Monthly Archives: November 2009

Organizing information you collect for your learning project

Many years ago, long before my adventure into woodworking, I was fascinated by the idea of information.  I wanted to learn ways to organize it, categorize it and keep it in a manner so that I could access it anytime I wanted.  More importantly I wanted a way to keep a sensible record of the learning projects that I undertook.  I wanted a way to actually organize a notebook into a course of study as I went along learning about a subject.  I soon found out that every subject or discipline or skill lent itself to a particular way of organizing.

Notebooks and organization

Woodworking seemed to become a collection of photocopied articles and notes.  For this I used two things.  The first was a Moleskin gridded notebook.  I love these notebooks because they are almost impossible to tear up regardless of the abuse I give them.  I am in the habit of carrying one or two of them around with me at all times.   I start off by numbering the pages from 1 to the last page.  Then I reserve the first 5 to 8 pages for a Table of Contents.  As I read a book I make notes from the book in the gridded notebook.  I will either block quote or summarize what I have just read.  When I had finished a relevant section or something that I felt stood by itself I made a note of it in the table of contents.  So as I made notes on my reading or lectures I heard I had a complete record and easy way to find them using the Table of Contents.  In addition to notes I would write down thoughts, draw ideas for projects, or draw things I saw.  I also placed photographs into the book.  Each one, of course, was entered into the Table of contents.  In the beginning I tried to glue photocopied articles into the Moleskin notebooks.  But that proved unworkable as I accumulated a large set of photocopied and scanned materials.  So I decided to get a good three-ring binder for the articles. 

Three Ring Binders for photocopies and scans

When I purchased a three-ring binder I did the same thing first.  I placed several sheets of notebook paper in the front to work as a Table of Contents.  Then when I included a photographed article I numbered the pages of the article as I hole punched them to be placed in the binder.  As I placed the articles in I would add them into the Table of Contents with their title and page number.  I didn’t try to organize the articles by any type of theme or subject division in the beginning.  I found that i generally knew which notebook or which three-ring binder contained what.  I always made a title page with general lists of information to be found in the notebook or binder.  In that way I kept all of the information I was using organized. 

Should you use a computer to do this?

I have to confess that I am almost a complete computer geek.  If there is something I can do on a computer then I will do it.  But, when it came to the notebooks and the binders of articles.  I decided to keep the physical materials.  First, the electronics of a notebook computer and the dust in a woodshop make horrible playmates.  Secondly, while I often have a computer with me I often find it inconvenient to actually use.  There is the reality of battery life.  Then I always feel paranoid if I have to walk away from the computer in a library or some other public place.  A notebook can be easily carried as can a three-ring binder.  I’ve found that for every learning project I wind up with a notebook of hand notes – always a large gridded Moleskin.  By the way, I am in no way affiliated with Moleskin products.  They are just wonderful products that seem to meet my needs. 

The Calendar

I always carried an academic year calendar with me to note everything I do from getting up to going to bed.  I also use it to plan days but it becomes almost a journal.  I enter what I do when I do it.  I also make notes of conversations, locations, travel times and everything else in the calendar.  Within a short time you will find it to be indispensible.  My only criteria for my calendars is that they must show the day in hours.  When my mother became ill during the last weeks of her life, I kept notes of everything in the calendar.  When I spoke to the doctor or nurse about my moms condition I made a note of the conversation.  That saved the day on several occasions when someone said to me I didn’t say that.  I would just open the calendar and show them what they had said.  It also becomes a complete listing of everything you do during any given day.  If you are working this can become evidence of what you are doing on the job.  For a child, getting in the habit of keeping a record of your actions is invaluable training.  I now have many years of these notebooks.  They are fascinating to go back and look at what I was doing at a particular date and time.

The Tie between the articles and the notebook…

Most often I would also have notes about the article in each of the notebooks.  So if that were the case I would make a note of where to find the article in the three rings.  I was also careful to make notes about the books so I would have complete bibliography information.

No need for formal training for most things.

By using this system you will soon have your own texts written.  You will have accumulated a personal store of knowledge that will be beyond compare.  You will also be much more knowledgeable and organized than 99 out of 100 people in the US.  In  the next few blogs I am going to talk about how to organize a course of study so that you can design your own personal coursework and keep records so that you have a possibility of getting credit. 

I will also show you how to put this all on computer so that it can be digitalized and backed up.

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Learning projects as the key to independent learning

We all learn what we must by creating our own content.  By this I mean that sitting through a lecture is passive.  We learn by doing.  So much of what we do in our work is learned through our work.  I know it is entirely possible to teach yourself virtually anything.  I’ve done it many times.  Most of what I know I was introduced to in school at best.  The real learning took place when I began to “practice” the skills as a teacher.  The best learning skill I stumbled across was trying to break down things I was to teach so they could be understood by my students.   My students learned a little.  I mastered my subject. 

A few years ago I decided that I wanted to buy new end tables to go with a new sofa I had purchased.  I had just moved into a new house.  Furnishing it on a limited budget was proving to be a challenge.  Everything I looked at that I liked was out of my price range.  Everything I looked at that was in my price range was, frankly, junk.  I was completely frustrated.  But, a peculiar thing had just happened.  I had seen the movie called “The Edge”.  In the movie the main characters are trapped in the wilderness after a plane crash.  They are then pursued by a killer bear.  The point of telling you about the movie is that a line in the movie helped resolve my end table problem as well as giving me a way to add to my income substantially.  At one desperate point in the movie the main character says to another character trying to goad him into going on the line “what one man can do, another man can do”.  He repeats it again and again.  He makes the secondary character yell the phrase until he is pumped up enough to go on. 

So, standing in a furniture store I recalled that line from the movie.  I started looking at the end table I liked.  I turned it over, examined it from every angle and decided that this was something I should be able to build.  To that point I had never cut a piece of wood in my life.  So I set myself a problem.  I would become a woodworker.  I went to a bookstore looking for books on woodworking.  I bought several.  Then I spent the next two or three weeks reading everything I could about woodwork.  I went to woodworking stores with a picture of the end table I wanted.  The guy in the store said “first you build a box”.  Of course, I then asked him how to build a box as well as what tools I would need to build one.  He took me to a cabinet in the store.  First, he took the drawers out which he explained were open boxes.  Then he showed me the frame of the cabinet which turned out to be, guess what, a box that had a simple support structure for the drawers.  Then he showed me a copy of a magazine that had a plan for end tables, a dresser and a bed.  I asked him what I needed at the bare minimum to complete the job.  I bought a basic table saw and a couple of hand tools.  I had a number of tools at home in my garage that I inherited from my father. 

I studied the plans until I had them memorized.  Then I bought some oak plywood along with a couple of oak boards as the plan specified.  Within a week I had my two end tables made that were stronger than anything I had found in the store.  Today much of the furniture in my house is my work.  I also sell custom furniture.  Soon I learned to do other types of woodwork which I now sell at shows and through galleries.  My work is in homes all over the country.  Later I took a few classes which taught me new techniques.  But for the most part I simply ran into a problem then found a solution. 

I had embarked on what has become a life-long learning project that has furnished my home as well as giving me a substantial second income.  In that way I learned woodworking to the point where I am able to build virtually anything I want to have in my house.  I’ve also learned how to make it look as good as that which can be found in fine furniture stores.  In the process after the initial addition of some tools I have saved thousands of dollars on furnishings.   So, this is how you learn… 

First, set yourself a problem.

Then identify what you need to know to solve the problem.  I will outline how to do this in future entries in this series of posts.

Follow through with a plan while you learn by doing. 

Change course when needed. 

Add layers of complexity to your skill set as you go. 

Continue to do so until you are a master at the particular skill you are trying to learn. 

Remember that a learning project can be small or large.  A learning project can be easy or seriously complicated.  But you can teach yourself virtually anything while getting help from instructors when needed as you go along.  Most of what you do will be researched from the web or other print sources. 

In this way you can learn anything.  We will examine these processes in detail as we go along.  I invite you to stay with me on this journey in the discovery of how we really learn. 

And, you will do most of it at home.   

What we do with young people is almost completely passive.  They sit attempting to receive information in a way that is completely alien to the way people actually learn.  One cannot learn to ride a bicycle listening to detailed instructions being given about how to sit on the bike, how to move the pedals or how to steer.  One has to get on the bicycle to learn to ride.   Similarly, you can’t learn to swim without getting wet.  Kids can’t learn to swim by standing on the side of the pool practicing strokes.  They have to get into the water to actually apply the principles they must use to swim.

There are several things mature learners can do to ensure that they master what they want to know.  Parents working with home school kids can guide their children in duplicating what a mature, efficient learner will do.

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The creation of wonder

Read me here today….

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Keeping up with your home schooled child while you are away…

Single parenting may be one of the hardest things anyone can take on. It is a task best-managed by two people .  But that is not always possible.  The extended family and good friends can provide endless help.  But, tThere are so many single parents who are just trying to keep bread on the table for their kids.  How can a single working parent home school their children?

Today, I am going to limit myself to situations where the child is old enough or mature enough to stay alone. I am one of those who still believe the world is basically a safe place without monsters behind every tree. I could be proven wrong today, but I am going to pray that my beliefs will be proven true. I also believe it is good for a child to be allowed to take on more responsibility early in their lives.

Home schooling families are generally ones who have many friends. They are actually the families involved in many things outside of the home. Many have trusted neighbors close who may home school. They may also have elders close who might not mind looking in on the kids or at least making a phone call. The most important part of all this is that the child feel safe and is safe when left alone. They should feel that there are other adults to whom they can turn. So if you have trusted neighbors you might try asking them to either check in on the kids or make phone calls at some regular time. They don’t have to live really close to make a phone call. Often all that would be needed would be a simple call to be sure things are ok and on track. A family member might also be willing to do this at a certain time each day. There are also home school consultants who will call to check on your children. They will do this for a fee. What they do is call the child to make sure everything is ok, then call, text or email the parents to let them know how the child is handling the day. Often work places will not allow parents to make such calls.  Because of this, more services are becoming available to parents along with bonded tutors who can be trusted to work with your child when you are not around. All that can take place right in the home.

Please remember that we are really talking about here is the trust you have in your child as well as the safety of the surroundings. But having said that there are other ways parents can keep up with their kids. Cell phones are now nearly ubiquitous. Many of the devices have GPS systems installed in them. This allows the parent to track where their kid is if they have the phone on them. When you discuss these things with your child you may want to assure them that the point is not to keep up with the child but to assure yourself that the child is safe and sound. Having the child phone or text you at certain times of the day to verify what they are doing and where they are will also give you much piece of mind. One easy thing to do is to have the child take a picture of themselves in the house or where they are supposed to be at particular times during the day with their phone. They can then send these pictures to you by mms or by email to let you know where they are. They can bear a time and date stamp. The same thing can be easily done with the web cam and a chat program where you can establish and internet link to talk to the child and see what they are doing. There are a number of services that will do this for you.

Some parents install internet ready cameras in their homes so they can keep up with what is happening over the internet.  This is becoming very common among people who take care of the elderly.  Many care givers who do not want to place an elder person into a permanent care situation will simply install small web cams around the house so they are able to check on their elders.  Many of these systems can be installed so that you can actually talk to your child over the cam system.  It is entirely possibly now to keep up with what is going on in the house from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Many parents choose to involve themselves in a Co-op where children can be left during the day for a fee. The child will do their home schooling assignments, be in the company of other children and adults until you are free to pick up the child again. Many churches are now beginning to figure this out as a way to make extra income or become involved in a home school ministry by providing a place where kids can be while their parent is away.  Check with local home school associations or other home schoolers to track these services down.

If you don’t have a formal co-op perhaps it would be possible to get several trusted families together to provide needed supervision during times you cannot be at home.

Other solutions would be an alarm system that includes a panic feature. But with a reliance on family, friends, and other home school families you will most likely be able to manage well.

There are also excellent churches that sponsor classes for home schooled kids and supervised study halls. Perhaps the best place to start a search for these organizations would be a local home school association or home school stores in your area. A number of stores also have classes and supervised activities.

However, all of that may be unneeded if you feel your child is responsible or if you can check in with your child during the day or the time you are gone. All that leaves you with is the need to organize assignments. When I was a child I loved to organize myself. I even made a schedule out for myself from about the fifth grade. Yes, I was a strange child. That being said every child has a particular need for organization. Some need more while others need less organization.

I like systems that provide everything in one place that a student will need to work on a particular assignment while the parent is away. Some parents use shoe boxes, other use file boxes. One of the best systems is Sue Patrick’s Work Box System. Sue has created an organization system that is bar none as good as anything I have seen. You can find Sue’s materials here

You, of course, know your child better than anyone. You know how much independence your child can accept. I was by myself a tremendous amount when my mother worked after my father passed away. I was fine at those times because I had organized things to do. Remember there is always a solution to every problem. If I can be of help in any way brainstorming solutions or helping you figure out what to do, drop me an email here. There is a solution to every problem.

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Independent learning video series….

Please take time to watch this series of videos in order to understand what it is you are trying to do as an independent learner. Even though these videos are aimed at the school maket but they apply to indendent learners as well. 

 

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Designing a course of study…… creating your own learning

So where do we start on this journey…this grand endeavor… independent learning….
Perhaps planning for a child….perhaps planning for ourselves…..

What shall I learn? Shall I learn the esoteric areas of math….the exactness of chemistry…. the love of poetry…. the expression and emotion of writing….. So where shall I start?

Topics…. every discipline is an organ system of topics… some are the baseline…some build frameworks….some finish out the structure so it has a home….in your cortex….

Shall we say we will study a science… shall we say chemistry…. start in the manner of the engineer…. look for a foundation upon which to build a framework….

Search the topics that define the science of chemistry…. visit libraries where you will look at tomes of chemistry often long past….visit used book stores pick up a text…. do a computer search for topics in chemistry… syllabus for chemistry will go a long way…. search for chemistry curriculum…. eventually you will have the fundamentals of the subject…. easy as that…

Then write a list…. melding together the various chemistry detritus you have accumulated from your searches… bring them together into a list…. instantly you have a syllabus… a key to knowledge… a combination to a lock that may have been locked to you sense childhood… or perhaps you are a young person designing your own chemistry course… how Einstein would have done it…

Make a notebook…. a three-ring binder is true to the task….I like Moleskin Journals myself…I like the feel and the smell… the smell of knowledge…. number each of the pages front and back until you have reached the end of the journal….

Title the first page Table of Contents….. leave the next 10 pages for contents….then list your accumulated syllabus… from beginning to end… don’t worry about order now… it will change…. that is why I am going to ask you to skip two lines when you are putting your topic notes down… so you can add later if you find you left a gaping hole in the knowing of chemistry….

Now tackle the first topic on page the second page after the Table of Contents ends…. Title the top of the page with the topic… then begin your glorious search…. The topic might be “What is Chemistry?” …record the page for “What is Chemistry? in the Table of contents after the entry….you’ve started a book …… search everything you can… encyclopedias… dictionaries… the internet … enter exactly those words in the search box…. knowledge will rumble up as a volcano… record everything that strikes you …. write it down…type it down…. as some have already decided you may not want to do this in a physical book, but you have decided to write in electrons….using a word processor or a publishing program where you can bring in pictures, link videos… the possibilities are endless….

Go on in that manner…. next topic….then the next…. soon you have learned what is chemistry… then the periodic table… then molarity… there is not end to this study…..

When you go from one section to another section leave space for your expanding cerebral cortex….that magnificent frontal lobe that is the keeper of logic….of knowledge….

Soon you will know more and better the subject of chemistry than those poor souls who only read their textbook…. for you wrote yours…. and having written it you will never forget it….

Do this with every subject you encounter….no cost….no expensive curricular programs…..only learning as nature would have it…. exploration…. unschooling in the purest sense….. following your nose until you have ferreted out all the possible chemical knowledge there is to ferret….

Here is independent learning at it’s best… homemade… assembled as needed… when the last topic is understood…

Should you need practice problems…. don’t worry about buying a workbook…. search for “practice problems in stoichiometry”… or some such as it is at the time…

They will come up directly to you out of the electron universe…. you will be educating yourself as real scientists educate themselves… after they are finished with their dry Ph. D’s…. when they are finally free to learn as they want to learn… but you…. you…. will have learned as you wanted to learn from the beginning…. knowing more than those who were handed their curriculum….told to go home and read…. go home and study….

But you…..you were the gardener of your mind, the keeper of the seed…..you tilled the ground…. you planted the seeds…. you watched as the harvest grew…then you reaped the harvest you deserved… for we all harvest that which we reserve….

No test will have any terror for you… no entrance exam or essay… for you constructed your house yourself…. you know it almost as well as the men and women who discovered it..

Let not you heart be troubled if you haven’t the money to buy complete curriculum units…. as long as there are libaries….as long as libraries have computers you have all the equipment you need for the task….

Later you will wonder how to do experiments…. isn’t lab important….yes it is… but we will solve that problem too….

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Some inspirational links for independent learners and technology…

Today I decided I would like to show you some things that may interest independent learners if you ever get discouraged about being in the new technology generation..

<a href='’ >object><a href='’ >Did you know

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