. [But a]fter a decade of research, [Thomas J. Stanley, PhD, author of The Millionaire Mind] found no correlation between grades and professional success: a coin flip would be as predictive of greatness as grades. This explains the oft-cited paradox that so many C students in business school end up running companies and so many A students end up working for them.” — Shawn Achor, Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change

One of the people who devised the Common Core is remaking the SAT and aligning it more with said Common Core:

report released last month by William C. Hiss, a former dean of admissions at Bates College, and Valerie W. Franks, a former Bates assistant dean of admissions, supports Wake Forest’s experience. They reviewed 33 colleges and universities that did not require SAT or A.C.T. scores and found no significant difference in college G.P.A. or graduation rates between those who had submitted tests and those who had not. Specifically, they saw that students with good high-school grades did well in college, even if they had weak SAT scores. But students with weaker high-school grades — even with strong SATs — did less well in college. — The Story Behind the SAT Overhaul

Will rehauling the SAT make it more predictive of job success? Why do I suspect it won’t?

“The predictive validity is going to come out the same,” she said of the redesigned test. — ibid.

Well, there you go. Roll of the dice it is.

 

 

If you’re creeped out that the Common Core guy is now redesigning the SAT, too, here’s what Lucy Calkins had to say about that:

With a redesigned SAT, Calkins thinks that too much of the nation’s education curriculum and assessment may rest in one person’s hands. “The issue is: Are we in a place to let Dave Coleman control the entire K-to-12 curriculum?”  — ibid.

Coincidentally, I had already read a slew of articles this week about the SAT…

Did you know employers might ask for your SAT scores years after you graduate from college? I didn’t!

Stephen Robert Morse was a candidate for a communications job when the recruiter told him to be ready to discuss his SAT score in a coming interview.

Mr. Morse, 28 years old, said he was “shocked” that a potential boss would be interested in the results of a test he took more than a decade earlier.

“When you’re hiring people and they don’t have a lot of work experience, you have to start with some set of data points.” — Job Hunting? Dig Up Those Old SAT Scores

Wowza. I liked what Lisa Nielsen said about this: “It is not that schools are failing to teach students to become skilled workers, but that schools are not providing them with enough experience doing things in the world.” (She said that here, apparently summing up something that Anthony Cody said, although I didn’t really get that from what Cody was saying. Just taking this statement out of context, however, I agree with it completely. Why don’t kids do more real things? As the last sentence of that quote says, without proof of actual experience doing things in the real world, we are reduced to numbers that may or may not accurately represent what we can do.)

If the idea of your SAT scores dogging you into your adult working life doesn’t disturb you, this bit from the same article might:

Cvent, which employs more than 1,400 people, hasn’t tested whether its best employees are also its top SAT scorers. “Knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough for us,” Mr. Eden said. — ibid.

Oh ho ho, hello. I wonder if that statement expresses the feeling of the people in charge of standardized testing for kids as well. Does it give accurate information that tells us something necessary and real? Oh well, knowing it’s a standardized test is really enough, isn’t it?

It’s long been said that the SAT is (grossly) unfairly weighted toward privileged students:

“There is a substantial body of evidence that the system is failing to reward students with high test scores who come from low-income families.” — The Reproduction of Privilege

“Generally speaking, the wealthier a student’s family is, the higher the SAT score.” — SAT Scores and Family Income

“SAT and ACT scores are weak predictors of grades and … they come with inherent social disparities.” — SAT Wars: Exposing New Evidence of Flaws in Standardized Tests

Standardized tests allow colleges to practice social discrimination in the name of academic selectivity, when, in reality, high school grades are the best predictor of future collegiate success.” — SAT Wars: Exposing New Evidence of Flaws in Standardized Tests

Wake Forest dumped the SAT requirement and lo and behold:

Wake Forest says its incoming classes are a lot more diverse — more low-income students, more racial minorities, more first-generation students — than they were when the university used to plug SAT scores into its admissions formula. — Wake Forest and the SAT

But hey, knowing that it’s a standardized test is really enough for us, right?

(I’m sure the SAT is changing so it will be more fair — or is it because the ACT test is gaining a lot of market share? Potato, po-tah-to.)

Is the SAT an accurate representation of how people will perform in the workplace?

I can’t think of a more useless indicator of the ability to be successful in one’s job. That’s because the SAT does not measure the soft skills that have proved to be so important in the workplace. I’m referring to such things as the ability to work with others and to endure in the face of failure. Further, what possible relevance do scores posted by high school seniors have a decade or more later?

Nevertheless, many companies persist in the fiction that the SAT is a reliable factor in predicting success.  Even when two candidates bring almost identical backgrounds, I doubt that the SAT provides any useful information in making a hiring decision. I tried to make a distinction between an aptitude test and an achievement test (UnSATisfactory, Education Week, Jun. 14, 2006).  But companies confuse the two when they say that the SAT measures the knowledge and skills in a given subject. — The Immortal SAT, EdWeek

Speaking of being disturbed, I was shaking my head over this article about a mom who took the SAT herself in order to coerce her son into caring more about college than Halo:

Her oldest child, Ethan, a B student with modest athletic abilities (yet several minor concussions), was a sophomore in high school. Stier, in her words, was “beginning to feel frantic.” Ethan would soon be applying to college, but what were his chances of getting into a good one?

“A possibility presented itself,” she writes. “Ethan could study for the SAT, earn high scores, and get a scholarship at a decent school.” There was just one hitch: Ethan wasn’t interested in studying for the SAT. He preferred playing Halo. So Stier thought she would model the behavior she was hoping to inspire: “I thought maybe I could motivate Ethan to care about the SAT, just a little, if I climbed into the trenches myself.” — When Grownups Take the SAT

I write a lot about modeling behavior; for the record, this is not what I mean. And let’s ignore that bit about several minor concussions (?!) — that would be an entire other topic.

There is a difference between modeling behavior and being coercive and manipulative. In my opinion, you get a lot further by living the life you hope your children will live — letting them see you work hard for something you care about, for example — than by trying to shame them into doing what you want.

Somewhere between the fourth SAT and the fifth, Stier’s project very nearly collapses, along with her family life. It’s summer, when no SATs are offered, and Stier decides this would be a good time for her and Ethan and Ethan’s younger sister, Daisy, to work together on their math skills. She brings the kids to a local tutoring center so they can all take a diagnostic exam. Apparently, the two teen-agers have not been consulted about this plan, because they react with fury. Stier, in turn, is enraged by their behavior. Harsh words are exchanged. That night, the kids decamp to their father’s house. Some days later, they reappear, but bad feelings linger.

“Ironically,” Stier observes, “it was now time for Ethan to begin studying for the SAT in earnest, and we were barely speaking.”

This is what I said on Facebook:

What happens when you wait until your children are teens and leaving home to get them involved in their own education? It doesn’t go well.

I don’t even understand how this happens. How are teens uninterested in their own future? How are they totally uninvolved in their own learning? How does a parent ambush teen children with unwanted summer remedial math classes? There’s a basic lack of communication and respect here that I simply don’t get. I guess this is helicopter parenting. I see it as micromanaging. If your children are teens, they are nearly adults. They should be immersing themselves in their interests, getting real experience doing things they want to do, and they should above all be very motivated to do whatever it takes to secure the future they want. They should be experimenting now, when the stakes are low, with taking responsibility for meeting their own goals. If kids are this checked out, how will they fare once there are no adults to tell them what to do and how to do it?

I tore this editorial out of the Chicago Tribune at least a decade ago, and apparently it still holds true:

As they near college, we drive exhausted teens toward milestones of success ruled by grades, standardized test scores, and the ultimate mark of achievement these days: a brand-name school. Spent and busy parents expect me, their college consultant, to nag, drag, and, if necessary, carry their reluctant, exhausted, and often passionless kids toward the finish line and a “top-tier” college.

When I ask what would happen if their kids were left alone to complete this process without parental fuel driving them, they are often confused by my question.

I see many teens of means with few interests and little idea how to pursue those mild passions they do have. Ironically, many are successful academically. Rarely, however, is their success driven by a quest for knowledge. Rather, they tie academic achievement to eventual financial success. — “The Dangers of Privilege and College Admission,” by college consultant William Caskey

I’m going to answer my own question: Why are teens so uninterested in their own future? Perhaps because they’re so entirely uninterested in their present.

Finally, the writer of the article (not the mother in question) sums up her own feelings about the SAT:

Whatever is at the center of the SAT — call it aptitude or assessment or assiduousness or ambition — the exam at this point represents an accident. It was conceived for one purpose, adapted for another, and somewhere along the line it acquired a hold on American life that nobody ever intended.

Is it just me, or do we still suspect the changes to the SAT aren’t going to make it any more relevant to real-world success?

Here’s a bonus thought. IQ is not immutable.

Wasn’t the IQ test meant to summarize children’s unchangeable intelligence? In fact, no. [Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test], a Frenchman working in Paris in the early twentieth century, designed this test to identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Without denying individual differences in children’s intellects, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence. — Carol Dweck, Mindset

and

[S]cientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought. Of course, each person has a unique genetic endowment. People may start with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but it is clear that experience, training, and personal effort take them the rest of the way. Robert Sternberg, the present-day guru of intelligence, writes that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement.” Or, as his forerunner Binet recognized, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest. — Carol Dweck, Mindset

Permanently tagging students with a score based on a standardized test that may have virtually no power to predict their success in their chosen work — and then forcing them to drag that number through college and out the other side into the working world — assumes that their potential can be summed up by a test taken when they were teenagers. It is a fixed, not a growth, mindset — and I imagine it does very little to convey to students that their actual success depends on their own effort.

Making lace fans

• • •

Every Wednesday we’re going to share a small win from the forumTwitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

I think in all honesty, what really works wonders is when I chill out. When I’m relaxed and enjoying the process, my kids are, too. I just get so (insert adjective) nervous/anxious/fidgety/uncertain about getting from point A to point B and I have to remind myself it’s the getting there that matters. Every day is a step in the right direction. I loved the blog posts about working time in and setting goals. That helps a lot.

I used your insights this past weekend. Our family is very musical (one of our values). Since taking your class, I cleared out a much bigger and less cluttered and quite frankly beautiful area in our main living room for our instruments and really showcased everything. I can’t tell you how many evenings we now spend in that happy corner with me on the guitar and my girls with their violin/guitar/piano singing their lungs out.

 

Last week, we were wandering around a Bluegrass festival when one of my 5 year olds saw this beautiful lace fan. She wanted to buy it. I suggested we make our own.

 

I helped them search YouTube and they spent 30 minutes watching and re-watching a video and taking meticulous notes on all the items we would need for these fans. By involving them in the very beginning all the way through to completion, they did find so much more meaning in the process.

 

We even started writing a children’s book together. My thought is I will let them drive the whole process, find publishers, send letters, get rejected and move on to the next step. Today they suggested asking our librarian if we could read it at story hour. How are these kids so smart? And how did I not realize how smart they are? — Maria, from the mailbag

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we do everything we can do make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week, whether it’s related to PBH or not? Please share in the comments!

Music corner

What I’ve been reading

Published by Lori Pickert on February 28, 2014 at 01:25 PM

“Learning is more than learning to conform.” — Paradoxes of Learning, Peter Jarvis

 

I’ve been seeing lots of articles lately about how employers no longer consider elite degrees as important or desirable as they once were.

“The least important attribute they look for is ‘expertise.’

Said Bock: ‘If you take somebody who has high cognitive ability, is innately curious, willing to learn and has emergent leadership skills, and you hire them as an H.R. person or finance person, and they have no content knowledge, and you compare them with someone who’s been doing just one thing and is a world expert, the expert will go: “I’ve seen this 100 times before; here’s what you do.”’ Most of the time the nonexpert will come up with the same answer, added Bock, ‘because most of the time it’s not that hard.’ Sure, once in a while they will mess it up, he said, but once in a while they’ll also come up with an answer that is totally new. And there is huge value in that.”

[W]hen you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.

“Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).

And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.” — How to Get a Job at Google

and

“[B]usiness leaders are now echoing Google by saying that college pedigree and major don’t matter as much as people think in hiring decisions.

A new Gallup survey finds that in hiring decisions, only 9 percent of business leaders say that the school on a candidate’s diploma is ‘very important,’ compared to 84 percent assessing knowledge in the field and 79 percent looking at applied skills.”

“Google’s head of people operations Laszlo Bock told the New York Times that top graduates can lack ‘intellectual humility,’ and that schools frequently don’t deliver on what they promise.”

“96 percent of college provosts say students are prepared, compared to 14 percent of the public, and 11 percent of business leaders.” 

“It could be that higher education is really not preparing people at all and we have a broken system, or just a fundamental misunderstanding. Either way it’s a tragedy…” — Survey: Businesses Don’t Care if their Employees went to Yale

So almost 100% of colleges think they’re doing a great job of preparing students for work and only 11% of business leaders agree. There’s a bit of a disconnect there.

So what about for future entrepreneurs? Does a top college degree matter there?

Recently a venture capitalist told students at the Harvard School of Business:

“It's really unfair to you guys, but I think you’re discriminated against now … I would bet a large amount of money that the overwhelming majority of us would not look favorably on a company started by one of you.” — Investor gives closing keynote at Harvard Business School

Ouch.

I’ve read several articles in the last few months saying that the biggest thing holding college graduates back from starting their own businesses is… wait for it… college loan debt.

The rising mountain of student debt, recently closing in on $1.2 trillion, is forcing some entrepreneurs to abandon startup dreams…

Some academic experts say leftover loans are the biggest impediment to upstart entrepreneurship by those who recently received college or graduate degrees. “I mentor students all the time," says Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford University Law School. "The single largest inhibitor to entrepreneurship is the student loans.” — Student Loan-Load Kills Start-Up Dreams

If student debt is a roadblock to economic opportunity, that really undermines a philosophy of how America has moved forward and prospered. — Millenials’ ball and chain: student loan debt

So your college degree creates a roadblock to your economic opportunity? Ouch again.

From the Harvard Business Review themselves:

A bachelor’s degree used to provide enough basic training to last a career. Yet today, the skills college graduates acquire during college have an expected shelf life of only five years… — Mind the (Skills) Gap

The Google tells me that average student loan debt is about $30,000 (and 70% of students graduate with debt) but that’s only the debt you walk away with — that’s not the cost of a college degree (remembering to factor in the opportunity cost of spending four or five years or more not working). Still, seems like you should get more than five years’ worth of knowledge for that kind of coin.

Paul Graham wrote about this way back in 2007:

It may not matter all that much where you go to college.

For me, as for a lot of middle class kids, getting into a good college was more or less the meaning of life when I was growing up. What was I? A student. To do that well meant to get good grades. Why did one have to get good grades? To get into a good college. And why did one want to do that? There seemed to be several reasons: you’d learn more, get better jobs, make more money. But it didn’t matter exactly what the benefits would be. College was a bottleneck through which all your future prospects passed; everything would be better if you went to a better college.

A few weeks ago I realized that somewhere along the line I had stopped believing that.

Either it won't help your kid get into Harvard, or if it does, getting into Harvard won't mean much anymore. And then I thought: how much does it mean even now?

It turns out I have a lot of data about that.

One of the most surprising things we’ve learned is how little it matters where people went to college.

I thought I’d already been cured of caring about that. There’s nothing like going to grad school at Harvard to cure you of any illusions you might have about the average Harvard undergrad. And yet Y Combinator showed us we were still overestimating people who’d been to elite colleges. We’d interview people from MIT or Harvard or Stanford and sometimes find ourselves thinking: they must be smarter than they seem. It took us a few iterations to learn to trust our senses.

Don’t you learn things at the best schools that you wouldn't learn at lesser places?

Apparently not. Obviously you can’t prove this in the case of a single individual, but you can tell from aggregate evidence: you can’t, without asking them, distinguish people who went to one school from those who went to another three times as far down the US News list. Try it and see.

How can this be? Because how much you learn in college depends a lot more on you than the college. A determined party animal can get through the best school without learning anything. And someone with a real thirst for knowledge will be able to find a few smart people to learn from at a school that isn’t prestigious at all.

[T]he great advantage of not caring where people went to college is not just that you can stop judging them (and yourself) by superficial measures, but that you can focus instead on what really matters. What matters is what you make of yourself. I think that’s what we should tell kids. Their job isn’t to get good grades so they can get into a good college, but to learn and do. And not just because that’s more rewarding than worldly success. That will increasingly be the route to worldly success. — Paul Graham

Our kids’ jobs aren’t to get good grades, but to learn and to do. That sounds right to me.

If this gives you the sads, I’m sorry — but I think it’s exciting. Things are changing. How we learn and how we work — it keeps on changing. As long as we’re up for it, and as long as our kids are, I think we’re all going to be fine.

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?

The post-industrial revolution is here. Do you care enough to teach your kids to take advantage of it? — Seth Godin, Back to (the wrong) School

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer

Small Wins Wednesday: Observational drawing

Published by Lori Pickert on February 26, 2014 at 09:21 AM

Carrie shared this photo of her daughter’s project notebook on Twitter: “Notebooks aren't just for grown-ups! Love my kid's #pbh book.”

• • •

Every Wednesday we’re going to share a small win from the forum, Twitter, the Facebook page, or (with the writer’s permission) from the mail bag.

 

Family field trip to the dam for their National Engineering Week event. For the first time packed clipboards and paper for sketching, per Lori’s suggestions. To be honest, I thought they would just be something extra I had to lug around for five hours, but something utterly unexpected and utterly amazing happened. My son made five different sketches. Three of them were during the guided tour into the powerhouse where he had to sketch fast. I thought that would discourage him but it didn’t.

Later he said his favorite thing was the sketching, although he amended it to second favorite. First favorite was going partially inside a generator.

Bonus: In an attempt to model sketching, I sketched my own version of the powerhouse generators. The ranger who accompanied the tour said to me, “You’re BOTH artists!?” I looked at my *sketch* and had to chuckle. “Ya…ya…I guess we are.” — Kat, from the current Master Class forum

 

Why do we share small wins? Because we put on our attention on what we want to grow, and we want to leverage those small victories. We support each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and we do everything we can do make more of the good stuff!

Have you had a small win this week, whether it’s related to PBH or not? Please share in the comments!

Friday picks

Published by Lori Pickert on February 21, 2014 at 12:51 PM

Happy Friday! Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about…

Education has to focus on learning how to learn — metacognition.

School will still be important, but not to impart what happened during the Revolutionary War or to teach the quadratic formula.

School … should focus on teaching young people the intangibles, the things that make humans unique: relationships, flexibility, humanity, how to make discriminating decisions, resilience, innovation, adaptability, wisdom, ethics, curiosity, how to ask good questions, synthesizing and integrating information, and of course, creating.” — If Robots Will Run the World, What Should Students Learn?

Learning how to learn is actually meta-learning; metacognition is thinking about thinking. But the point stands — education that only focuses on facts is missing the deeper purpose of teaching: helping learners develop the ability to teach themselves.

When I was running my tiny private school, we created an alternative assessment (alternative to letter grades) that attempted to tell the story of the whole student: their thinking habits, dispositions, strengths, and so on. We had a list of traits similar to the ones listed above.

Question: When you think about how your child is doing — and how they compare to other kids their age — what do you think of? Is it a list like this? Or something else?

[I]nterest can help us think more clearly, understand more deeply, and remember more accurately. Interest has the power to transform struggling performers, and to lift high achievers to a new plane.”

And “if catching people’s interest is about seizing attention and providing stimulation, holding it is about finding deeper meaning and purpose…” — How the Power of Interest Drives Learning

Authentic interest is the irreplaceable first step. Next? Ownership.

Kids are more engaged and enthusiastic if they have some input and control, even if it’s not their own self-chosen work. If you can’t give them autonomy over the whole project, can you involve them in making substantial choices?

Speaking of real choice, just because a program says it’s PBL/inquiry-based/learner-centered doesn’t mean it really is…
[A] lot of supposedly participatory projects had a distinct air of tokenism. Children were being put on display, so to speak, as though they were actively participating, but they were not taken seriously.”
“Most school projects … are conceived and designed by teachers, representing lost opportunities for more engaged and profound learning.”
“A lot of adults are genuinely trying to be helpful … but they don’t maximize a child’s chance to contribute in a way that allows the child to prepare and be confident and give an opinion that is really likely to be listened to. They don’t involve them, because they don’t think the child will contribute anything serious that will really make a difference.”
“People think American children already have a lot of voice. I thought the same thing when I first came here. But having rights implies being listened to, as well as speaking, and being taken seriously. Being listened to is even more important than having the freedom to make a lot of noise.” — Are we taking our students’ work seriously enough?
No matter what a program says it cares about and no matter what type of values they say they’re implementing (and this goes for homeschoolers, too, as well as schools), what matters is what is actually happening in the room. Are your kids REALLY being listened to? Are they sharing decision-making? Are they driving the curriculum with their own questions and ideas? If they’re not, it’s not project-based learning. It’s not learner-centered. It’s the old product in a new wrapper — same ingredients, repackaged with new jargon.
We have to find a way to live our values.
• • •
What I’ve been reading (or rereading) this week:
[T]he view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.
“Believing that your qualities are carved in stone — the fixed mindset — creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over.”
“[With a growth] mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. … [Y]our basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.
Although people may differ in every which way — in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments — everyone can change and grow through application and experience.” — Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
Learning is wider than education; education is only one social institution in which learning occurs, albeit the only one specifically directed toward it. Indeed, the reduction of human learning to the social institution of education is one of the typical features of the modern era. But all the social institutions together cannot contain learning, since learning is fundamental to human being and to life itself. These institutions exist only to facilitate the smooth functioning of the social system, and so they may often constrain learning. — Paradoxes of Learning
“Here’s a Twilight Zone-type premise for you.
 
What if surgeons never got to work on humans, they were instead just endlessly in training, cutting up cadavers? What if the same went for all adults — we only got to practice at simulated versions of our jobs? Lawyers only got to argue mock cases, for years and years. Plumbers only got to fix fake leaks in classrooms. Teachers only got to teach to videocameras, endlessly rehearsing for some far off future. Book writers like me never saw our work put out to the public — our novels sat in drawers. Scientists never got to do original experiments; they only got to recreate scientific experiments of yesteryear. And so on.
 
Rather quickly, all meaning would vanish from our work. Even if we enjoyed the activity of our job, intrinsically, it would rapidly lose depth and relevance. It’d lose purpose. We’d become bored, lethargic, and disengaged.

In other words, we’d turn into teenagers.” — NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

• • •
 

How to save a child’s love of learning in one easy step

Published by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 07:51 AM

This is the way that it works — and I ran a school, after-school, and summer learning program for seven years plus I’ve taught numerous homeschool and adult workshops and I have two homeschooled children who have learned this way since they were in preschool and are now in their teens, so this is from life experience, not pie-in-the-sky idealism.

If you give children complete control over SOME PART of their learning, they will not only rise to the occasion and attack their interests with gusto, but they will turn around and approach all of their required learning with a newfound sense of self-confidence and self-determination. They will look for a way to learn that fits their new sense of themselves as people with interests, abilities, and important ideas.

Do you want your children or students to love learning? Don’t say “Here, we know what’s best for you — sit down, be quiet, and listen.” But also don’t just say “Go, do whatever you want.” Do better than that. Support their interests and their self-chosen work fully — with your attention, your time, your space, and your cold hard cash. Invest in their interests. Invest in their talents. Instead of letting them ride in the back seat while you take them on a wonderful adventure, show them how to drive the car. Mentor them to be self-directed learners.

If you do that, they will figure out that learning is how they can do the things they care about — the things they want to do. Once that switch is flipped, they may still be disappointed, frustrated, or disconnected when they’re forced to do dull, meaningless, irrelevant tasks, but at least they won’t call that “learning.”

They may be more demanding, more inquisitive, and they may interrupt more because they have more confidence in their own ideas. But on the whole, wouldn’t you rather have a child whose insistence on being in charge of his own learning disrupts your plan rather than a quiet, bored child who can’t wait to do what’s necessary so he can escape?

Teach children to direct and manage their own learning and they will love learning because they own it, they control it, and they can connect it with everything else they love.

Prioritize this one step and all the others will fall away because they just don’t work anymore.

 

See also: Ten steps to getting started with project-based homeschooling (whether you homeschool or not)

and

“We’re not just making learning less fun, less meaningful, less useful, and less relevant, we’re actually making it less educational.” — Self-directed learning: the neglected subject?

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