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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

 

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2013 at 08:51 AM

I have good intentions about doing this round-up every Friday, but is it just me or does Friday seem to come around every other day?

The last one I did was a month ago, so I have a lot of links to share.

First, I posted on Facebook a follow-up mini-rant about my post What’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering for kids — and how we can make it better:

Re: yesterday’s blog post about what’s wrong with DIY/Maker Faire/hacking/tinkering activities/clubs for kids and how we can make them better…

The pushback is “It’s not that bad.” It’s not that bad to give kids limited choice. It’s not that bad to give extrinsic rewards like badges. It’s not that bad to have all the kids following directions to build the same thing. Come on — it’s not that bad.

But it is that bad. Because we’re talking about big, countrywide initiatives where people are making money to create a structured, prepackaged, preplanned activity for lots and lots of kids.

It’s one thing to make a less-optimal choice on a rainy Sunday afternoon because it’s easy, you’re feeling lazy, and after all, it’s only once in awhile.

But when you’re building a giant machine that is going to be affecting the lives — the learning, the thought processes, the habits — of tens of thousands of kids, then you should be doing everything you can do to get it right.

“It’s not that bad” is not something we want to settle for when it would be just as easy to give kids the best. Let’s give them the best.

When you decide to be the only person nitpicking a whole host of popular groups, you have to expect to be labeled the crab of the internet.

 

I knew I was probably in for a firestorm of “What’s your problem?!” It’s hard to criticize people who are actively working to make something fun and educational for kids. But if someone has to do it, it may as well be me.

I loved this comment that Julie, an art teacher and parent, left on that post:

When I first read your comments and your article, I thought that I couldn’t disagree more. I love DIY and pinterest and my bookshelves are FILLED with art project books. I’ve never heard of diy.org so I've checked it out the past few days… and I’ve signed up for maker stuff online… bought many a pre-packaged project for the kids (and myself)… and I’ve taught many projects throughout the years that weren’t ‘cookie cutter’ (hey! nobody wants to be called that!) but all had the same goal. So, I’ve been thinking and even losing sleep over this topic, I’ve turned it over in my head… over and over. …

I’m inspired by it because I grew up in an era when art lessons where assessed the same way math lessons are — where there is a ‘right’ answer and if you get the ‘wrong’ answer (you didn’t paste that on right!) you get a bad grade. … If we continue to measure creativity and use extrinsic rewards that we turn into carrots, training kids to think they’re important (grades… badges…) then all we’re doing is perpetuating the machine that some of us are fighting so hard to change.

… Sometimes these things are nice to lean on, but are they truly authentic? Am I a better artist than little Johnny because I have an art school degree and awards? I never thought so, but those awards suggest otherwise. Those extrinsic awards are just proof that I got some support, somebody thought I was ‘good enough’ and I ‘earned’ a representation of that… But where is my representation of me thinking I am good enough??? Nowhere, not even collecting dust on a shelf. I’d like to say that I just ‘knew’ I was, but I didn’t. That is not what I want for my kids. I want them to first value and respect their own opinions and thoughts before what the world tells them to think.

My daughter is in a soccer class and I just learned that they had a drawing contest during class — whoever draws the ‘best’ witch wins a soccer ball. Well, they did this in class and their teacher decided whose witch was the best. My 7 year old was saddened that she didn’t win … This made her feel like she was not a good drawer and if she can’t win the contest at it, then why even draw? I was really angry to learn that they did this and it’s not what I signed up for. It made me realize that this sort of thing happens all the time everywhere, and I might have been the only parent that even cared because everyone else seemed to be used to it. Her friend Maddy won the ball. I was Maddy when I was a kid. I would win those drawing contests, but looking back… that is wrong that adults put themselves in the position to decide what is best simply because they are adults. …

As a kid, I would've cared about [badges].... but I also really craved that kind of approval. It would have been nice to get that kind of esteem through other avenues.

I edited the above for length; see the whole comment here.

This topic goes back to my post about the intellectual benefits of the real old-fashioned summerwhen we create structured activities for kids, we need to really think about the trade-off between what they get and what they lose.

I’ve already heard from people who are using that post and the checklist as talking points with other parents as they start new groups. Remember: This isn’t about being anti-DIY, anti-making, anti-tinkering, or anti-hacking. It’s about setting better, higher goals for these groups and activities so ALL kids can have the learning experiences they deserve.

So here are a bunch of links about play and learning and working; let’s see if we can tie them back neatly to the theme of giving kids more control over their own learning.

“In addition to providing experience, play also helps children learn what they like and don’t like.

Nobel chemistry laureate Roger Tsien tells of reading about chemical reactions before he was eight years old and then trying out the reactions for himself. He was able to bring about beautiful color changes in his house and backyard. 

Because he didn’t have enough laboratory glassware, he had to make equipment from used milk jugs and empty Hawaiian Punch cans (see photo). Tsien later won the Nobel Prize for developing colored dyes and proteins that become brighter or change hue when they encounter chemical signals in living cells, including neurons. …

Tsien’s great contribution to science — the invention of tools that help us visualize what is happening in active biological systems — had its roots in his childhood interest in home chemistry experiments.

Not all childhood endeavors lead to such heights, of course, but regardless of your children’s eventual interests, discovering them may be one of the most important outcomes of play.” — Play, Stress, and the Learning Brain

It’s not enough to be introduced to new ideas or taught new skills; you have to have time to play with them. Play is the learning language of childhood, but it’s also how adults learn and make creative connections. If you’re moving in a linear fashion from A to Z with little time for exploration, making side connections, repeating, extending ideas, and so on, then you haven’t left enough time for play. If you’re operating on a schedule, you probably haven’t left enough time for play.

“Each person has an inherent urge to grow toward his or her potential, much in the way an acorn becomes a tree. But because we all aren’t acorns and won’t all be oaks, there is bound to be confusion about what exactly growing toward our potential means. …

Maybe we feel the cultural press to be an engineer before we find out what exactly that entails. Or our parents tell us more about what we should be like than what we are like. Or Facebook suggests that our … lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals, but they are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.”

“Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit with the world around us.” — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

Scrambling after *other people’s* ideals, she means. In order to figure out how to use and make the most of your own potential, you have to have a sense of self and be able to set your own goals and not be distracted by the approval and rewards of your larger society. And preferably you start when you’re a child. So let’s help kids set their own goals.

Are we still hung up on extrinsic rewards as adults?

“Some things are hard to measure. So, ‘Am I a better dad than I was last year?’ Well, there’s no objective scale where I can look back and someone says, ‘Last year you were a 71 dad. This year, you’re a 74 dad.’ Or spouse or whatever it might be, it’s very, very hard to know.

The things that we can know are things we can count, and one thing that is really, really easy to count is money.

So, if I want to know if I’m better off this year than last year, one of the first things I can do is say, ‘Do I have more money?’ I think that alone makes it very, very motivating.

It works with things like the size of your TV, the square footage in your house, all of these things that we can… The number of cars you have. ‘Am I better than I was five years ago? Well, I have five cars. I had no cars. I guess I’m better.’

We’re just unable to correct for it because the other things that are important are hard to count and counting is great. It feels like math and math feels like science and we feel like we’re better off because there’s a confidence that I’m doing better, and it also works better with other people: ‘Am I better off than you? I don’t know, but if I have a bigger house than you, I beat you.’” — Harvard professor Michael Norton explains how to be happier

Maybe it’s just me, but this reminds me of Julie’s daughter and the soccer ball.

Michael Norton goes on in that interview to say:

[W]hat we’re trying to say in the book … is, “Knock it off. Knock off counting how much money you have and start thinking about what you’re doing with it. What you’re doing with your money and time is a lot more important than how much money and time you have,” and that has really changed my life.

“Knock it off, because it’s not good for your happiness and you’re probably focusing on the wrong dimensions for what will really make you happy.” It’s very hard to apply, but that’s something that I actually try to apply in my life, really, every day. — ibid.

Not to beat a dead horse, but if you can’t move beyond focusing on empty rewards and tap into your own beliefs about what’s worthy of your time and effort, you’re going to be stuck expending a lifetime of effort on meeting someone else’s benchmarks for success. Let’s help our kids define success for themselves. If life is one big marshmallow test, then that first marshmallow is the applause of society when you meet their goals for success — the second marshmallow is when you meet your own goal.

Why is it less desirable for adults to set the agenda rather than letting kids pursue their own ideas?

“[Y]oung children, motivated by curiosity and playfulness, teach themselves a tremendous amount about the world. And yet when they reach school age, we supplant that innate drive to learn with an imposed curriculum.

We’re teaching the child that his questions don’t matter, that what matters are the questions of the curriculum. That’s just not the way natural selection designed us to learn. It designed us to solve problems and figure things out that are part of our real lives.’” — How a Radical New Teaching Method could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses

Another quote from the same article:

“[A] new breed of educators … are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion…” — ibid.

Adults should be stepping out of the way as soon as kids get going.

“[M]entoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling, and even then as lightly as possible.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Why? Because…

One student shares his view:

“I want to read Tribes by Seth Godin this week and next week focus on learning JavaScript. After that, I want to learn about marketing. I am working for a start-up right now that I wish I could be giving more time. However, I have to learn something that is irrelevant to the real world in class.

When did I lose my love for the classroom? When did I lose my interest in exploring beyond the requirements? When did I lose faith in my school?”

With self-directed learning, you step away from attaining a ‘grade’ for the sake of a GPA. Instead, you take a step toward acquiring practical skills.”

“Through projects, you can display what you are learning in a tangible form. There are no rules, no rubrics, and no limitations … Is there something wrong for wanting to dive deeper and to control my learning?” — I put more effort into this than any school essay

It’s not enough to learn skills in a vacuum. They have to be connected to something the learner wants to do. Note the writer has goals he wants to work on. Self-directed learning is more than just acquiring practical skills — it’s acquiring them for a purpose.

The learner’s ideas and goals should form the meaningful context for acquiring knowledge and skills.

I’m going to end with a fantastic post on tumblr by cartoonist Lynda Barry about how freaked out adults were when they were asked to free-draw. This is what happens to us with the current educational system — and I don’t just mean in schools, I mean in homeschooling and in kids’ groups and activities (even soccer) and everywhere else: we lose our ability to relax and explore/play/create without fear. We lose the joy of not knowing — of working without guidelines. We cling to extrinsic rewards, using them to measure our worth and set our compass. We let other people’s opinions about what we’re good at/not good at determine what we do with our lives — even when no one is looking.

“There is something beautiful about the lines made by people who stopped drawing a long time ago.

And there is something curious about how scared they are when I ask them to draw…

And what usually happens is a kind of involuntary laughing that sounds like the laughing of people who are about to enter a spookhouse ride…

And a terror too that becomes especially evident when I ask people to stand up and look at each other’s drawings…

All we did was draw a car but the room feels like it’s on fire. Why?

[W]hat if the way kids draw — that kind of line that we call ‘childish’ — what if that is what a line looks like when someone is having an experience by hand?

“When someone learns to draw — to render — it’s the first thing that goes — the aliveness — and it’s what some artists spend their whole lives trying to get back… — Let’s draw a car and then let’s draw Batman

Is there something right now that you wish you could do, but you don’t think you’re good enough?

Somewhere along the way, did you forget that you can learn whatever you want to learn and you don’t need anyone’s permission to start?

Let’s help our kids keep their aliveness — so they won’t have to work so hard to get it back.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 28, 2013 at 08:21 AM

This week’s Facebook links (and some bonus finds) are a continuation of last week’s focus on college, learning to learn vs. learning to earn, and that elusive thing called happiness — or maybe we’ll settle for contentment.

I’m going to start with a great quote from Charles D. Hayes:

Millions of Americans have been so jaded by traditional education…they fail to comprehend that learning and quality of life are interdependent.

Traditional education has duped us into believing, or at least behaving as if we believed, that learning to earn a living is hard and that learning to live well is easy. But the evidence…suggests the reverse: we are good at earning a living, but not good at living a living. — Charles D. Hayes

Child psychologists in the UK have now extended adolescence to age 25:

“The idea that suddenly at 18 you’re an adult just doesn’t quite ring true,” Laverne Antrobus, a child psychologist at London’s Tavistock Clinic, told the BBC. “My experience of young people is that they still need quite a considerable amount of support and help beyond that age.” — Medical Daily

This is interesting, as I’ve just recently finished reading Meg Jay’s book The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. The idea of pushing adolescence to the mid-twenties sounds like what Jay describes as giving kids excuses to put off making serious decisions about their lives, their relationships, and their work. Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with twenty-somethings, has a lot to say on this subject:

[S]ome underemployment is not a means to an end. Sometimes it is just a way to pretend we’re not working.

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.

Back it all the way up to preschool and what do we find? Kids who are already afraid to fail:

“‘I asked the children to draw pictures of houses but they wanted me to draw the houses for them." Why? "They didn't want to get them wrong.’

Or: ‘We were talking about what things float and one of the objects was a sieve. I asked if a sieve could float and a child said “no.” And then he looked at me and said, “it could.” Why. He didn’t want to make a mistake.”

Or: ‘The children were drawing and one child asked, “Is this going to be in the grade book?’”

These comments are sadly typical. I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana last week and a grandmother told of taking her grandson to kindergarten. He was beside himself with excitement to start school. A few weeks later that excitement had waned. She asked him what he was learning in kindergarten. He told her that he was learning to take tests.” — Kids These Days

What are we teaching kids in school if in early childhood they’re already trying to figure out the right answer vs. learning how to think? Already, they’re worrying about how to be good students vs. how to be good learners:

There is a difference between being a good learner and a good student, and in high school, my peers and I learned how to be good students.”

“…I became increasingly aware of the role that my current grades would play in my near future. Doing all of my homework no longer felt realistic. My friends and I realized we didn’t have to do everything assigned to us in order to succeed in high school.”

I hope college is where I can become a good learner.” — My Insane Homework Load Taught Me How to Game the System

We already know what type of education helps kids succeed *and* be happy:

“Dweck discovered two groups of students according to what motivated them.

First group, I’ll call the praise-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly to get high grades, pats on the back, and praise — and then profit post-graduation.

Second group, I’ll call the meaning-makers and mastery-seekers: People who are motivated to learn mostly by a desire to make meaning, to advance their own knowledge and skill set, and to use knowledge and skills toward a greater goal beyond their own advancement. 

In a longitudinal follow-up, guess which group, ten years later, was more content with work and life?

Yep, group two.” — A Job as Creative Quest

So most kids are afraid to fail and taught to seek praise and good grades — and they’re left unable to think for themselves, take good risks, and be resilient in the face of failure while pursuing important work.

Meg Jay again — on how we get sucked into making choices to please other people (parents, teachers, … and Facebook “friends”):

“Each person has an inherent urge to grow toward his or her potential, much in the way an acorn becomes a tree. But because we all aren’t acorns and won’t all be oaks, there is bound to be confusion about what exactly growing toward our potential means. …

Maybe we feel the cultural press to be an engineer before we find out what exactly that entails. Or our parents tell us more about what we should be like than what we are like. Or Facebook suggests that our … lives ought to look a lot better than they do. Scrambling after ideals, we become alienated from what is true about ourselves and the world.

Shoulds can masquerade as high standards or lofty goals, but they are not the same. Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.

“Part of realizing our potential is recognizing how our particular gifts and limitations fit with the world around us.” — Meg Jay, The Defining Decade

Alexis Ohanian, young co-founder of reddit, says doing real, meaningful work matters:

Most schoolwork felt awfully irrelevant when compared to work that was actually affecting real people and giving me leadership opportunities (albeit digital ones), nurturing the community management skills that would come in handy later.

Learning how to learn is going to be the defining skill of this internet-enabled century.” — Alexis Ohanian

“Learning how to learn” is an oft-heard, even trite phrase. But are our kids really learning how to learn? Those preschool and Kindergarten children who are learning to game the system — and the high school students gaming it several years later — did they learn how to learn?

When will they, if that crucial lesson was skipped?

Some people believe a solution can be found in the maker movement:

“Based on 16 years of hearing pitches about the next great thing in education, what jumps out is that demand from young people — not the education industry's desire to supply something — is driving the maker movement. …

When schools do teach science, too often they are ‘telling students about science’ — and drilling for memorization — instead of engaging them. …

One way to activate student learning, as professor Sugata Mitra has shown through his famous Hole-in-the-Wall experiments, is to give kids the right resources and some motivating content and then get out of the way.” — Teach Kids to Make Things

I have a few bones to pick with the maker movement as adults have organized it for kids — there will be an upcoming post about that. Nutshell: Kids still don’t have enough control — and therefore they aren’t getting the full learning benefit. Until they set their own goals, determine their own deadlines, and measure their own progress, the maker movement isn’t giving kids what they could get on their own, building their learning from scratch. It’s Little League vs. corner-lot ball — the kids are along for the ride, but the adults are still calling too many of the shots.

And is the education system ever going to just hand over resources and content and then get out of the way? Not if they remain focused on test results.

Put these articles and results together and it’s clear that we’re not just choosing a less-beneficial education for kids, we’re putting them on a path that is going to affect their ability to be independent, self-directed learners who can find and do meaningful work as adults:

Thriving workers are 46% more satisfied than their peers.

 

They are 125% less likely to burn out than their non-thriving peers.

 

What’s characteristic of thrivers?

 

They have passion mixed with mastery. They love what they do, but they actively pursue more knowledge and skills.

 

A sub-title on the a Harvard Business Review cover sums it up: How Passion & Purpose Drive Profits. It does not read, ‘How Profits Drive Passion & Purpose.’” — A Job as Creative Quest

I’ll end by referring back to a quote from last week’s round-up:

What makes people successful,’ [Prof. Wadhwa] said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.

 

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. — Finding Your Element

Kids need to be doing real work that matters now — so they’re prepared to make a life as well as a living.

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on September 20, 2013 at 12:37 PM

It’s been awhile but I’m going to get back into doing a Friday link round-up — these are mostly comprised of thinks [Freudian slip — keeping it] I’ve shared on Facebook (along with added commentary) plus bonus things I’ve run across in reading and research.

Lately I’ve shared several excerpts around a loose topic of where happiness fits in with education and work.

We start with Alan Watts:

[I]t’s absolutely stupid to spend your time doing things you don’t like in order to go on spending time doing things you don’t like and to teach your children to follow in the same track.

See, what we’re doing is, we’re bringing up children, educating them, to live the same sort of lives that we’re living in order that they may justify themselves and find satisfaction in life by bringing up their children to bring up their children to do the same things…

And so therefore it’s so important to consider this question — what do I desire?” — How to do what you love

Does it matter what we desire? Or should skills trump passion?

Is it irresponsible to tell our children to pursue their big (possibly unrealistic) dreams, even if chances for making a successful living seem slim?

…It still seems to be the smartest, most glorious way to do anything: You do it. People who want to be writers say, what should I do? And you say, write! [Laughs] And they’ll say, then what? And you say, well, finish things! And they say, well, then what? Well, write something else. That’s how you do it. If you do it over and over, sooner or later you’re going to be writing stuff that’s publishable. And if you keep doing it, you’ll probably get fairly good. You have, you know, a million lousy words inside you, and you’ve got to get them out. I think there’s something very real and very true in that. How do you do it? You do it. Look at other people. Learn everything you can from everywhere. The most important thing is to do it.” — Neil Gaiman

Should we recommend they go to college and get a degree so they can get a good job?

“[I]f we are to have a really objective and productive debate about education policy, it’s important to base it on reality not wishful thinking. And the reality is that when measured in terms of absolute growth (not percentage change) in job openings between 2010 and 2020, none of the top fastest growing occupations even require a bachelor’s degree, and six of them don't even require a high school degree.

The focus on everyone getting a college degree clearly is wrong. … Whether or not to go to college is largely a choice based on how lucky one feels that they can beat the odds of being able to find a job that requires a college degree.” — What Emerging Knowledge Economy?

Are we advising our kids to acquire crushing debt for jobs that won’t be available to pay back the loans?

“[I]t turns out my job is to tell you not to trust us when we claim that there’s something sacred and irreplaceable about what we academics do. What we do is run institutions whose only rationale — whose only excuse for existing — is to make people smarter.

Sometimes we try to make ourselves smarter. We call that research. Sometimes we try to make our peers smarter. We call that publishing. Sometimes we try to make our students smarter. We call that teaching. And that’s it. That’s all there is. These are important jobs for sure, and they are hard jobs at times, but they’re not magic. And neither are we.

Mostly, we’re doing the best we can. … But our way of doing the best we can is to keep doing what we’ve always done, modifying it a bit with stuff we make up as we go along. Just like most people inside most institutions. Some years that works out fine, but we haven’t had so many of those years recently.

For all our good will, college in the U.S. has gotten worse for nearly everyone who relies on us. For some students — millions of them — the institutions in which they enroll are more reliable producers of debt than education. This has happened on our watch.” — Your Massively Open Offline College Is Broken

Kind of a whole other topic, but isn’t it interesting that we have kids in public school for 13 years and when they graduate with good grades they still aren’t able to understand the terms of a loan document? Or, for that matter, make good choices about how much money to invest in high education based on the availability of the jobs that interest them.

Should we be questioning whether the point of education is just to get a high-paying job?

[T]here’s something deeply disturbing about regarding children mostly as future employees and reducing education to an attempt to increase the profitability of corporations — or, worse, the probability that “our” corporations will defeat “theirs.”  Some of the least inspiring approaches to schooling, and the least meaningful ways of assessing its success, follow logically from thinking of education not in terms of its intrinsic worth, or its contribution to a truly democratic society, but in the context of the “21st-century global economy.” — Alfie Kohn, Five Bad Education Assumptions the Media Keeps Recycling

In response to Kohn, Annie Murphy Paul wrote:

Schools, like all of society’s institutions, serve a multitude of purposes (at least, they do when they’re working well — but that’s another issue). They open up worlds of literature and history and science. They cultivate the habits of clear thinking and balanced judgment so important to the functioning of a democracy. And yes, they prepare students for their lives after graduation, much of which will be spent in the workplace. — Is the Point of Schooling to Make More Money?

Well, my quibble here would be whether schools really serve a multitude of purposes. Evidently they do “when they’re working well” — I guess I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one of those schools. I would even quibble about whether they prepare students for lives after graduation, but let’s not go there.

We seem to be in a transitional period between paying a huge amount of money for job-acquisition credentials (and thinking going into debt for a degree is the cost of doing business in America) and possibly a more freelance- and entrepreneurial-based future economy. Whose kids will be the last ones to pay big bucks for a four-year degree that no longer means anything?

This writer tries to argue that education still matters even if you put credentials aside:

“If this trend continues, the future of higher education — at least in the U.S. — is clear. It will be training in various disciplines that lead to a professional credential and a secure job. … The world somehow expects that by age eighteen, people will know enough about their talents and interests to walk confidently into the right silo and come out the other end to occupy a place in the professional class.

…In my view, higher education should be equipping students to answer these four questions:

What is worth knowing?
What is worth doing?
What makes for a good human life?
What are my responsibilities to other people?

College is not the only place in which answers to these questions can develop, but it is an important place. And siloed, specialized training in a discipline — any discipline — will answer none of them.” — What Higher Education Should Be For

Those are great questions. But does anyone really think paying a private university $200,000 for the privilege of exploring those four questions for four years is a good financial decision? Couldn’t you explore those deep questions a lot more cheaply outside a university?

So should you advise your children to put aside their interests and pursue whatever the media is predicting to be the best careers in the next decade?

“Professor Wadhwa concluded that there is no link between what you study in college and how successful or otherwise you are later in your life.

‘What makes people successful,’ he said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.’

…[Y]oung people are often steered away from courses they would like to take in school by well-meaning parents, friends or teachers who tell them they will never get a job doing that. Real life often tells a different story. …

The saddest thing to me,’ says Dr. Brooks, “is seeing someone take the job because it pays well and then spend all that money on toys to cheer themselves up for being so miserable in their jobs. The people who are doing what they love hardly feel they’re working at all, just living.’” — Sir Ken Robinson, “Finding Your Element”

So back to happiness vs. employability — how do we weigh that balance? What does it mean to live a good life, and how important is salary in that equation?

“A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.”

“[I]n schools, we create artificial learning environments for our children that they know to be contrived and undeserving of their full attention and engagement. Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.”

There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions. Further, there is wide use of drugs to medicate boys, especially, against their natural tendency toward action, the better to ‘keep things on track.’ I taught briefly in a public high school and would have loved to have set up a Ritalin fogger in my classroom. It is a rare person, male or female, who is naturally inclined to sit still for 17 years in school, and then indefinitely at work.”

The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.” — The Case for Working with Your Hands

Can you only be happy and fulfilled with a high-paying job? Research says no:

“[E]mployees have one of three ‘work orientations,’ or mindsets about our work. We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling.

People with a ‘job’ see work as a chore and their paycheck as the reward. …

[P]eople who view their work as a career work not only out of necessity, but also to advance and succeed. …

[For people with a calling,] their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good, draws on their personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose. Unsurprisingly, people with a calling orientation not only find their work more rewarding, but work harder and longer because of it. And as a result, these are the people whoa re generally more likely to get ahead.” — The Happiness Advantage

“Wrzesniewski’s most interesting finding is not just that people see their work in one of these three ways, but that it fundamentally doesn’t matter what type of work one has. She found that there are doctors who see their work only as a job, and janitors who see their work as a calling. In fact, in one study of 24 administrative assistants, each orientation was represented in nearly equal thirds, even though their objective situations (job descriptions, salary, and level of education) were nearly identical.” — The Happiness Advantage

So Sir Ken Robinson quoted Prof. Wadhwa as saying

‘What makes people successful,’ he said, ‘are their motivation, drive, and ability to learn from mistakes and how hard they work.’

Are these skills you learned at school? If not, how can we help our kids acquire these skills which are essential for success in life — and probably happiness as well?

So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures.

A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success.

Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.” — New York Times

[S]tudy after study shows that happiness *precedes* important outcomes and indicators of thriving.” — Sonja Lyubomirsky

And so we’ve completed the circle. Happiness does matter. Personal interests do matter. The only question is, how are you going to tap into the power of your child’s authentic interests — and your own?

We see countless examples of people who graduate from college more confused than when they began. They are often terribly disappointed to discover they don’t seem at all suited for a career in their major area of study. They’ve allowed themselves to be molded into a shape that doesn’t fit them because they haven’t learned to think for themselves.”

When we fail to take charge of our education, we fail to take charge of our lives. The result is that we give away our power by letting others decide our fate.

“We have grossly misunderstood the objective of education, allowing our institutions to focus on credentialing instead of the fundamental need for learning that can … enable people to live their lives to the fullest.”

As long as external motivation obliterates the desire to discover what we really care about … we learn how to do, but not how to be. We lose sight of how to find purpose and meaning in the context of our daily lives.” — Charles Hayes

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on June 21, 2013 at 06:53 AM

So we enrolled the PBH Master Class this week and we ran out of spots in a day and a half — amazing. If you want to get an early shot at enrolling in the next class (date as yet unknown), you can put your name on a list here. No commitment, of course — you’ll just get first shot at signing up. This list will be closed on July 8. Thank you to everyone who enrolled and who spread the word!

I hope you guys have been keeping up with PBH Kids — the latest two projects are both LEGO-related and both awesome! If you or your kids want to share a kid-directed project (including work in progress), let me know!

My favorite link this week is from Sugata Mitra:

If examinations challenge learners to solve problems the way they are solved in real life today, the educational system will change for ever. It is a small policy change that is required. Allow the use of the internet and collaboration during an examination.

If we did that to exams, the curriculum would have to be different. We would not need to emphasise facts or figures or dates. The curriculum would have to become questions that have strange and interesting answers. “Where did language come from?,” “Why were the pyramids built?,” “Is life on Earth sustainable?,” “What is the purpose of theatre?” Questions that engage learners in a world of unknowns. Questions that will occupy their minds through their waking hours and sometimes their dreams.

Teaching in an environment where the internet and discussion are allowed in exams would be different. The ability to find things out quickly and accurately would become the predominant skill. The ability to discriminate between alternatives, then put facts together to solve problems would be critical. That’s a skill that future employers would admire immensely.

In this kind of self-organised learning, we don’t need the same teachers all the time. Any teacher can cause any kind of learning to emerge. …

We don’t need to improve schools. We need to reinvent them for our times, our requirements and our future. We don’t need efficient clerks to fuel an administrative machine that is no longer needed. Machines will do that for us. We need people who can think divergently, across outdated “disciplines,” connecting ideas across the entire mass of humanity. We need people who can think like children. — Advent of Google Means We Must Rethink Our Approach to Education

Another favorite Mitra quote:

We need a curriculum of big questions, examinations where children can talk, share and use the Inernet, and new, peer assessment systems. We need children from a range of economic and geographic backgrounds and an army of visionary educators. We need a pedagogy free from fear and focused on the magic of children‘s innate quest for information and understanding. — We Need Schools, Not Factories

So, Mitra says that employers would admire immensely these different skills children could learn if we moved past a testing-based form of education and into what I would call a research- and building-based form. What does Google really want?

“[S]ome of the biggest stalwarts of the hiring and recruiting world — the interview, GPA, and test scores — aren’t nearly as important as people think. 

Google doesn’t even ask for GPA or test scores from candidates anymore, unless someone’s a year or two out of school, because they don’t correlate at all with success at the company. …

Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment,’ [Google VP Bock] says.

While in school, people are trained to give specific answers, ‘it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer,’ Bock says. ‘You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.’”

Test scores don’t correlate with success — at least at Google.

I posted a few links this week about success — and how maybe we need to redefine that for ourselves.

“‘The way we define success isn’t working. … More, bigger, better — we can’t do that anymore.’ …

‘Right now, America’s workplace culture is practically fueled by stress, sleep deprivation and burnout.” …

The answer? To create a movement that embraces the idea that physical and spiritual wellness — from meditation to exercise to good nutrition — are integral to, not separate from, a successful life.” — A Call for a Movement to Redefine the Successful Life

And another quote from that article:

The idea that people are eager to find — or define — success outside the normal parameters is backed up by a study done for American Express.

The top ways people define a successful life, according to the study: Being in good health, finding time for the important things in life, having a good marriage/relationship and knowing how to spend money well. …

According to the Monitor report, many fewer people see owning an expensive car as a sign of success, while being satisfied and in control of your life have grown over the years. — ibid.

This article had some suggestions for redefining success:

“Most people who want a lot out of life are their own worst enemy. They take themselves too seriously. Judge themselves too harshly. Expect too much out of themselves and others. If you can learn to let go of all your expectations, quit trying so hard to get somewhere, you'll learn that just being you, present in this moment, is all that matters.” — Six Unique Ways to Be Successful and Happy

Sound good? Debbie Millman reminds us that our future is in our own hands: 

“Every once in awhile when we least expect it, we encounter someone more courageous, someone who chose to strive for that which (to us) seemed unrealistically unattainable, even elusive. And we marvel. We swoon. We gape. Often we are in awe. I think we look at these people as lucky when in fact, luck has nothing to do with it. It is really all about the strength of their imagination; it is about how they constructed the possibilities for their life. In short, unlike me, they didn’t determine what was impossible before it was even possible. …

If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.” — Fail Safe: Debbie Millman’s Advice on Courage and the Creative Life

What does it take to redefine success for yourself? It’s hard to swim against the current. It helps to have a community of like-minded people who are also trying to wrest control of their own lives and their own destinies. If you need a community like that, think about joining the PBH forum.

In PBH-related news, check out Dawn’s beautiful post about building the community she needed:

“The room held a calm energy. Plenty of people talking, but no raised voices. Plenty of moving around, but no running, either with or without scissors. In between directing one child to cut paper in thirds, lengthwise, hand-over-hand guiding another’s fingers in separating the delicate, gentle tissue layers to form the petals, and commenting on how a color choice resulted in a lovely representation of a real flower, I sensed the flow happening around me. Adults and children, solitary or in small groups, knitting, crocheting, beading. Sewing, stitching, tying, trying. Siblings assisting each other, showing their work to each other. Quiet concentration, satisfaction with effort and result.” — Show me what you’re working with @ Happyer at Home

If you are interested in building a community, check out these free guides:

The Introvert’s Guide to Building Community

How to Start a Project Group

Hope everyone has a great week — I’ll have a new PBH for Grown-ups post on Monday!

I love how through this group I can see myself making progress as I work through each of my concerns and challenges. So glad it exists!!!! — PBH forum member

[Lori] also has a great forum, not a boring old “look how wonderful we are” forum, but a really inspiring one full of practical ideas for implementing project-based learning. — Kate @ An Everyday Story

Friday link round-up + announcement

Published by Lori Pickert on June 14, 2013 at 08:31 AM

If we did all the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves. — Thomas Edison

First, the announcement:

PBH Master Class

In July I’ll be teaching a PBH Master Class. For six weeks, we’ll be reading selections from the book along with supplementary readings and new material I’ve prepared just for this class.

I’ll be leading and supporting class members in a deeper exploration of the key elements of this approach and helping you put these ideas into immediate practice.

This class is not only for homeschoolers — it’s for any parent (or teacher) who is interested in supporting children’s interests and helping them become active thinkers, learners, makers, and doers. Please share the word if you think someone might be interested or helped by this class!

You’ll also have the chance to make some like-minded friends who have the same goals and values for learning and supporting children. We’ll have a private forum where class participants can discuss each week’s focus and share questions, ideas, and issues. This forum will stay up after the class is over so you can stay in touch with your cohort and keep learning together and supporting one another.

I hope to have the sign-up page ready early next week. If you are interested and would like to receive the e-mail alert, please sign up here.

Thank you!

And now, this week on Facebook

One of the best things I saw this week was this short video about creativity versus looking for a particular answer. It’s well worth a couple minutes of your time.

Even when adults are trying to set up a situation where kids can be creative, if children get a hint that they are hoping they do something in particular, it will squelch their creativity. The children start trying to please the adults rather than freely making and building and having their own ideas. This video is a beautiful example of what can happen when we back off and drop our own ideas in favor of theirs.

I loved this post about children needing purpose in their work, which is the heart of PBH:

[S]tudents today may be high achievers but they have no idea what for. … [They] need to find a purpose in life — something meaningful to themselves that also serves the greater good. …

In a series of studies of over 1,200 youth ages 12 to 26, Damon found that those who were actively pursuing a clear purpose reaped tremendous benefits that were both immediate and that could also last a lifetime.

[I]mmediate benefits included extra positive energy that not only kept students motivated, but also helped them acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue their purpose, making them very strong learners.

Youth with a strong sense of purpose also benefited from positive emotions such as gratitude, self-confidence, optimism and a deep sense of fulfillment — all of which scientists have found help prevent depression and anxiety.

Students who carry this sense of purpose into adulthood may also benefit in the long run. Research shows that adults who feel their lives have meaning and purpose are happier, more successful at work, and maintain stronger relationships.” — Putting the “Awe” Back in “Awesome” — Helping Students Develop Purpose @ Edutopia

The sharing part of PBH taps directly into this. Connecting with their community and making a real contribution = purpose.

And this is so much easier to accomplish at home where kids can work on a project that is authentically meaningful and engaging to them!

Heather wrote a great post about mentoring your child to sew if you yourself don’t sew. She does a great job of outlining how any parent can be a supportive mentor in an area where they may not be particularly skilled:

“You might choose to learn with your child or you can help make it happen. Being a mentor means being a guide to something your child wants to learn. The great thing in this situation is that your child is coming to you with an interest. Just think of the intrinsic interest and motivation already at play! …

Remember that if you want your student to be in control and to lead the way in her endeavor to learn to sew, then the materials she needs for the job need to be at the ready. …Workspace is about making the project/learning activity accessible. I could make a long list of things my kids have ownership over in their learning and all of them involve us relinquishing control over workspace. We’ve worked to carve out spots for our kids to engage in what matters the most to them.” — Teaching Sewing in Your Homeschool (Whether or Not You Sew!) @ Blog She Wrote

She really gets into fine detail about environment, materials, and so on, so definitely check it out — you can apply the same ideas to any interest!

More and more people are stating the opinion that every kid needs to learn how to code. I really liked this article saying coding isn’t a golden ticket if kids can’t write — because writing is an essential skill to really succeed in business:

“Computer programming gets great press. … [Y]oung people have long been counseled on the advantages of learning how to program. … [Y]et, when I visit software companies, I often notice that the most successful employees aren’t necessarily the best coders. Instead, leaders in the software business are usually pretty good coders who also happen to be fantastic communicators. …

Whatever you do in the new economy, wherever you go, you’re going to be called upon to write. And the better you write — the more succinctly and confidently you wield language on the page — the more you’ll stand out. If you want to succeed, then, write. Learn to write, and practice every single day. …

Writing is really just a formalized way of thinking. Writing turns all those ideas that are flitting about your brain into a coherent picture of the world. That’s why you can’t ignore writing; in the modern economy, how well you write will often be taken as a proxy for how well you think.” — Class of 2013: Learn to write code. Sure. But really, learn to write.

As a person who’s been self-employed since college, I would add that writing is an essential skill for everyone, not just graduates seeking a job. If you can’t write a clear cover letter and resumé, your paperwork hits the circular file. But it was just as important for me to be able to communicate clearly to clients (and potential clients). How you write = how you present yourself to the world. The more we rely on the computer to do business, the less it’s about face-to-face contact and the more it’s about the page and the screen. Today, you may never meet in person the people you work for or the people who work for you — they will know you by your writing.

On the flip side, an interesting article from NPR about high school students reading less and less challenging works:

"‘The complexity of texts [high school] students are being assigned to read,’ Stickney says, ‘has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.

Reading leads to reading… It’s when kids stop reading, or never get started in the first place, that there's no chance of ever getting them hooked on more complex books.” — What Kids Are Reading, In School and Out @ NPR

Wow, this sparked a huge conversation on twitter. Some people really wanted to stand up for YA and MG literature and pointed out that story and theme are just as important as technical reading level, and kids are more likely to be deeply engaged and have good discussion around a book they actually enjoy and understand. I don’t think it’s an either-or issue and I stand by my conviction that kids should be exposed to more challenging works in school. What say you?

We had another big twitter discussion about library reading programs, of which, as you may remember, I am not a fan:

[I]t’s a shame to treat reading as a sort of punishment — or something that requires a spoonful of sugar to go down, which is why I’m a curmudgon about reading programs that bribe kids with prizes or pizza if they read. Reading isn’t punishment — reading is one of the greatest things ever. When we act this way, we are sending a clear message that reading isn’t awesome — it’s something that requires cajoling, bribery, or denial. — In defense of reading, which should need no defense

Librarians insist that these programs bring more kids in to the library and get more kids reading — but it’s the adults who are pulled in by the programs, right? So I suggest we stop offering the bribes to the kids and give out free Starbucks coupons to the parents. I think it could work.

A couple of PBH for Grown-Ups-style links…

I liked this brief article about finding ten minutes in your day for the thing that matters to you — they were specifically talking about meditating, but the same thinking holds for anything you wish you could fit into your day:

“When was the last time you took 10 minutes to do nothing?

We may tell ourselves we take an hour to relax every night while we watch our favourite TV show or reading that book you never seem to finish. The half an hour journey to work with music from our iPod crowding the senses is also a familiar activity we may call our ‘chill time’. But in reality, none of the above is still not doing ‘nothing’.” — I don’t have ten minutes @ Scrawl Media

We have to use the time we have and prioritize the things that really matter. Find ten minutes for your meaningful work!

In that same vein, I like this series they’re doing at WhipUp — the quote is for the whole series:

“Stop listening to the advice of those that say it can’t be done, and seek the advice of those who are successfully doing what you want to do.”

Every day I see bad advice on Twitter and cringe. Be choosy about whose advice you’re seeking. Make sure they know what they’re talking about. If you want real, useful advice, take the time to choose mentors (even online mentors or authors) who have experience and success to back up their words. Think about the motives of the people who are offering you advice.

Do they want to be an insta-expert? (They spent a few hours reading about a subject online and now they’re an expert themselves.)

Do they have puffy ego issues? (They love being asked for help so much, they offer it whether they know what they’re talking about or not.)

Are they mostly focused on making money? (Have they had a long-term interest in this topic or is it just a niche they want to exploit?)

There is no substitute for doing your own research. Take the time to go to the library and check out a few books. Even a modest amount of familiarity with a subject can help you spot some of the people who don’t have the real knowledge to back up their faux authority. Then read their about page and make sure they’ve walked the walk before they started talking the talk. You’ll save yourself a lot of wasted time and heartache.

Ooh, I got a little cranky there at the end! Thanks as always for your support of the PBH community! And don’t forget to sign up for the e-mail list if you are interested in the master class. Have a great weekend!

Friday link round-up + updated PBH group guide

Published by Lori Pickert on June 8, 2013 at 07:40 AM

Before we get started, I’ve updated How to Start a Project Group, incorporating the additional suggestions and questions I received after I posted the first draft. If you want to share strategies with other people who are using PBH in co-ops, summer camps, and family PBH groups, join the forum!

We missed last week’s round-up, so here’s what I’ve been sharing on the PBH facebook page for the past couple of weeks…

First, a beautiful blog post Abbey wrote about her “PBH conversion experience”:

“Tonight, I went beyond “mentally committed because this seems like the best choice.” Tonight, I became totally heart-committed and gut-committed to this idea of letting his interests spark and catch fire and burn through acres of material … because tonight, I saw the pure joy in his face at being able to soak up as much information as he could hold with the promise that he would be able to keep coming back for more the next day, the one after that, the one after that, as long as he wanted. …

It was passionate. It was instinctive. It was his idea, his momentum, his knowledge, his research. And yet now, without adult prompting or coaching, he has learned where Argentina is, how big Herrerasaurus was, in what period it lived, what it ate, what its bones looked like, and that it had a small role in the movie Jurassic Park. (A little pop culture knowledge is almost always useful, right?)

I know it might not be like this all the time, but it can be like this at least some of the time. I can do this… I can make this possible for him by creating an environment in which he has what he needs to do this for himself. For the first time, I feel certain that this is the right decision for him and for our family right now. He's more than capable — I’ve always known that.

Now I can picture what it looks like.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: My Conversion Moment @ Surviving Our Blessings

And this is a way we can learn, not just in childhood, but for life:

“Self-directed play allows both children and adults to develop a powerful attention strategy, a strategy that I call ‘relaxed presence.’ …

When you [read or built things as a child], nobody was giving you an assignment, nobody was telling you what to do — there wasn’t any stress around it. You did these things for your own pleasure and joy. As you played, you developed a capacity for attention and for a type of curiosity and experimentation that can happen when you play. You were in the moment, and the moment was unfolding in a natural way.

You were in a state of relaxed presence as you explored your world. At one point, I interviewed a handful of Nobel laureates about their childhood play patterns. They talked about how they expressed their curiosity through experimentation. They enthusiastically described things they built, and how one play experience naturally led into another. In most cases, by the end of the interview, the scientist would say, “This is exactly what I do in my lab today! I’m still playing!’” — The Art of Staying Focused in a Distracting World @ The Atlantic

Bridging from preschool age to Nobel laureates, how does self-directed play and learning look like for older kids? At the IL Math & Science Academy, students get 20% of their time (one school day per week) to work on projects of their own choosing — or just to play:

“Every Wednesday at [the Illinois Math & Sci Acad], students are free to work on whatever they want — to follow their particular passions through self-directed study, internships, or other projects.

“[Peter Chu] spent countless hours playing this Dungeons-and-Dragons-like computer creation, but playing wasn’t enough. He wanted to understand how the game worked and, more importantly, change the things he didn’t like about it. As luck would have it, DikuMUD was open source software, so he was free to download the code that underpinned the game and start hacking it — and that’s what he did.”

“Other IMSA alums have gone on to discover new solar systems, teach neurosurgery, and found such notable tech outfits as YouTube, Yelp, SparkNotes, and OK Cupid. And the spirit that moved Chu to teach himself programming is still very much alive and well.” — Hogwarts for Hackers: Inside the Science and Tech School of Tomorrow @ Wired

This is compared to Google’s 20% time — a perk about which one employee said, “[W]hen you give engineers the chance to apply their passion to their [work], they can do amazing things.”

PBH is about giving kids time to work on their own deep interests, time when they are supported and mentored. It doesn’t have to be the entire curriculum, but it is essential for children to learn to direct and manage their own learning and their own meaningful work.

Kids need white space — they need down time. They need time to relax and play. And they need to develop the ability to manage themselves without being constantly kept busy with activities:

Modern parents are almost obsessed with filling up their children’s time. … [A]lone time is time a son or daughter uses to learn how to entertain themselves or just relax, without help or input from parents, siblings, friends, or babysitters. And it is a crucial aspect of the development of independence.

… The real world is not a constant party, or a day at camp. Real world includes downtime, and it includes alone time. And your job as a parent isn’t to entertain your children 24 hours a day. Introducing your child early on to the idea of spending time alone — and liking it — will help your son and/or daughter become a better companion to others and get more from their relationships with friends — and with you. They will grow to be an adult who can be happy on his/her own, or with someone else. And isn’t that the goal?” — Why Alone Time is So Important for Boys and Girls

In the forum we’ve been talking about how to help a child move from needing 24/7 interaction to being more self-directed.

Since it’s graduation season, we’ve been sharing some advice to graduates — advice that we can integrate into how our kids learn now:

“Jobs suck. At least the traditional version of a job, in which you do something you sorta hate, from 9-5p, and are paid for your time to just grit your teeth and do it. Let’s call this the ‘sell your time’ version of a personal business model: You sell your time to an employer, and they pay you for that time. …

There’s a better way — though it might not be the easiest way. … Learn to make something. Anything.” — New College Grads: Don’t Sell Your Time for a Living @ Andrew Chen

Real skills matter! In fact, they’re the most important thing potential employers care about:

“[T]wo of the first three people I hired for my new company made the decision not to get a college degree, and in both cases, it was the correct decision to make. If you talk to either of them, you will quickly realize that they are more intelligent and intellectual than 99 percent of the ‘degree holding’ population. They read more books than most college graduates I know.

Their head shots are prominently displayed on the ‘Our Team’ page of my venture pitch, and I have yet to have a single investor ask, ‘Where did that guy to go school?’ Investors prefer to ask, ‘What company did you steal them from?’

What’s more, skipping college puts pressure on young people to actually learn real skills and deliver real value — and that is a good thing.” — How Much Does Your College Degree Matter? @ PandoDaily

Scared to deviate from the crowd?

“Standing out seems riskier than conforming. But nobody ever talks about the risks of conforming: boredom (the worst of tortues), an uninteresting narrative (you'll never land your dream job), regret (we don't regret the things we do; we regret the things we don't do), a long and frustrated journey through the rest of your life (stemming from a lack of self-awareness).” — 31 Things I’d Have Told Myself Before College

Personalized education that focuses on your strengths takes you further than one-size-fits-all that focuses on your perceived deficits.

It can be scary to stand out, but even worse to blend in.

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.” — Bill Watterson

For those of you attempting to embrace your kids’ love of Minecraft and other screen-related passions, I have some good stuff to share this week:

“I think the potential is really there for us to be raising a new generation of young people who have grown up with technologies that allow them to pursue self-directed learning on their own terms and on their own time schedules.

This is very different from how kids learn in school, where they’re handed a set body of knowledge that they’re asked to master and the expertise really resides in the teacher.

When kids go online in these more informal contexts where they’re pursuing their interests, they can really go, look around, and connect with knowledge, people, online communities that really enable them to tailor and customize what they want to learn, when they want to learn it.

And that is tremendously empowering for kids and motivating for them to learn.” — Dr. Mizuko Ito on Teen Development Online: Interacting with Media

Are your kids fascinated with Minecraft? So are educators:

“‘[T]he really cool thing about Minecraft is there’s an invitation to be creative and an invitation to be customizable and an invitation to engage at that level that’s much more accessible and much more on the surface.’ …

‘I’m interested in how it is providing kids a space to create their own game space and to share those game spaces with each other,’ she says. ‘This is a huge departure, not only from previous games, but previous toys and objects that were given to kids to play. Kids always make their own games in backyards and in schoolyards. And now they have an opportunity to make those games part of their shared culture.’ …

Minecraft certainly promotes some healthy behaviors, she adds.

Aside from rule-free, creative thinking, Grimes says, it encourages and facilitates a healthy co-operation.

‘The fact that you can collaborate in building a world together, you know, it’s amazing,’ she says.” — Minecraft Game Being Hailed as a Teaching Tool

And:

Require self-direction.

Minecraft won’t do anything without the right input from the player. It doesn’t drag you along by the nose, but rather sits and waits for the player to do something important. And with every “correct” action by the player, they are rewarded with more freedom, opportunity and visual evidence of their decisions.” — 5 Lessons to Learn from Minecraft in Education @ TeachThought

Be sure to check out the great Minecraft projects being shared on PBH Kids!

Finally, some encouragement for the PBH grown-ups:

Eventually you will make a decision to forget your craft, or to zero in what you love most about it, truing to it fiercely above the urgent, the insistent, the loud demands that are yelling like a bully in your ear. Eventually it will be up to you to decide to turn a blind eye on the other things, and just pick this one thing. This one thing that feels important to you. That feels like the work you love, and just do it for an hour. Imperfectly. Even if it means you’ll be up a creek later. Even if it means there will be hell to pay. Even if it means the sky will fall. …

Eventually you will make the decision: to let circumstance define you, or to define your circumstance.” — Eventually You Will Make a Decision (or Reminders to Myself) @ Christina Rosalie

And:

Stop listening to the advice of those that say it can’t be done, and seek the advice of those who are successfully doing what you want to do.” — Best Advice I’ve Been Given @ WhipUp

Thank you for hanging out with me on PBH and being part of this community!

I have to say that being a PBH mom has helped me tremendously to see that while being there for my kids, I can support my own work and make my dreams a reality. Learning as I go. — PBH forum comment

Thank you for challenging us parents the way you continually do and sticking up for the rights of children. You know why PBH rocks above all other educational methodologies? Because it’s the only methodology I’ve encountered that requires parents to try to become the best possible version of themselves in order to walk the talk. — PBH parent e-mail

Genuine interest is the magic ingredient that makes learning meaningful — and it’s what learners require to make their best efforts.

When we label a child as a “reluctant learner,” we’re making a big mistake. Not only are we focusing on the reluctance rather than the learning, but we’re telling a child that he has a problem learning. We’re missing the fact that it’s we who have the problem, because we have failed to provide our child with a learning experience that is interesting, relevant, and useful.” — The Myth of the Reluctant Learner

 

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on May 25, 2013 at 08:02 AM

The best thing I have to share this week (with permission!) was a post in the forum by a mom who worked past her initial misgivings about Minecraft in order to support her son’s deep interest — and had a great outcome:

“I’m new to pbh and still anxious about how it will all work; especially since both my boys love minecraft. The other day during our project time my 10 yr old was simply building on minecraft and I had to continually bite my tongue b/c that little voice in my head was telling me, “this is not education!”. However, I persevered. :)

I grabbed a notebook and just started asking him what he was doing. Lo and behold he was building giant forks, shovels, question marks, dollar bills, etc. I made the observation that there are artists that create actual sculptures just like that. Before I knew it, both boys were looking for images on google, discovered the artist was Claes Oldenberg, and we were talking about what was interesting about the art. That led to a discussion of art in context and I posed the question of what giant sculpture would be appropriate in the context of our house. They came up with several ideas, but decided they would build a life-sized Steve from minecraft. I asked what they needed, we gathered supplies. I jotted down ideas they came up with. They came up with the idea to hide binary code in their statue since steve is created by code. We went to the library and they worked with the librarian to hunt down books on Oldenberg. My oldest also got several books on architecture as well for inspiration for building and has immersed himself in that and has built some awesome buildings and is learning a ton about architecture.

I truly see the value of journaling. It is eye opening how much they learn. The math concept of median was used in the building projects. They were measuring and figuring out scale. They were working together and not fighting. As I write all they are doing I see all the different directions they could take this. It’s very exciting to watch. Thanks for all the encouragement and advice this blog provides.”

I love hearing these stories. If you’re a member of the forum, we share them in the small wins thread — it’s important to take a moment and celebrate your successes as you learn to mentor yourself and your kids to your best lives. Even a small change — like taking a pause and getting out your journal, asking a few questions — can make a huge difference in your learning life.

And have you seen O’s amazing Minecraft project on PBH Kids? If your kids have project work they’d like to share, let me know!

I liked this article on project-based learning (as manifested in schools) mostly for this teacher’s reaction to helping kids direct their own learning:

“‘[E]ngaging kids in project-based, deep-thinking types of learning that I saw in Finland … that’s what we tried to replicate in our state,’ Paine said. And not coincidentally, just the kind of pragmatic, complex, collaborative problem-solving that companies say they need in the 21st century workplace. …

“The first [project-based learning] project I did — after it was done — I said I would never go back to the old way of teaching, because it was that valuable.’”

I wanted to cry because I could see how much progress they had made from beginning to end.’

You might want to follow my project-based learning board on Pinterest. I think we can glean some insights and ideas from what traditional education is trying to accomplish with PBL even though we homeschoolers have the freedom to take it so much further. (The board is a mix of PBL at school and at home.)

Last week I wrote a post called The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time. In that post, I suggested using “generous limits” (as opposed to strict limits or no limits at all) to make it possible for your child to go beyond just being an irritable, frustrated, passive consumer and actually be in the flow, learn, and create with media.

In the comments, someone brought up studies on brain development and asked how I could dismiss those. I wrote a lengthy response, but a friend sent me a link to this article, which I think is a great addition:

“Diagnosed with moderate to severe autism at the age of 2, Jacob spent years in the clutches of a special education system that didn’t understand what he needed. His teachers at school would try to dissuade Kristine from hoping to teach Jacob any more than the most basic skills.

“For a parent, it’s terrifying to fly against the advice of the professionals,” Kristine writes in her memoir, The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. “But I knew in my heart that if Jake stayed in special ed, he would slip away.”

‘I operate under a concept called “muchness,”’ Kristine said. ‘Which is surrounding children with the things they love — be it music, or art, whatever they’re drawn to and love.’

By the time he was 11 years old, Jacob was ready for college. He’s now studying condensed matter physics at the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis.” — Boy Genius Diagnosed with Autism has IQ Higher than Einstein

And a quote from the boy himself, from his TedxTeen talk that appears at the end of the article:

In order to succeed, you must look at everything with your unique perspective and not settle for accepting the straight facts.” — Jacob Barnett

The talk is great, and your kids might enjoy it, too.

Since we’ve been talking a lot lately about screen time on the blog (posts, comments, and in the forum), I thought this was worth sharing:

“My work with children, teachers and computers over the past thirty years has been focused on increasing opportunity and replacing ‘quick and easy’ with deep and meaningful experiences. When I began working with schools where every student had a laptop in 1990, project-based learning was supercharged and Dewey’s theories were realized in ways he had only imagined. The computer was a radical instrument for school reform, not a way of enforcing the top-down status quo. …

Used well, the computer extends the breadth, depth and complexity of potential projects. This in turn affords kids with the opportunity to, in the words of David Perkins, ‘play the whole game.’ Thanks to the computer, children today have the opportunity to be mathematicians, novelists, engineers, composers, geneticists, composers, filmmakers, etc.… But, only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative.” — Technology Is Not Neutral @ for the love of learning

When Gary says “only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative,” I think he means only if teachers take the time to fully explore how computers can be used by students in school. At home, I would say “only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative” to see what powerful tools computers can be for mastering skills, creating original works of art, building community, and so on. If we demonize tech, we’re taking away so many of the hundred languages children can use to learn and build.

In the inspirational area, this week, I loved what Michael wrote about focusing on what we can do:

“I might dream of Sustainably Creative becoming one of the top 100 most read blogs in the world, being offered a publishing contract worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, and Oprah relaunching her chat show just to interview me. However all of those dreams require actions by other people, lots of other people (and Oprah). I can’t make those people act in the ways I might like.

However I can work on my half of the equation. I can show up and write posts regularly for Sustainably Creative. I can work on book proposals and publish my own ebooks. I can approach agents and publishers. In short I use what energy I have to focus on the work that at least puts me on the right track to fulfill my dreams.” — Achieve (almost) anything you want with a pen, paper, and a pot of tea @ Sustainably Creative

This is what it’s all about — just starting. Doing what we can. It changes your life, even if you don’t end up with what you originally thought you wanted.

Thank you for hanging out with me on PBH and being part of this community!

I have to say that being a PBH mom has helped me tremendously to see that while being there for my kids, I can support my own work and make my dreams a reality. Learning as I go. — PBH forum comment

Thank you for challenging us parents the way you continually do and sticking up for the rights of children. You know why PBH rocks above all other educational methodologies? Because it’s the only methodology I’ve encountered that requires parents to try to become the best possible version of themselves in order to walk the talk. — PBH parent e-mail

Allowing children to learn about what interests them is good, but helping them do it in a meaningful, rigorous way is better. Freedom and choice are good, but a life steeped in thinking, learning, and doing is better. It’s not enough to say, “Go, do whatever you like.” To help children become skilled thinkers and learners, to help them become people who make and do, we need a life centered around those experiences. We need to show them how to accomplish the things they want to do. We need to prepare them to make the life they want. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on May 17, 2013 at 03:34 PM

My favorite thing this week was something Georgia Schlegel (YarnPirate) said during a conversation on Twitter when I expressed frustration that some people see PBH as just “arts and crafts”:

My five-year-old knows most of the organelles of a cell from his so-called arts and crafts.

To see more of her son’s anatomy project, check it out on PBH Kids!

Some good links about making and doing and sharing this week:

Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time.” — Creative People Say No — Thoughts on Creativity

If you need someone to give you permission to say “no” to something so you can prioritize your meaningful work, this should help. “The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.

I liked this post of Michael’s and we had an interesting discussion about it on Twitter. Some read it as “take 24 hours to commit to working on your top project,” which is hardly doable for parents of young children. I read it as “take 24 hours to focus on one project and not be distracted away from it.” (Can you tell what *my* issue is?)

“Sometimes lack of time or energy make it necessary to make very radical choices about what is important to us, what we want to give priority to and get on with. Sometimes it can just be that the amount of choice and options before us is so overwhelming that reducing them suddenly seems like a breath of fresh air.

Whatever the motivation, I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that cutting right back and concentrating on very few (or even just ONE) thing is the way forward.” — Distill your ambitions down to their essential core @ Sustainably Creative

Michael writes about doing creative work from the perspective of having a chronic illness that leaves him with low energy; his “important work” equates to my “meaningful work.” I find his work very inspiring; you might want to check it out.

Along with this, Jennifer’s beautiful words as she works on changing her life:

My intention and direction have been set
now I need only to listen
to pay attention
and let go.” — growing :: letting things go @ under the big blue sky

Pay attention to what you want to grow; put your focus there. Let the rest go. Good thoughts for anyone who’s trying to make a change.

A couple of work-related links this week, the first just one great quote from a slideshow by Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) that’s well worth your time. Having owned two businesses and hired and fired more people than I want to count, I think his advice is pretty much on the money. And forget about college grads — this applies to anyone who wants to accomplish anything:

“Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. If you’re looking for an opportunity, you’re really looking for a person.” — Amazing Career Advice for College Grads

This is something I’ve experienced in my own life. Magical things can happen if you focus on trying to help people, preferably for free. You can build experience, make contacts, make friends, learn, and grow — and opportunities lie beyond that experience. Concentrate on people — they *are* the opportunities.

An article about work *and* about making and doing:

“There are millions of unfilled jobs in America, and most of them are careers where you actually have to make and build stuff. If you grew up in an affluent environment, then you see your software engineer friends getting jobs easily. But it’s not just them. There are countless labor jobs — everything from HVAC to plumbing — that still pay big dollars. But rich kids don’t even know what those jobs entail.

My advice to young people is to figure out how to make something. That means either working with your hands, or learning how to type code with them.” — Young People Are Screwed … Here’s How to Survive

Even if you go the traditional job route, it’s the people who have real skills — the ones who know how to make and do — who float to the top. This goes back to that “arts and crafts” misunderstanding — it’s not about a pretty picture, it’s about knowing how to plan, execute, revise, build, share, collaborate, and contribute!

And one more thought on prioritizing:

“Make no mistake about it, the things you spend most of your time doing is how the world sees you.” — We Are What We Do, Not What We Say

I’ll add to that: How we live is what our children see and it’s what they internalize. They will do as we do — so it’s crucial that we think hard about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Finally, I’ll end with the quote I shared on Mother’s Day:

Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” — Oscar Wilde

Hope everyone has a wonderful week!

Friday link round-up

Published by Lori Pickert on May 3, 2013 at 08:38 AM

Welcome to Friday! Hope everyone had a great week. Here are the links I shared on Facebook this week (and some extra material as usual) with *bonus insightful comments*!

We spend a lot of time in the forum and in the PBH for Grown-Ups series talking about goals: how to set them, how to break them down, and then how to keep them. We talk about taking real baby steps — and in the forum, we have a thread where we support one another to set and work on monthly goals. An important theme is always — just keep going. Don’t give up. Any progress at all is better than no progress! So I liked this post about the marathon shuffle:

“The essence of the marathon shuffle is that, no matter how daunting it feels to add miles to your training runs, it’s entirely doable if you just keep shuffling out mile after mile.

And that is precisely what I kept top of mind throughout the training program, and all the way through that first race.

Just keep moving.

No need to sprint. Just keep shuffling forward.” — Too hard to sprint at your goals? “Marathon shuffle” at them instead

I used to have a handmade sign hanging on my computer right in front of my face: “Forge Ahead.” No matter how bad things get, no matter how slow you go, just keep going. As Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I haven’t shared the following post on FB, but I keep sending people the link to underscore this point, so I’ll share it here:

[W]hen we consider our actions, often it’s true that any one instance of an action is almost meaningless, yet at the same time, a sum of those actions is very meaningful. Whether we focus on the single coin, or the growing heap, will shape our behavior. — Gretchen Rubin’s “One Coin Argument”

This hearkens back to the story of the two men who were asked about their work at a construction site: the first said, “I am laying bricks”; the second said, “I am building a cathedral.” Keep your focus on the cathedral you’re building — every brick counts!

Loved this old post by Rachel at Small Notebook about setting compelling goals. If you’ve doing some experimenting (by which I mean trying and failing) with goal-setting, you know they can be too small, too cloudy and undefined, and definitely too large and unwieldy. Compelling goals that are deeply meaningful can tap into our inner motivation:

Want a different life? Here’s how to do it:

Those things you’ve been calling dreams? Start calling those your goals.

And those things that you’ve been calling goals? Those are more like New Year’s resolutions: good for your health, but not quite compelling enough. You need bigger goals, captivating ones, audacious goals. The kind you’ll have to take risks for. In Search for Compelling Goals @ Small Notebook

It’s scary to set big goals. But the people most likely to achieve big things are the ones who were brave enough (or crazy enough — probably a combination of the two) to attempt them in the first place. Speaking of which, this short video is definitely worth your time. In it, Roman Krznaric talks about how to find fulfilling work. I pulled out this short quote he referenced, and I think it speaks to the argument about whether you should pursue passion or just work hard:

“For the first time in the human experience, we have a chance to shape our work to suit the way we live instead of our lives to fit our work. We would be mad to miss the chance.” — Charles Handy

Hear hear. (Want to read more about the kickback against passion? Try this post: Why Skills Don’t Trump Passion. You can also check out last week’s link round-up.)

Roman talks about five strategies for finding work that is meaningful and fulfilling, which he defines as something you care about and something you’re good at. I’d say that’s at the heart of PBH.

Speaking of which, I shared a post about learners as entrepreneurs, which as you know is a favorite topic of mine:

“To cultivate creative and entrepreneurial talents is much more than adding an entrepreneurship course or program to the curriculum. It requires a paradigm shift — from employee-oriented education to entrepreneur-oriented education, from prescribing children’s education to supporting their learning, and from reducing human diversity to a few employable skills to enhancing individual talents.” — Learners as Entrepreneurs @ User Generated Education

Read my posts about raising entrepreneurs here: Entrepreneurship. Whatever you want to call the shift that is happening in our work world — freelance economy, gig economy — it seems clear that we need to prepare our kids to make their own jobs. Personally, I want to make sure my kids are prepared to both compete for a regular job they want *and* make their own job. Statistically, they will change jobs often, and we already know our career plans don’t always pan out. So I don’t think you can skip these crucial skills, even if your kid is sure he or she is set on “normal” employment.

This post is a little scattered and crams a lot into a small space, but there are some good, deep ideas there worth pondering:

How do we find our authenticity with all of the many influences in our lives pulling us in different directions? One approach is to identify and make your own “authentic connections” with the people, places, activities or memories we relate to so deeply that they empower us to be more authentic.” — Authentic Connections and Growing Your Creative Confidence @ Forbes

Good thing to think about: authenticity. “Authentic” is a word that would loom large in the word cloud for PBH. Why? Because everything about PBH is about trying to make the learning experience more real, more learner-specific, and more relevant. I think we should be drilling deeper in every area of our lives to reach authenticity.

Another good thing to think about: self-efficacy. Another key part of PBH: having the *authentic* self-confidence that you can achieve what you are setting out to do. This ties back into goals — heck, it ties to everything. We’ll talk more about this in the future.

Okay, so some specific PBH-related goodness for this week — I shared this quote on FB, and it’s about leadership in business, but I want you to think about it in terms of mentoring your children to become self-directed learners:

“[I]t all starts with listening, turning our attention fully to the person we are with. It’s not just leaders, of course. We’re all besieged by distractions, falling behind on our to-do lists, multi-tasking.

A classic study of doctors and patients asked people in the physician’s waiting room how many questions they had for their doctor. The average was around four. The number of questions they actually asked during that visit with their doctor turned out to be about one-and-a-half. The reason? Once the patient started talking, an average of 16 seconds or so the doctor would cut them off and take over the conversation.

That’s a good analog for what happens … everywhere. We’re too busy (we think) to take the time to listen fully.” — Curing the Common Cold of Leadership: Poor Listening

We are leaders in our homes, and if we want to really mentor our children, we have to learn to stop, pay attention, and really listen. Good stuff.

Abbey shared a beautiful post about her five-year-old son’s foray into project-based homeschooling building a model of a Roman aqueduct:

“He got frustrated. … This frustration led to the most stunning moment of all, when he decided to build supports for the lower end of the aqueduct. …

I was sure [his plan] wouldn’t work. The pipecleaners were bendy…how were they going to support the weight of the wooden balls? When he tried it, though, I was surprised to see that although the pipecleaners buckled under the weight as the balls rolled down the chute, they popped back up again. The bendy pipecleaners made his design flexible where mine would have been rigid. His idea worked better than mine would have.” — Water Beads, II: Roman aqueducts and project-based learning @ Surviving Our Blessings

So much good stuff there, I want to just include the whole post — be sure to click over and check it out. This is the process *every* adult goes through when they support children to make their own ideas happen: the struggle to let go, the amazement when you see authentic learning happening. Authentic! This kind of learning is so much richer, deeper, and longer lasting than prescribed education. They own it. They know it. They will never forget it.

I hope you’re checking out the projects on the new PBH Kids blog. I got a great e-mail from a dad saying he was blown away and now is interested himself in helping his kids do more self-directed learning. We have the chance to inspire other kids *and* their parents — so let me know if you have some self-directed work to share!

Finally, I’m going to share a couple of inspiring quotes from the PBH forum. If you are interested in learning more about project-based homeschooling and sharing your exploration with other like-minded parents, join us. So much good stuff happening, good discussion, sharing, encouraging, and just all-around support.

We are not deeply involved in any projects that seem scholarly, but the play the girls have been involved in is intense and lasts for days. They’ve built a huge train track and have houses all around. Even their arguments are based on scenarios of what could happen where they are thinking through situations and using their imaginations for imaginary problem solving.
Play is how children learn! And if this doesn’t inspire you, nothing will:
I’ve been seeing things through fresh eyes again. Before breakfast, I grabbed a cardboard Top Ramen box I was going to throw out, and started sorting out our neglected craft box. I kept big ‘materials’ in that box, and transferred crafting ‘tools’ into the cardboard box — glue, pencils, scissors, rulers, thread spools, markers, etc. I sat this out for the kids and they were so excited! I also noticed that they were able to sort things, find things, AND put them back on their own today! No more ‘mom, where’s the glue?’ or ‘I can’t find my scissors!’
 
 
Also, today was our first official focused project day. It turned out great, and the kids were churning out more and more projects after they were finished. Our son, who only seems interested in video games, has been filling his new ‘project notebook’ with ideas! On a walk to the store today, I brought my first-ever mini notebook to jot down ideas as the kids mention them, and he actually said ‘Mom! Get your notebook back out! I have an idea!’
...all for our FIRST DAY... 

It doesn’t get any better than that! Have a great week, everybody!

 

Be a part of the PBH community. Project-Based Homeschooling isn’t for only one kind of homeschooler — whether you’re a classicist or a radical unschooler or somewhere in-between, all kids deserve some time to direct and manage their own learning while pursuing their deepest interests. Read the posts on project-based homeschooling. Check out the book. Look over the 10 steps to getting started with PBH. Join the forum. Chat with me on twitter. Follow me on facebook. See my pinterest boards on learning, authentic art, play, and more. Come make friends, get some new ideas, and brainstorm about your challenges.

“You want to build a family culture that celebrates and supports meaningful work. This is much more than saying the right thing — this is creating a lifestyle, a set of articulated beliefs, and a  daily routine that encourage and sustain the life you want for your family.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

“I’m especially grateful for the shared experiences, questions, and suggestions in this forum. Already I have been able to think more creatively about some of our dilemmas and I think the idea of a tribe of families working on this makes it so much more interesting to me.” — from the PBH forum

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