Monday, June 9, 2014

Learning Should be Spherical, NOT Linear

Questions are power.

  • Knowledge may be the end power, but questions are how knowledge is gained and retained.

I am an advocate for child-led learning. In the preschool setting, this means that we explore their interests, I INVITE them to join me in learning activities, and I ask where they want to go in their learning and what they want to do to facilitate that direction. When I ask if they want to play, do art, do school...I will immediately hear a resounding chorus of 

School for us, is also play and art, with a more focused agenda. But even our version of "school" work is dependent upon THEIR interests. We were late having lunch one day last week because they watched a worm crawling for 15 minutes. Total fascination. Schedules take a back seat to learning here. "How do they move like that?" "How do they poop?" "What do they eat?" "Will he get hurt on the sticks?"

Why do these young preschoolers LOVE to learn and far too soon, that love will disappear? WHY? The average toddler asks 300+ questions a day. The average preschooler 100, and by middle school, children may not ask a single question in a day, let alone one of profound importance.

Are you saying, SO WHAT?!

Questions are control. When we remove questions from children, we remove their control. We give them answers to regurgitate, rather than giving them the means to work out the answers on their own. We take away their freedom and responsibility to OWN their learning experiences.

Parents often say that if left to their own devices, their children would play video games all day. Have you ever wondered if that might be because we have stripped away their ability to self-motivate learning?

Maybe we have TAUGHT them that all learning should be directed by someone else. Reading is a requirement, not a beloved activity anymore. Research is required, limited to a given topic and specific set of requirements, with the goal of a graded paper at the end, not understanding. The goal is no longer a passionate exploration to understand the unknown.

What is a question of profound importance?

  • It is anything that encourages exploration of themselves and their world.

A few of my 13 year-old son's recent questions of profound importance:
  • What signs tell a tornado may form?
  • How do solar flares impact stuff here on Earth?
  • Who all was involved in the Manhattan Project?
  • What did my great grandparents do for a living?
Not surprisingly, we homeschool. Even less surprisingly, the majority of his time is spent in self-directed learning, exploring where his passions or interests lead.

Self-directed learning? 

  • Initiated and led by the individual, facilitated  [rather than directed or controlled] by a mentor, educator or parent.

No, I can't answer any of those profound questions of his, so I facilitate his learning as needed. But, he's pretty resourceful. Wikipedia is often the first step, Youtube, on-line articles, forums, downloading books, emailing the people directly involved [who, surprisingly, usually write back], and figuring out what he still wants or needs to learn and the direction(s) that will take him. For more advanced work, there are tutors and on-line classes.

In-depth, knowledge-retentive, multi-layered, connective LEARNING is achieved through the freedom of moving in any of the 360 degree directions a child may find necessary for him to achieve his path. Education through a linear, blinders-on, single focus goal, leaves an entire world of learning opportunities disposable to a single end goal. That goal is RARELY knowledge. It is usually a test, a paper, or other drastically limited pin-point focus.

The self-directed learning path is rarely, if ever, linear, unless short lived. It can be circular, realizing the subject has reached a level he is uncomfortable pursuing, or finding some specific sub-area he would rather concentrate upon. It can mean that he has determined that a particular path of learning is completed for him, but there are other directions to explore within the same subject. 

The path almost always branches in multiple directions at different points to gather information and return or finding some nuance within the exploration that takes off on an entirely new direction of purpose. But, above all, the learning is interconnected and directly related to an initial goal set by the individual.

He said he was doing graphic work for a computer game and started thinking about Picasso. Then he thought about how Picasso knew Einstein. He looked up some information on them. When he came to Einstein he saw a link to the Manhattan Project, of which he had only a basic understanding. Within two days he could lecture on the Manhattan Project, reciting names, dates, responsibilities of key players, interview tidbits, etc.

Through this exploration, he learned aspects of science, history, psychology, sociology, advanced reading, logic/reasoning/strategy, politics, and I'm certain other subjects, in the many hours he spent in research and study of this single topic. A learning path that all began with a random thought about Picasso. A path that I would NEVER have considered to put on a 7th grade curriculum, let alone to the level he took it.

While his main passion is programming and coding in C++, his curiosity and interest has led him in some fascinating directions. Directions that in my wildest imagination, I could not have conceived of him being interested in pursuing, and directions that no middle school curriculum would touch upon, let alone cover to the level he has pursued.

A classical piece in one of his video games caught his interest. While having been exposed to classical music, this piece spoke to him. He began to research Beethoven, who was interconnected to other composers, so other biographies were read. The information led to an understanding of the historical social and political influences upon the music and the progression of the genres.

In coding, he says he makes the most progress by making mistakes, finding them, and fixing them. I asked if he wanted to take a course in C++, but he said no, because they would tell him how to do it right, expect him to always do it right, and he'd never truly LEARN how to fix anything and everything that could go wrong. "It is through making mistakes that I realize my limitations and how to overcome them."

He tried for a few weeks to get down a 3D graphics program he began working with. He finally decided he needed help, so he began to contact the game developers that he most admired. They were independents with solid games. They gave him advice, sent him some of their early files to work with, and were very encouraging of him as a young game developer. He contacted them all on his own. He's 13, but they didn't know that, and probably didn't care. They connected with him as a colleague. 

Unfortunately, that level of drive, ambition and confidence has been taught out of most children. The fearlessness that they enter this world possessing is slowly stripped away by a constant barrage of "NO."

No, you can't touch that. No you can't do that. No you can't have that. No you can't say that. No you can't THINK that.

Yes, you may sit still and do as you are asked. Yes, you may give the correct answer so you will not be punished, reprimanded or humiliated. Yes, you may follow this particular learning path I have determined for you to follow whether it interests you, or is in your best interest...or NOT.

Parents wonder why their children escape into video games.

In video games, children are allowed to be in control, free, powerful, motivated, rewarded, and constantly moving to a higher level based upon their own learning and growth.

The need and desire for self-directed learning is innate. Even stripped down and made compliant for society, they still rebel and fight for it in the secrecy of their games.

Tags: homeschool, homeschooling, parenting, teaching, education, educating, unschooling, self-directed, learning, investigation, exploration, theme, unit, project, project-based, child-led, 

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