Tag Archives: online learning

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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Questions and the Golden Thread….



It’s October ….how is that possible….only a few days ago was the day  of the funeral….then a wonderful, beautiful time at loving relatives for a first meal without a deeply loved person….  no, it was a year ago….time passes, healing happens. 


October questions…today I asked a boy what October meant.  Learning is so strange…..a word follows a golden thread on and on….

Shorter days….the boy of summer said…”I don’t like it.  It gets cold”.  Why?  I asked.  “I’ll google it.” …. he walks over to the computer….. amazing world….I would have had to go without october knowledge….but this mere boy has the world ….. all of knowledge – well most of it…..  the Library of Congress may have less.  

“What did you find?”  ….  “Whats a Gregorian Calendar?”  was his answer?   Serendipity intervenes…..”What is a Gregorian calendar?” I respond….I get the – you aren’t going to tell me look again –  then a “wait a minute”..  

October….10th month of the Gregorian Calendar…. a calendar that came about because the Romans – actually Julius Caesar –  made a calendar …..the Julian Calendar….it was a calendar that was off by 11 1/2 minutes a year from the real passage of the sun through our glorious sky.  11 1/2 minutes….. “why would that be a big deal”  summer boy said.      

“How much time is that in a decade”?   …..   “115 minutes was the answer after a few minutes of blunt pencil scribbling…. decades became centuries……  the sixteenth century finally makes it onto the yellow pad… “How many days is 14,400 minutes?”  …..  more scribbling….furrowed brows…time passes….  “10 days?” summer boy asks with a question in his voice… “What do you think?”  I, his maddening tutor asks.   “Yea that’s it”. 

“Julius Caesar really got it wrong”.   “So, what happened” infuriating tutor asks. ….. a small smile…..  “I knew you were going to ask that”….

“Pope Gregory fixed it.”  “Who was that?”  “He was Pope in 1582 and he fixed it”….. “How?” ….  loud sigh combined with a big smile…. “He just stuck on 10 days”.  “Ok”, tutor says….. silence….”You want more?” summer boy giggles…. “Yea”……

“If a year is a century it’s a leap year if it divides by 400”.. “right”, tutor replies ….  thunder rolls, lights blink…..summer boy grabs the computer screen and says “Don’t you dare”…..

“We use this thing….now”  summer boy says with surprise….   “Why?”…. “cause it works.  It only gets off 1 day every 3,320 years”.   Summer boy does an awe inspiring pantomime of a person about to faint.


So people went to sleep on night and woke up 10 days later in 1582….. and because of that before we were through today a boy learned about the sun, the orbit of the Earth, time, math, multiplication, Pope Gregory, century upon century….more and more…hours passed…the golden thread of the question had laid out a tapestry of knowledge for summer boy and I….

Curriculum on curriculum… because  of October…. the tenth month that shares its first day with January in years that are not leap years….in those years October and January start on the same day of the week…. 

October is alone, lonely in leap years…. no month agrees to put its’ first day on the same day of the week as October….

One day in 3,320 years……Pope Gregory figured it out…. and today many summer boys would never know….

How strange is real learning when you follow the golden thread….

How wonderful are October questions…..

October…disliked by boys who love summer…..swimming, baseball, running in new-mown grass….

Questions are the golden thread of real learning.

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Home school, virtual schools, learning communities and success in education

I am happy to give an educational endeavor a plug when something right happens.  In todays’ Houston Chronicle there is an encouraging article.  The article is titled “A New Way to Learn”.  The story tells us about the Houston Independent School Districts Virtual School.   The article features a family with three children.  There are many others.  The virtual school is run by both the Houston Independent School District along with Connections Academy.  The following is the statement from Connections Academy from their website.  This is a new step in public education.  As I have said before the American public school is dead, it just doesn’t know it yet.  This is an admission that educating a child at home has advantages that cannot be duplicated in the public school.  My opinion.  I give full credit to HISD and other districts for recognizing the situation in which many public schools exist.   

Connections Academy provides a new form of free public school that students attend from home or another location outside a traditional classroom. This is a unique program that combines the strong parental involvement of home schooling, expertise and accountability, and a flexible learning environment. Connections Academy provides all the tools and support students need to learn in the non-classroom setting. We currently operate schools in many states.

Connections Academy does not charge tuition.  I should insert my disclamer here.  I have no connection of any sort to either HISD or Connections Academy.  I simply see this as a real move forward by a credible public school system that is trying to provide a viable alternative for students.  The school as it exists in Houston is called Texas Connections Academy. 

TCA is expected to serve 1000 students in grades 3 through 8.  The school is drawing students from other cities around the state.  The family featured in this article became very unhappy with what is happening in the schools their children attend.  One of the childrens teachers told the child he “wouldn’t amount to anything”.  Another child was forced to clean up urine in a school restroom.  I can vouch personally for the statement having heard classroom teachers say this many times about certain kids.  I’ve never seen a kid made to clean up human waste.  But, honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me. 

HISD is making money off this deal. 

HISD charter school coordinator LaMyrle Ituah said the district earns $7,826 a year from the state for each Connections Academy student — as long as the child completes the required courses and passes the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. HISD pays Connections Academy a smaller fee, $6,500 per child.

However, I don’t really have a problem with that in itself.  I hope the district will use the profit for student services, materials and other useful items. 

Here is what is important to me.  The children involved in this program will not be socialized to the standards of the public school.  They will not have to endure a bus ride with the menu of problems that exist on school buses.  Nor will they be at the hands of the individuals who do, in fact, tell kids that they are not going to amount to anything.  There are many, many fine teachers in the schools but I have personally observed some who have problems with kids.  They will be in the safety and comfort of their own homes where they will be able to get food, water and go to the restroom when they need to do so.  They will not be subjected to the many small humiliations that are found in the day to day workings of a public institution.  They will not be exposed to the lack of sanitation that exists in many school bathrooms and other facilities.  Nor will they come into contact with the infections that exist when thousands of people are confined in a small enclosed place.  Nor will they be exposed to the availability of drugs, the possibility of exposure to weapons or any of the myriad of other social ills that exist in our culture and our schools. 

This program will give so many students an opportunity to learn in peace, out of the way of the negative socialization, and other myriad problems that occur everyday in schools. 

Here is more evidence.  The New York Times has just published report published by SRI International that concludes that:

“On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

What an earth shaking fact.  Home schooling families have long contended that students do better in individual, family settings.  While most of the individuals studied were in adult programs the results are still fascinating in the implications for home schools where students can be out of the “village”.  The study found that students in virtual schools performed 9 percentage points better than students in face to face instruction.  My eyebrows raised when I read that the results are being reported by the Department of Education.

“The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

This indicates that online virtual schools or individual programs like home schools can provide a better fit for individual kids than classroom instruction.  The biggest growth presently is in various continuing education programs.  But, the implications for the education of children and young people are enormous.  The rapid growth of the use of computers and social networking systems will continue to aid students in helping each other. Learning communities are going to be formed between students that will allow students to give each other the real individual help needed to make rapid gains. 

This trend does anything but isolate kids.  Be ready for that criticism.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  All these programs will include forums, chat rooms, email and other means for students and teachers to communicate with each other in ways we do not yet imagine.  This is a band wagon I strongly encourage parents and students to jump on. 




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Home School encourages independence in learning and life

Imagine raising a child who is so independent that he not only graduates early from high school but then proceeds to do something almost no one else has done — sail around the world alone.  And, become the youngest person in the history of the world to sucessfully complete the journey.  Such a young man is Zac Sunderland.   There have been so many times in my career as a teacher when I looked out across a group of students sitting passively in their desks then asked myself “what could these young men and women be doing if they were not locked up here”? 

Young men and young women are capable of so much more than most people believe.  They are capable of running businesses.   Many are quite capable of making fully responsible decisions for themselves.  Most are extremely motivated to succeed when they are given the chance to work on those things which are their natural gifts.  Young people are completely capable of regulating their own habits if they have been allowed to grow up.  America now delays any opportunity for young men and women to grow up independently.  Instead we now regulate their comings and goings as if they are cattle. 

Thank God, there are young men and women like Zac Sunderland who have been given the opportunity to develop into an independent, fully developed person at an appropriate age.  Thank God also, that he had parents who provided him with the disciplinary training and sense of purpose needed to succeed independently.  A book could be written about successfully rearing kids like Zac.  I hope that his parents will write that book.  American parents and American schools need it desperately. 

Zac was home schooled online.  He is a shining example of what can be done with technology in this modern age if it is used properly.  Zac has a high school diploma as well as a great education.  But most importantly incombination with the incredible example of his parents he developed what the vast majority of young Americans will not develop —- independence, personal self-discipline, along with the knowledge that he can accomplish what he sets out to do.  His parents also appear to have instilled in Zac and his siblings a strong faith foundation. 

Zac is living proof that young people are capable of far more than we believe.  They can, in fact, follow successfully that which they see as their own destiny.  They do not have to be policed every minute of their lives.  Their time doesn’t have to be divided up into descreet 50 to 90 minute intervals designed around a completely artificial schedule of learning.  They do not have to be harrassed about their hair cuts, their shirt tails, the color of their clothing.  They are trustworthy to go to the bathroom when they need to go.  They are quite capable of going from one location to another in a building without being supervised. 

The reason so many young people have so much trouble is because their natural development into competent adults has been delayed artificially to fit factory schooling modes.  They have not been given opportunities or instructions in how to be adults.  We have kept them as infants because of our fear of them and our over-supervision of them.  Some will argue that Zac and kids like him are not the norm.  I will differ.  I think that Zac is the norm for 17 year olds in this country.  He is a properly developed young man.  I emphasize the term man.  He has been given the opportunity to develop according to the schedule God set forth for him.  As he acquired the ability to accept more responsibility his parents appear to have granted it to him until when he desired to attempt his circumnavigation of the world his parents drew a deep breath, said a prayer for their beloved son and said yes. 

Zac is part of a fortunate generation of kids whose parents chose to forgo government factory schooling to let their children develop with independence along the course of their own developmental schedule.  These are people who are themselves independent thinkers.  They are more likely to rely on themselves as well as challenge themselves to do better throughout their lives.  These are the independent, fully functioning people who have learned of the personal power with which they were endowed by God.  Their children are able to do what the government would tell them is not possible or advisable.  They make their own decisions without government hand holding.  They are complete adults who are able to run their lives successfully.  And, they rear children who become fully functional, literate and educated adults. 

Zac Sunderland’s website is located here.  Then look at your own kids.  Look at them with new eyes whether they are currently home schoolers or in public or private schools.  Think about what could be.  And then go accomplish it.

Here is the youtube video of the interviews and expressions of faith from Zac’s father and family upon his arrival home.

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