Tag Archives: learning project

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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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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Give your life to a purpose, passionate living, home school, independent learning

I have a great challenge for you tonight.  What do you want to give your life for.  No, I’m not talking about dying a noble death.  I’m talking, no, I’m asking you to find something worth living for, not dying for.  I want you to find one or more passions; things worth spending your life doing or learning about.  Something worth dreaming about for hours during the day.  A thing worth planning years ahead, plotting, laying out a trail to lead to a golden end.   I have three.  First, the life of the mind takes center stage.  How do we actually learn.  Why is it that so few of us live exciting intellectual lives when I believe that most of us could live a passionate intellectual life.  And, on the practical side of it.  How do kids best learn.  I am convinced it’s not at school for most kids.  For me, school was a 12 year long prison sentence.  As  a teacher I work everyday of my life to try to make schools – or at least my little corner of the school world into a vibrant place that young people love.  Second, I practice two arts; photography and woodworking.  They are my connections to sanity as well as an extra income stream.  I am fascinated by the beauty of transcendent craft in wood.  The beauty of an artfully produced photograph always stuns me.  I drift from one to the other.  The third is bird watching.  Bird watching is as much a connection to God as the church.  In birds I see the magnificence of His creation.  I see the infinite variety, infinate adaptations, transcendent colors and the thing I dream about most – flight.  The photography, the woodwork, and the bird watching are for me.  The study of the mind as well as how it learns is for the world.  I want you to find something to change the world. 

Egotistic you say?  Not at all.  The field I have set for myself is impossible.  How people learn, how they make knowledge their own, then grow into experts is so hard a mine to explore that I will not live long enough to make a change I fear.  That is probably one of my greatest nightmares; that I know I will die before I have learned it all or made the difference I want to make to kids and other people who are trying to learn.   Not all people do learn.  Some shut down after the 12 year prison sentence that school was for me.   They never want to pick up a pen or pencil again because we have squeezed the guts out of the pleasure.  By the time many kids get out of school they find themselves ready to cast away the vestments of school to run as far away as possible.  To be naked of school is their goal.  But so many never find the joy out of school.  These unfortunates have been so convinced that learning cannot be a thing of transcendent joy that they look upon learning as a child looks upon vomit.  So they run, ridicule and resist any further intellectual life.  They have had enough.  They have fed at the table of knowledge and found it poisonous. 

What I am asking you to do, if you are one of the   many who have started to follow these electronic scribblings, is to find a new passion.  It’s there.   Somewhere in the darkest, cobweb infested mind there is a corner where a dim flame still burns waiting for holy breath to blow it into raging flame.  You had something you wanted to learn to do, or say, or perform at one time.  When you were a little child still resisting the poison of industrial education you still had it.  You looked at it with love.  Perhaps it was a love for a subject or a project that was so deep it went beyond love into obsession. 

You will find something to take out of that corner which can be dusted, made new and shiny, ready to be loved again.  You will find something as beautiful as I find discovering what it is that really, genuinely brings out that passion in a child.  That passion that says I have to do this thing or I will just wilt.  My life will die.  Look around you on your commuter train or look from your car.  Look at the faces of those going to work at jobs where they will labor with a sense of quiet desperation.  Perhaps you are one of those.  Stop it!  At least devote some of your time to the thing that makes your soul soar to the Heavens when you are doing it.  I’m not telling you to quit your job.  No, but, I am telling you to become an independent learner with a purposeful life seeking to add to human knowledge. 

Eric Hoffer discovered his passion.  Hoffer wrote ten books while he labored as a longshoreman.  His “True Believer” which set the standard in the social science study of self-esteem as it effects fanatical movements.  While he labored on the docks he contemplated the rise of totalitarianism and the loss of the self.  His postulate was that fanaticism had its gnarled, arthritic claws firmly planted in self-hatred, self-hate and insecurity.  All of this Hoffer did with little formal education and a labor job on the docks.  Eric Hoffer is now a major figure looked up to in the social sciences.  Had he let himself believe that he was less worthwhile for lacking the college degrees and the paper expertise of the dilettante, he would never have changed the course of American social thought. 

Frans Lanting is a photographer.  He discovered his passion in the Albatross.  These magnificent seabirds of the deep oceans are slowly yielding their secrets to Lanting.  He has made photographing them, documenting their lives his life’s work.  As he developed his photographic skills he came back to them over and over.  He is now the leading photographer of this magnificent species as well as one of the world’s foremost experts on the Albatross.  All through his pursuit of photography he intended to show the world the magnificence of the bird he loves.

Don’t live a life of quiet desperation.  Discover your passion.  Perhaps you left it years ago feeling that I can’t make a living at that.  You were probably wrong.  But, for whatever reason, you left it.  Maybe you wanted to become a premier doctor in some medical field. And maybe the time of medical school has passed you.  But you can still form a foundation to raise money for the field.  You can still write scholarly articles and books to help the laymen understand what it is that you want them to know about your passion in medicine.  You can also help them by writing passionately about the disease from which they may suffer.

In the next while we are going to explore how to do this.  We are going to look for a life project.  This will be something that will be significant to you perhaps to no one else.  It doesn’t matter.  You are going to use your full talents for something that will give life meaning to you.  Give your life a renewed purpose, a new hope, a new direction.  Pick your field, master it and make it your own.  Thousands of men, women and young people such as yourselves have done this without the Ph.D.’s  Don’t be intimidated by the terminal degrees.  Often these degrees take the joy out of the hunt for the people who earn them.  They focus so finely on one small swatch of the fabric of their discipline that soon they may know the most about nothing among all the experts in the world.  Being the master of a cubic  centimeter is not a match for having a broad understanding and feeling for the width and breadth of a whole discipline.  Hang on for the ride is going to be fun and bumpy.   But what a ride it will be. It will be the ride of your lifetime – a lifelong learning project to take you down roadways yet unknown.

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