Category Archives: independent learning

Independent learning at its’ best…

Tomorrow on Saturday the 23, I am giving myself a learning gift.  I am going to participate in a seminar on Creativity with Dr. Karen Royer. 

Dr. Royer is a specialist in the use of creativity to enrich lives, point new directions and provide new directions in learning.  This is independent learning at its best… giving yourself the gift of growth…

Look for opportunities to give yourself such wonderful gifts… for they are at the core of what we who are trying to fulfil our gifts are doing. 

I’ll be posting about this beautiful experience in the next Independent Learning and Homeschooling….

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Reflective Learning Journals

Information processing…  A concept that is so, so important but so limited in our busy world…. So what do we do to add to our information processing….our number crunching… our mental data filing.  Well there is something magical about the hands… there is almost no learning that does not involve the hands in some way… there is a message in this…

Writing… drawing… coloring… cutting… pasting… all can be part of an information processing strategy… The best examples of this kind of journal can be found by studying the way some of the most awesome minds in the history of the world learned.  Consider the journals of Leonardo…

Leonardo’s journals included everything… he did studies of zoology,  human anatomy,  drafts of writings,  diagrams of weapons, studies for his great artworks….he literally wrote down every thought he had in the course of his life… They are fascinating to look at for their diversity of thought and creativity…. they are essentially trains of thought as they occurred to him… in great detail….

So how do we use this idea… first get a good journal… I like Moleskin journals because I just can’t seem to tear them up…  Get one for every discipline you are studying..  One of my great friends has a journal in which he has his essential knowledge… quotes… formulas… drawings… and so much else…

As you read, think, study, or reflect, write down every thought you have no matter how seemingly unimportant…. then follow it if it seems to lead somewhere else….

Write down every question you have about the subject…don’t be shy…Leonardo constantly referred to his lack of learning…write down questions that come from reading… those that come from reflections… as well as those that may seem silly…

Write down things you are trying to remember… there is something magic about the hand… in writing is processing… amazing things happen when one writes down questions…. facts… learnings….

Then answer your questions….  you will find that one answer to a question leads to another question… then another and another… until you have learned as much as someone who took several courses in the discipline…

If you are a writer… write down things about your characters that you may need later… never trust your memory… a good idea drifts off into space so quickly you can’t imagine.  

Include articles you find… cut them out and paste them in… then write their significant points in the journal… draw their significant points…. outline them… but whatever you do.. just work the material… so it will be digested….

Don’t worry …. in this process you will find that you wake up each day with more understanding… the more information you collect the greater your mental database will grow….

Cut pictures from magazines, journals, books,,, (your books)  and paste these into your journals with captions that explain to your their meaning… to you not to someone else….to you…

Draw your concepts… forget artistry if you aren’t an artist… try to get as close as possible… just work a concept until you have learned it…. don’t study it… work it… process it… play with it… just run it through your mind without fear that you wont learn…. you…will…learn….

Reflect… take time to write a couple of pages that consolidate what you are learning in one place.  Your wonderful brain will absorb this material… you will also find that this form of reflection will point out what you don’t know…

Set aside a few pages to write lists or goals about things to do to learn more about your subject. 

If your discipline works with photography, travel to take pictures of locations, collect and photography samples… the act of hunting for samples will force you to explore….

Explore and note what you find… travel, research, go to libraries… make notes… carry your notebook with you where you go on your hunt… I cannot imagine that Leonardo traveled without his notebooks. 

Reflect, collect, write, record…. and learn…. journaling is one of your best independent or home school learning tools…..

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Too much, the great dumbing down and the revolution that followed.

And in the end we finally destroyed our educational power by believing that which was false, that which was wrong, and that which did not fit human development.  In the years before the complete collapse of education in the United States our leaders made the mistake of believing that it was enough that a student be “introduced” to every type of knowledge in the world.  We set up high stakes tests that no one in history had to pass that covered literally everything in the knowledge base that our students had been exposed to for the twelve-year sentence our society gave to our kids. 

We believed the statisticians and the so-called education researchers who designed high stakes testing for us.  And we paid them millions for their services.  They designed tests that let one or two questions represent entire important bodies of knowledge.  And we listened to so-called experts who dictated what they told us we had to know whether our kids were going to be doctors, or entrepreneurs, or interior designers or whatever. 

We were foolish and daft enough to let “experts” tell us that you could tell anything from a one test snapshot of a students knowledge on school directed curriculum.  Then when that didn’t work we sought to improve “test scores” by emphasizing the same thing in a more difficult and demanding fashion. 

And soon parents began to vote with their feet.  They began to leave the public schools in droves.  It was becoming apparent that you don’t have to have a degree or a certificate to help a child learn.  It turned out that much of what parents had been told about their children’s negative behavior in school was really positive behavior out of school.  Parents soon became to realize that they were medicating their children into stupors only for the schools, not for the children. 

And so the great rebellion began.  Parents began to take their kids out of government schools in droves.  They did this because education had become arrogant.  Theirs was the only way, the way to educational Valhalla.  And no one without a teaching certificate could teach anyone anything. 

Parents didn’t stop.  They began to leave in huge numbers realizing that what the schools had been doing they could be doing by themselves with their children, unmedicated, and at home.  When kids started going to school at later ages and specializing earlier the behavior problems went away.  The prescriptions for Ritalin and other drugs were stopped.  And as the leaders looked at the kids, they didn’t see the success they fought back with laws, taxes and regulations.

They did this until they painted the people into a corner.  And then first one parent said “Not my kid.  My child was given to me by God. This is my child, not the state’s child.  Then others rose to join the chorus so soon the air was filled with the voices of parents who were not going to take it anymore.  And so, let the revolution begin… let parents vote with their feet.  Let them leave the public system.  For the public system seeks to create good little workers who believe in the power and the right of the state.  Just remember that the philosophy has now changed from the premise that our kids belong to the government to the premise that our kids were given to us by God to care for, to love and take care of ourselves.  It is time to tell the statists to take a walk.  Let’s do this together. 

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Inadequate Textbooks, Homeschooling and open education

Recently, I posted an entry on developing custom personal “textbooks” by collecting content from the internet.  I was very gratified when that post was picked up by Openeducationnews.org.  When I clicked over to their link I discovered another excellent article titled Illusion of Quality in K-12 textbooks written by Jane Park.  This event was extremely rewarding to me but it was also a perfect example of why I advocate the use of personally developed research oriented material rather than the use of textbook-like materials. 

The publication of my thoughts led me to discover information that provides a more complete foundation for my post. That is at the heart of what occurs in true independent learning.  It also extends the post with new information that I can use to learn along with anyone else who reads it and then follows the links provided.  Another wonderful benefit of this even was that I was introduced to writers working on the same concepts from whom I can extend my reach. 

That is what learning is like in the real world. 

Most often after what we think of as formal schooling we learn far more through the interwoven networks of our real work interactions and real research.  By research I include any and all learning in any field of endeavor from developing skill in a trade to practicing medicine.  All learning should be thought of as a practice. 

All of that post-school learning is motivated intrinsically within us thus it is retained.  I will never forget Jane Parks’ article because my mind was in what I refer to as the “Learning Mindset”.  

The Learning Mindset happens when we are involved in work that has meaning to us.  That is why so many people, if they are honest with themselves, readily admit they remember almost nothing they learned in school except that which they use in their lives. 

An example of the worst found in the thought of education reformers taken right out of the current debate on education can be found in the January 2010 U. S. News and World Report in an article titled “The Extreme School Makeover”.  The article makes the stunning statement that under President Obama’s education proposals seniors “could be expected to solve problems such as – if there are 8 x 10 to the 12th power hydrogen molecules in a volume of 4 x 10 to the 4th power cubic centimeters, what is the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?”   Forgive me for I don’t know how to do superscripts in Wordpress.   To me this immediately begs the question why would the average citizen ever need to know how to figure the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?  And, why would we expect any student not bound for a career in a field in which that arcane problem is useful remember it past the test?  Ask any senior why they need to know that information.  They will answer “I need it for the test”. 

Congratulations the most powerful government on the face of the Earth has labored mightily to lay another rotten egg. 

This is an example of why education is failing.  That question is one constructed by a committee of individuals who sat down to construct the ideal knowledge set to be learned by the ideal student.  They probably asked themselves this inane question as I once did on a similar committee; “what should the high school graduate look like”?  That’s a quote from the task set before the committee on which I served.  That day was one of the turning points in my outlook on how education is done in this country.  

After a while I realized that “the” high school graduate should look nothing like any other high school graduate.  Some will most certainly look like future engineers, chemists or medical doctors.  But others will look like writers, journalists or anchors.  Some will look like diesel mechanics, transmission specialists, entrepreneurs and carpenters.  Others will look like biologists, foresters or any of the untold professions that can be found among human beings.  Further, each graduate will look different because they are not mass-produced objects put together on some obscene human assembly line. 

To look at students any other way is to deny their individuality inherent to each one.  That is why learning materials need to fit the individual rather than some ideal group.

Then the committee, more then likely, set out to brainstorm the things this ideal graduate would be able to “know and do”.   That particular requirement given in U. S News came from some list of abstractions sewn together by such a committee like some Frankensteinian freak.   All such requirements could now  be required of every innocent child born in America .  Absurdity on absurdity.   

Tragically, this is how commercial textbooks are written.  The time to blaze a new trail has long since passed.   Constructing custom resources using the internet is useful for a number of reasons. Very carefully selected and modified commercial materials can also be useful.  But, here are a number of thoughts on why I advocate constructing personal materials.   

  • The information you find using quality sources will be current. 
  • An internet based “textbook” can be changed in a heartbeat.  If something doesn’t work change it.  It isn’t required curriculum.
  • The information you find will be specifically fitted for what you or a child needs now.
  • The information you select will be relevant to what a child or independent learner needs to learn.
  • One thing I did not emphasize in the last post was the value of involving independent learners in the development of the material.  Doing so will increase what is retained because it will be meaningful. 
  • Questions will lead to other questions
  • Intrinsic interest will be high. 
  • As material is discovered and learned neural pathways in the brain will develop due to intrinsic interest.
  • As the materials are discovered new questions will arise opening new pathways.
  • Research skills which are intrinsically useful will be developed in a natural way just as carpenters and machinists can work with fractions as if they were born with the skill.  Those trades use fractions every moment of the day.  They can’t help but learn fractions. 
  • The material will be learned because it is discovered personally and “worked” personally.  It isn’t assigned. 

The simple reason that most of us don’t learn material that is simply assigned, even if we made 100’s on the assignments, was that our minds were not “personally” engaged by it.  We were fulfilling someone elses goal.

We learn the things that are personally meaningful, fit our God-given gifts, fit our God ordained developmental pathways and have meaning to our particular lives. 

I won’t try to outline what Jane Park wrote so well in her article.  Please read Jane Park’s brilliant article for yourself  here.

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Developing internet Textbooks for home schooling or independent learning

I’ve been a few days since the last post.  My job as a teacher at the end of a semester takes up a lot of time from writing.  But that’s the way it should be.  But I’m back and inspired.

Organizing data….. one of the most useful things a home schooler, or distance learner can do.  There are ever more sophisticated techniques to collect information and organize it. 

Perhaps you or your child is about to take up the study of  weather.  You might want to call your book Internet Weather.  Immediately begin to design your course of study.  I you are like many people you will need some direction to understand exactly what you want to cover or understand what needs to be covered. 

Search for a syllabus for weather on Google or Bing.  You will have several thousand come up.  Now you decide how technical you want to go.  I actually like to use a notebook to list topic headings.  I find cutting and pasting to be something I don’t want to do all day. 

Look for a syllabus or topic arrangement that splits the topics into a logical hierarchy.  As you go through the links from your search look for topics that might have been left out of your first topic list. 

The next thing to do is to start the internet textbook.  Start a page in Word, Publisher, or a Webpage.  Google Documents are wonderful as are other open office suites on the web.  Place your major topic headings in place on the first page of your document.

After you have placed your major topic headings label them as chapters.  Then begin to accumulate links that contain information relevant to the chapter.  As you continue this process you will begin to understand even more what you need to include. 

I have included an example of one on weather that I created as a reference.  This particular one isn’t complete but you will be able to see the process and get the idea.  This really isn’t hard.  And doing this can save you a tremendous amount of money in the long run.  You can choose to leave it on the document as a set of links or print it out.

A Weather Textbook

 

by
 
John J. McGeough
 
 
The development of internet self-study resources is going to become an important skill in the future of independent education.  The purpose of this document is to function as an experiment in the development of a personal study textbook. 
 
Introduction
 
      A.  USA Today Fronts
 
    B. Guide to science of the atmosphere
 
    C. Time as it is used by weather resources….
        z time
 
1. Reading weather maps online….
 
2. Earth’s Atmosphere
    a. Atmospheric density
    b. The Greenhouse Effect
    c.  Earths Atmospheric structure diagram
    d. Earths atmospheric layers explained 
   e.  Earths atmosphere links from eMints
 
3. The Seasons
 
    a.      What causes the seasons? 
    b.      Activities for the seasons.
    c.      Another view of the seasons. 
 
4. Solar and Terrestrial Radiation
 
    a.    Basics of solar radiations effect on Earth’s weather.
    b.    Solar radiation and the earth’s atmosphere
    c.     NOAA Space Weather and relation to Earth’s weather
 
5. atmospheric Heat and Temperature
 
    a.  The Earths atmosphere and heat
    b.  Atmospheric heat
    c.  Methods of heat transfer in the atmosphere
    
6. Atmospheric Moisture
 
    a.  Atmospheric moisture and the Earth
         
 
    
7. Atmospheric stability and instability
 
    a.  Weather and water page
    b.  Atmospheric stability and instability
    
8. Condensation and precipitation
     
    a.  Atmospheric condensation and precipitation
     b.  types of precipitation
     c.  Forms of precipitation
    
9. Atmospheric pressure and wind
 
    a.  Atmospheric pressure and wind demonstrations
     b.  Atmospheric pressure makes the wind blow
     c.  Air pressure and wind
 
10.  Global Atmospheric Circulation
 
        a.  Global atmospheric circulation
           b.  Global atmospheric circulation animation
           c.  Global scale circulation
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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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