Let The Students Teach
Last night I read An Unschooling Manifesto by Dave Pollard. It's a very inspiration post and well worth reading. I don't know enough about the unschooling movement to know if I should get behind it or not. But so much of what Dave says rings true to me. I particularly like this part:
pilot a program called "independent study", that allowed any student
maintaining at least an 80% average on term tests in any subject (that
was an achievement in those days, when a C — 60% — really was the
average grade given) to skip classes in that subject until/unless their
grades fell below that threshold. There was a core group of 'brainy'
students who enrolled immediately. Half of them were the usual boring
group (the 'keeners') who did nothing but study to maintain high grades
(usually at their parents' behest); but the other half were creative,
curious, independent thinkers with a natural talent for learning. The
chance to spend my days with this latter group, unrestricted by school
walls and school schedules, was what I dreamed of, so I poured my
energies into self-study.
To the astonishment of everyone, including myself, I did very well at
this. By the end of the first month of school my average was almost
90%, and I was exempted from attending classes in all my subjects. I'd
become friends with some members of the 'clique' I had aspired to join,
and discovered that, together, we could easily cover the curriculum in
less than an hour a day, leaving the rest of the day to discuss
philosophy, politics, anthropology, history and geography of the third
world, contemporary European literature, art, the philosophy of
science, and other subjects not on the school curriculum at all. We
went to museums, attended seminars, wrote stories and poetry together
(and critiqued each others' work).
As the year progressed, the 'keeners', to my amazement, found they were
struggling with this independence and opted back into the regular
structured classroom program. Now our independent study group was a
remarkable group of non-conformists, whose marks — on tests we didn't
attend classes for or study for — were so high that some wondered
aloud if we were somehow cheating. My grades had climbed into the low
90% range, and this included English where such marks were rare —
especially for someone whose grades had soared almost 30 points in a
few months of 'independent' study. The fact is that my peers had done
what no English teacher had been able to do — inspire me to read and
write voraciously, and show me how my writing could be improved. My
writing, at best marginal six months earlier, was being published in
the school literary journal. On one occasion, a poem of mine I read
aloud in class (one of the few occasions I actually attended a class
that year) produced a spontaneous ovation from my classmates.
The Grade 12 final examinations in those days were set and marked by a
province-wide board, so universities could judge who the best students
were without having to consider differences between schools. Our
independent study group, a handful of students from just one high
school, won most of the province-wide scholarships that year.
I received the award for the highest combined score in English and
Mathematics in the province — an almost unheard-of 94%.
Russell Ackoff, who I took a class from at Wharton twenty plus years ago, says in his book, Turning Learning RIght Side Up, that he has learned more from teaching than anything else. Of course that makes sense. I learn way more blogging, giving talks, and teaching than I do listening to others. When you are required to explain something to others, you have to figure it out yourself first.
I love the idea of turning students into teachers and I would do that going all the way down to elementary school. But in high school and college, it ought to be a primary way we educate students.
I am going to dig deeper into the unschooling movement and look at other models, like the Montessori schools, to figure out who is doing this well and why. It's a bit late for my own kids, who have largely been educated in the traditional school system (albeit a progressive one).
But if we are going to fund people who are hacking education, I think its best to figure out what is working and what is not. Then we know what to hack and why.
I have found teaching to be the easiest way to find out what you don’t know. When you are the teacher, you need to know more than your students. You are supposed to be the expert. By reversing the roles, meaning the student becomes the teacher, the student is forced to pay more attention to what they are learning and reading because they will need to “present their findings” to the rest of the class. Some of the school districts in my area are doing small presentations starting in kindergarten. From what I have seen, the kids enjoy learning odd facts about animals or whatever topic, and have a sense of pride when they have presented something.
my dad was a college professor and he would start every class with a number of students at the blackboards showing the rest of the class how they solved one of the homework problems that had been given the previous class.i love that idea and never used it myself, but it’s an example of how you can get the students to teach as part of a traditional approach
I remember with modest anxiety “going to the board” in 4 years of engineering classes at VMI in civil engineering. You had to define the problem, derive the equations you used, explain the solution and present it clearly. It was a great way to learn.To this day, I find myself atempting to define the problem and marshal the pertinent rules, it was great training for how problems must be solved effectively in real life.
My dad taught at west pointI wonder if this is a tradition at military schoolsIf so, we should copy it in non military schools
Hi Fred,Indeed a great post by Dave, will dig in to learn more about unschooling as well.Just as a side note, I’m guessing that phonydiploma.com “Fool anyone!” ad that is part of the RSS feed is not part of hacking education 🙂 Google AD FAIL!
i should take a look at the ads in my feeds. thanks for reminding me to do that
Unrelated to your main post… related to “Google ad fail” – http://sotirov.com/2008/10/…
Good ideaBut I think contextual needs to be married with profiles and BT to work well
You stated; “When you are required to explain something to others, you have to figure it out yourself first.” I could not agree more. In my MBA program – after nearly ever class, I would hold impromptu sessions for classmates that wanted additional help. This helped my understanding as I would attempt to re-explain the day’s lesson. Plus, I tried to find ways to explain the lessons in simple terms – in simple language to the other students. Really helped my understanding – first trying to explain what we just learned as well as trying to present it in another way.Regarding education in general – I know that schools are trying very hard to create curriculums that are relevent and interesting to students. But, I feel that many fall short – especailly when it comes to personal finance. So much mis-managed finances in our country. Way to much personal debt – way to much living outside our means. Part of this I feel is due to the fact that most people do not understand personal finance. Think about going in to buy a new car. The sales staff of the dealer does not focus on the particulars of the deal but merely throw out a monthly payment number. This is what the consumer sees and bases their decision on this number without understanding the fundamental behind that payment. Thus, many purchasers are upside down the monment they drive off the lot. And, it is not just the auto industry. If more people understood personal finance – we would not be having this many home foreclosures or such a tremendous amount of personal debt.I think we need more required personal finance classes in all levels of education from primary to secondary schooling. I think we should start early to ensure that proper understanding becomes ingrained in our paradigms – Thus, instead of just the three “Rs” of reading writing and arithmetic – we should have a forth to include financial responsibility.
should it be part of the math curriculum?
A few years ago I approached a very fine private school where my kids were in attendance and offered to underwrite a course in “practical financial skills” envisioning a course in understanding personal finance (budgeting, taxes, basic tools (checking accounts, credit cards, reading stock tables, etc.), investing and stewardship).I was raising a lot of money for non-profits in those days including the VMI Foundation whose Board I served on and became convinced that stewardship was a fundamental skill which had to be taught but it could only work if folks actually “had” some money to contribute/invest. Most folks wake up to the sense of stewardship later in life and are driven by church, school, politics (ugh!) or a favorite cause.Every parent with whom I spoke was in support of the idea but I was completely rebuffed by the administration. Understandably this was a very tough and demanding top 1% kind of academic college prep school but I thought erroneously they would appreciate the practicality of teaching their own students to be stewards of the school. Silly me!I think that there is a hole in education which is part social, developmental, practical and citizenship. I think that the basic financial skills for living and managing ones life are at least as important as getting a driver’s permit.
You are right JLM
one takeaway from the Pollard story is one size does not fit all. The ‘keeners’ are high achievers, and thrive on structure and ability to impress authority. The group Pollard is in is is natural learners, and you can give them the firehose and let them drink all they want. Then you have creatives, who are motivating by getting out and doing stuff.And I think most would agree that in school they learned as much from their peers than from their teachers. (one reason I’m not that impressed by homeschooling, regardless of test scores, it ignores the broader civil mission of schooling).this dovetails in a weird way with discussion of markets for private equity. still trying to define my own conflict between freedom and protection from abuse and the insanity of public markets … but one conclusion is there has to be a driver’s permit for investors … if you can’t pass a simple test about the difference between FDIC insured vs. uninsured, stocks vs. bonds, you shouldn’t be allowed to trade risk assets without the broker signing off that it’s appropriate, and brokers should be held to a higher level of fiduciary duty for those investors.
I love the idea of a driver’s test for investors.
Should be it’s own – You have math and reading and social sciences – why not add perosnal finance. – Might help keep us out of future recessions like this one.
let’s take it one step furthershall we?there’s an open source game that all schools could put on their servershttp://www.youtube.com/watc…it’s to do with teamworkand with an entry fee of eg $1schools could win $1,000’s from their winning teamsand thus they would have money to play withrather than just study it :)i’ve been a maths teacher for some ten years…
Unschooling intends to foster intrinsic motivation in the students. When it works, there’s nothing better. It’s just like that old chestnut about judging a leader by the performance of the team when the leader is gone- school should be judged by the same criteria.This is a great point of research for #hackedu, where rapid scale is an important facet of success. It would be great to skip the gatekeepers of the old model (the schools themselves) and go right to the students, but how can a technological education hack get critical adoption if the students won’t work outside of the requirements of their school?Social motivation is deeply wired in us, and Facebook went right to the students on this basis.I know many argue (K. Robinson, et al.) that learning is also deeply wired into us, but you wouldn’t know it from the average classroom – in high school or college. Perhaps school is teaching the learning motivation out of them, but “school reform” is not hacking. School reform is nothing new and it is not quick disruption. Montessori has been a 100 year effort.I’m extremely optimistic that there is a hack in here somewhere. The motivation problem that unschooling attempts to address is one of the most important puzzles.
Our two teens are attending the Minnesota New Country School in Henderson Minnesota. http://www.newcountryschool… – It is a Gates funded charter school – part of the regular school district. The students work independently on projects that fulfill the state educational guidelines.The past year has been amazing – by working at their own pace in an open environment (each student has their own “cube” and PC) they have develop the ability to work in busy environments.Many of the students there are “troubled” kids – ones near drop out in standard schools. There is more than one way to teach a child.And, of course, students teaching students is a big part of the curriculum. Math is held in a more traditional setting, but as students advance, they re-teach what they learned to other students.I encourage you to check out the website. The history is amazing. Basically, a group of teachers and parents in a small rural town thought there might be a better way, and made it happen.
Thanks michaelI will check it outThere is so much good in this comment; Gates, Charter, independent study, more than one way to teach a child, etc
I could not agree with this post more.
My wife Kathleen is currently unschooling/home schooling our 3 girls (7 – 4.5 – 1). She wrote this up:—————————————————–That’s a great post. Unschooling is a big bucket. It can mean anything less structured than “parent stands at the front of room and lectures to kids” — from bringing your lessons outside, to the Charlotte Mason “living books” approach to curriculum, to using real-life story problems instead of drills to teach math and science, etc. Then there’s radical unschooling (a la Sandra Dodd), which has a specific, very hands-off meaning. Then there’s a huge swath of philosophies that fall in between (“delight-driven learning;” “strewing;” approaches like unit studies where all subjects wrap around a topic that your kid is currently fascinated with; or approaches that the internet in particular capitalizes on, basically the equivalent of letting your kid loose in the world’s biggest library, and watching him catch on fire). The umbrella covers a dizzying variety of degrees of parent manipulation behind the scenes, with an array of strategies for tackling any possible subject curriculum gaps in the college prep years.Melissa Wiley (author of the Little House sequel books) has a great blog post on the unschooling spectrum:http://melissawiley.typepad…I personally love her idea that the “what” of a classical education is informed by the “how” of the unschooling movement.
Thanks for that link Erik. I’ve got to read that asap.Kudos to you and Kathleen for doing this. It’s a huge undertaking but your kids are going to be so much better off because of it.
In my experience, unschooling is about interest-driven child-led learning. As a family it means we learn through living. When things that interest us come up, we explore them. We’re very early into it but can’t imagine living any other way.It’s also very compatible with the social web and availability of information, resources, and experiences. Like in building a new venture, if I want to learn about something I go find the person who knows what I need to know. I don’t just sit and talk to the people I know. For my kids, if they want to learn Aikido, we help them find someone to teach them. If they want to learn a language we can do the same or buy a copy of Rosetta Stone. If they are interested in how things grow, we can grow some plants, go to a farm and help out, go the farmers market, and go to the grocery store… showing them all parts of our food system. Or not. It all depends on what THEY are interested in.That’s how we learn in life and with the distributed availability of information and experience our institutional structures cannot possibly offer the same dynamic richness. There is tremendous value in educators, gathering places for shared learning, and even accreditation. It just doesn’t need to be bundled the same way it used to.Final note is we’ve found it interesting how the social web has made it easier for people to explore (follow their interests) in homeschooling and unschooling in our area. It’s often started from seeing someone they know make a mention (e.g. #unschooling in a tweet or fb update) of it which prompts a question and conversation, followed later by more questions and pointer to other resources, and then to meeting others who are doing it. Easy entry into the exploration, incremental engagement with the resources/people that best provide the parts that they want to explore. No fixed paths. Only interest and connections.
Northwestern’s Kellogg School has adopted this format in its MBA program and I enjoyed the classes that embraced the students to drive the course’s path with the guidance of a professor-mentor.I would love to see more “open space” for kids to discover areas of learning kind of like Google does for its engineers.Great post.
Mr. Wilson – Booker T Washington (Tulsa) pumps out more Rhodes Scholars than any other high school in Oklahoma. As a magnet school (which I had to apply to attend, class of 1985) it blends the spectrum of disadvantaged to brainiacs in a nice cocktail of social akwardness you’ll only find at something like TED or in Davos.It was only when I hit BTW that I felt CHALLENGED to excel (as opposed to being challenged to stay awake) and liberated to do so on my own terms. I’m on the board of the BTW Foundation these days and their minimally structured curriculum has remained intact all these years teeing up amazing educational experiences year in and out.
I imagine BTW is like Stuyvesant High School in NYC. They take the best and brightest and smoosh them all together and it’s a great environment for learning.
this was the most effective way to study for exams in college. if you can teach the material– you know it.
I currently unschool our 2 young children with @igniter. One of the things I like best about unschooling is that it doesn’t separate life from learning. Learning is not packaged out as education but instead acknowledged as what we do as living beings on earth.It doesn’t take teachers or experts to learn, although at times we may turn to them for resources or guidance. It takes living in an enriching environment that provides access to the tools and information we need to explore what we want to learn. It fosters a sense of self-determination and motivation that is intrinsically driven instead of extrinsically motivated. To me this is key as it allows children (and adults) to realize that we are capable of learning what we want and need, instead of believing that it is up to others to provide us with it. Sure, we tap into the community, the internet and our larger connections, but we are not dependent on them – instead it is an interdependence. Each of us getting what we need and want out the relationships to foster our own learning and growing.For a good model of unschooling within a school environment I like the Sudbury School Model.http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…
i like to point to this learning model, which i will describe in detail in a post which will be up tomorrow morning on my blog. http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…i firmly believe that there is luck involved in learning. everything you do in school can only bring you to the conscious competence stage. only in practice can you become unconsciously competent.teaching can help you get to that final, important, stage.
The Dreyfus model is similar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…The idea is that you move from incompetence to expertise in a particular skill by gradually moving from having to be told explicitly what to do step-by-step to intuitively understanding how to do it (and when it makes sense to break the ‘rules’).
Learning to fly an airplane is a perfect example of the evolution of one’s competence in acquiring a skill. It is an interesting challenge as it combines not just academic theory and physical skill but also an element of “fear” or “discomfort” which must also be mastered.Usually the biggest challenge of learning to fly is landing the plane as the conditions (plane’s weight, light, winds, headwind component, crosswind component, precip, temperature, density, turbulence, etc.) in which one lands are constantly changing and the ability to apply a rote solution is virtually impossible. Every student pilot hits a plateau and thinks they are the only student in the history of aviation who cannot learn to land and then suddenly — and almost completely unexplainably — it all falls into place.After 2-3000 hours of flying and a few thousand landings, a pilot knows that he can land in any conditions (well in any conditions in which he should be flying in the first damn place) because he has “mastery” not of just landing but the changing conditions which truly determine what he will actually do to land the plane.I often find myself saying to myself — “well, I don’t really know what I need to do but I know I can do it.”Case in point — the truly fabulous landing by Capt Sully in the Hudson — which depended as much as his “glider” training and experience as it did on his long years of service.Remember this guy had NEVER landed in water so he had no real useful experience on water landings but he knew the principles required to glide that plane onto the water soft and sweet — making it trade speed and momentum for glide thereby bleeding it dry of destructive energy — and he was guided by his mastery of the changing conditions which dictated the way to land.The other element that is missing is “critical thinking” — the ability to take seemingly disparate thoughts and order them in a way that reasons to a logical and perhaps “correct” solution. Critical thinking may be the required fuel for mastery.
I love the idea of turning students into teachers.It is the “affiliation” with like minded-individuals that activates inspiration and learning. The traditional teacher’s job is to get students together to create the environment of learning and teaching each other by opening a conversation that is not based on a syllabus.Like social media, who is getting into the conversation with you? I have “met” people on Twitter and subsequently met in person at events, such as this past weekend in San Diego at Frank Kern’s Mass Control. The brainstorming is phenomenal.It is not just the answer but the process that arrives at the answer that turns students into teachers.Thanks for sharing,Sherrie [email protected]”The Love Linguist”
Check out the Transnational College of Lex in Japanhttp://www.lexlrf.org/college/
The delivery of education and the motivation of students is a very interesting topic. There are a huge number of resources out there. I have recently been using some MIT and Stanford podcasts of grad classes on subjects (e.g. the Fed) which have caught my fancy. The reading lists are worth the effort alone.There are also a huge number of different delivery techniques currently being used which can be melded into an effective program which can reach a lot of students for traditional and timely education but also for continuing life long education.A couple of unique challenges exist. Not everybody’s education alarm clock goes off at the same time, the delivery mix is important given changing social aspects of a young person’s life and some real guard rails are necessary.
Fred, I think you answered some of your own questions when you wrote that you learn more from discussing than just listening. Students feel the same way. I practice participatory adaptive teaching in my classrooms – which means that we start with a road map and willingly make alterations as the semesters progress based on the real time shifts in student’s interest areas and learning needs. I give them the opportunity to do a mid-term eval. of the class learning tools and rank which tools work best for them. Across the board, college students have said that what they love most about our classes together is the absence of relying on straight lectures. They find lectures dull and repetitive (particularly when accompanied by bullet point power points – an unfortunate hold out among many profs). While I don’t “unschool” my students with total free reign, I have found that giving them numerous kinds of hands on activities: I use “tribal council” role playing for example to teach them about “reciprocal economics” in “traditional” cultures, then when we get to a module on “interactive economies” they have a clear means to relate their own VR social networking (myspace/FB/Twitter/ etc) to community and lineage based social networking in other parts of the real time world and develop frameworks for what’s old and what new in our global economy today. The insight that most teachers have is that the more we “talk” about something, the better we understand it. That’s true for students as well. By creating learning practices that give students the chance to fully articulate what they’re learning they have a much better chance of integrating the information long term into the memory banks and using it in productive ways both in and out of school. In other words, every teacher at every level (from academic to corporate) has a lot to learn from people who teach kindergarten: Hands on, collective sharing, group participation, and fun are timeless when it comes to the joy of learning. One of the best conferences I ever attended was on the future of work and the organizers gave participants the chance to do more than listen and Q&A – instead for 3 days we played games real time and virtually, shared stories, did laugh yoga, and generated learning smart”mini”mobs. The ideas we took away surely resonated over a longer term than all those dots dashes and doodles we often leave ordinary conferences with as “notes.” I think that every speaker and teacher, when humble enough to give their students and listeners more space to interact and contribute, distributes knowledge more broadly and deeply & in ways that lead to practical innovation over the long term.
Can we leverage these social nets to amplify these interactive sessions or is that too much noise?
It really depends on how it’s done. I’ve seen it get in the way (mass distracto audience) and seen it amplify. One approach is ‘interacting’ the audience: http://backchan.nl. I think other approaches are in order though. For example whenTweet/FB updates on a side screen are added to the conference experience. Given where technology and users are headed, it seems part of what needs to happen is visioning for experiences that incorporate bodies/movement/speech/clicking rather than just Speech at to and between people. For instance what would a ten minute break-out of “laugh Yoga” look like with body wired participants in 2014 whose sensory data could be viewed on a collectively seen screen? And what would that add to the dynamic of collaboration during the next learning/presenting session? So the questions I’m left with are how to bring the social nets into better play and how to do it incorporating people’s increasing need/desire for physical stimulation. A recent superstruct event suggested that “Organic” and “real world” would become the fetishes of the future and I tend to agree, so as much as I dive into massively virtualized life and even teach through, I am still intrigued by how to bring the body into the interactive scene as well, particularly for larger conferences.
Thanks. I think experiments with this stuff would be interesting
Fred, have you talked to Dennis Littky and Eliot Washor at the Big Picture Company? They started with the MET School in Providence ten years ago in a state-funded pilot, with an un-curriculum focused around the student finding their passion over grades 9-12. There are no teachers, just advisors. Students are with the same group over 4 years. The MET graduates 90%+ in a public urban environment with kids that “were unplugged”, and sends 80%+ to college. Gates Foundation funded them to put 50 MET models up around the U.S., and they are now opening a college pilot based on the same un-schooling model. Check them out, let me know if you’d like an intro.
I’ll check it outthanks
I want to second very strongly what Allan has mentioned. What Dennis Littky and his team have done with The Big Picture schools is extraordinary. If you are interested in understanding what education can be you must meet with Dennis and most importantly visit his school in Rhode Island. I have had the pleasure of spending time with Dennis and his students and to see him in action. You must meet him and get to know what they are doing. I would be more than happy to make an introduction as well.
Where in rhode island is it?
It is in East Providence, http://www.bigpicture.org/ has all the information.Also see this article by Eliot Washor, Dennis’s partner in the Big Picture Company,http://www.huffingtonpost.c…
MIT and some other universities have integrated clickers in lectures as a technology to facilitate student teaching. Professors will ask students if they are prepared to move on to the next part of the lecture, students respond, and depending on the results they either proceed or have the students talk it over and explain the concepts to each other. The results have been very positive- particularly in relation to decreasing dropout rate. It’s a great example of a technology that facilitates the kind of interaction that helps students.If anyone would like to see a lecture on this, the Knowledge Media Design Institute, an interdisciplinary group at the University of Toronto, had a seminar on technologies supporting learning and teaching. The link is below:http://epresence.kmdi.utoro…All three lectures are very worth watching. The slides specific to clickers are found at slide 99 and on. For anyone who wants the summary, I’ll put the info from the relevant slides belowThe Peer Instruction Model:- The lecturer gives students a question to test whether they understand a specific topic. – Students respond on their clickers whether they understand the topic and want to move on or discuss further. – Students get 2 minutes to discuss the concept with each other- A second vote is called- Results are displayed and the lecturer can address any remaining issuesFor anyone who has the time, watching the rest of Jim Hewitt’s lecture is very worthwhile. He addresses a number of different technology tools being used and what their results have been so far. The key to the lecture, though, is that increased social engagement in classrooms has an enormously positive impact on students’ learning.
When I was an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, one of my favorite professors always encouraged his students to sign up as tutors or Teaching Assistant because he believed that you only mastered your subject when you can clearly explained the subject matters to other students.With web site such as Edufire, globalscholar.com, etc., it’s going to become easier for people to teach (as well as learn from the teaching experience.)
if dollar collapses and/or there are either real attacks from foreign enemies of the US or false flag attacks from the US govt, i would expect major civil unrest and the breakdown of many government services at the local, state, and federal levels. in such a scenario public indoctrination camps i mean schools would probably have difficulty operating, due to lack of funding, danger in going, and people waking up to the fact that it is not in their best interests to go and they need to allocate their time and energy more efficiently in such chaotic times.such a scenario could lead to greater private education via local neighborhood schools. i would expect this to arise organically out of communities that become more close-knit in the face of a societal crisis. i think our online networks could also lead to more efforts at online education replacing public “schools.”over the long run i think the most likely scenario is a combination of private, local, primarily offline elementary schools (networked and internet-enabled, of course) for children, coupled with apprenticeships when kids reach teens. i hope for the end of high school and the end of college, what a waste of time and money those are.ultimately though we need the existing systems to break down more before we can get to the renaissance.
Public indoctrination camps!!!I am so lucky you stop every day and keep this place lively
This reminds me of a passage from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where the protagonist abandons interim grades in the course he teaches and the students in the class start working harder and harder as a result. No direct link, but you can see it by searching for the text “A students” on this page: http://www.virtualschool.ed…The ending bit:”On the basis of one man, one vote, the system was very unpopular. The majority of students definitely wanted their grades as they went along. But when Phædrus broke down the returns according to the grades that were in his book…and the grades were not out of line with grades predicted by previous classes and entrance evaluations…another story was told. The A students were 2 to 1 in favor of the system. The B and C students were evenly divided. And the D’s and F’s were unanimously opposed!”I wonder how well this would work in real life, especially if the grades were abandoned completely.
There are schools without gradesI’ve just never been at one
My school, the College of Creative Studies inside of UC Santa Barbara, doesn’t have grades — it has a “variable unit pass/no record” system where you get 0-6 units for a class depending on how much good work you did (the usual amount of work is 4 units). You can also choose to take advanced classes without having fulfilled the prerequisites, and you can drop classes at any time if you’re in over your head. It’s a small college intended for self-motivated undergraduates, and everybody has the opportunity to teach a class or two. The whole structure doesn’t always work perfectly, but I like being here.
Its worth comparing they way they teach maths in US /Uk to Japan …. in the article http://www.crme.soton.ac.uk…”In contrast, the video study found that U.S. teachers rarely develop concepts during mathematics lessons. In the US it was often the teacher who did the mental work in developing the concept, while the students listened or answered short questions designed to add to the flow of the teacher’s explanation. Japanese teachers, however, typically plan their lessons in such a way that the students themselves derived the concept from their own struggle with the problem.Overall, the video study found that U.S. mathematics teachers were more likely to ask students to practise computational skills, in most or every class than were their Japanese colleagues. In contrast, Japanese teachers were more likely to ask students to analyse relationships, write equations, explain their reasoning, and solve problems which have no obvious solution, in most or every class than mathematics teachers in the U.S. “Nothing to do with tech, everything to do with culture.In another page about the same study:”The lessons are of a “problem solving” nature but they are usually not so-called “real world” problems, they are mathematics problems in a verbal setting with a definite right answer implied. Students are actively involved in solution approaches and formulation with alternative solution ideas discussed extensively. These are not, however, student directed situations. The classrooms are very teacher directed. The instructor has studied the problem extensively and is aware of the various approaches that will be offered. An important part of the lesson is discussing these various solutions, including their strengths and weaknesses. These are not independent projects that are expected to be accompanied by a lengthy student essay on the various strategies failed and ultimately successful as is common in reform movement pedagogy in the US today. The instructor knows and the instructor weighs the various strategies offered and all students are expected to know the optimal ones and why to reject inferior ones. “http://www.mathematicallyco…
The NEA will have something to say about this!
Not yet, from what I can tell the NEA doesn’t read this blog
My daughter is in pre-school. Here is the method that got us excited about her school:http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…She has THRIVED.I think that it shares many of the same concepts you’re discussing, but with of course more “leading” since they are 3 years old.In any event…I think that the concept of empowering the student to take control of their own education is NEEDED. I can’t believe people let a group of 5 well-intended people on their local school board decide what THEIR child will learn!Stop taking notes and start engaging with the subject!
Glad someone brought up Reggio Emilia it’s a wonderful early education approach!
I experienced American education in elementary school, left for England at age 7 to discover I was 2 years behind academically and fought hard to gain entry to a streamed single sex ‘grammar school’ and later a prestigious boarding school. We had a punishing routine, with an overload of memorization and a single paramount objective – passing exams at age 15 and 18 to determine which students could attend Oxbridge or a good ‘red brick’ university and go on to lead this still largely class-based society. Students most definitely didn’t teach other students and hardly interacted in the classroom. Masters were the undisputed oracles and taught from the front.Surprise! At university entirely the opposite scenario – a few lectures, a lot of student directed study and no exams until the end of the third year. [In Great Britain you enter university to study one, or rarely two subjects, intensely with no requirements whatsoever in other subjects as is the model in the U.S.] Most of the learning took place with 3 other students in your tutorial group, who then met once a week with the ‘master’. For the first time those people who were merely playing the game separated themselves from those who really were curious and saw the opportunity for personal and intellectual growth as supreme. We clearly learned more from each other than the master, whose purpose was to stimulate and encourage our thinking.Graduate Business school in the US [a top 3 school], in contrast, was a huge disappointment. Back to the memorization model, very little true discussion of ideas and ridiculously easy grading with exams after only a few weeks of lectures. Students complained vociferously if they did not get an A grade and treated their professors with contempt. They knew that they had paid for the rubber stamp: to change professions, jump to higher financial potential and not to truly learn.Now I teach my four children at home. More than anything I want them to love learning and to love life itself – to be curious, to be adventurous and to lead. I take cues from the child’s learning style [see Cynthia Tobias’ ‘The Way They Learn’] and their age appropriate developmental level as per the classical Trivum. It is rigorous and efficient where needed, yet allows for creativity and passionate exploration of ideas. The children on occasion delight in showing each other how to pronounce certain words or where Djibouti is, just as they potty trained each other and taught each other how to ride the zipline. So learning is part of life, which is often cited as the predominant characteristic of unschooling. However, I believe that term is often misinterpreted as ‘no schooling’. I do have a job to do – to choose appropriate ideas to put in their way and keep them excited. It sounds simple, but it is hugely demanding, a humbling window on your personal parenting flaws, and a massive attack on your fallacy of control in directing their thoughts and ultimately their life.Keats said ‘Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire’ . We can’t pour learning into our children. I’ve tried it personally and it works for a while. It’s just such a limiting objective. Only those with the most stamina to play the game will win and they will end up at b-school or as lawyers wondering what they should do with life. Fundamentally students can only educate themselves. Maria Montessori understood this with one of most basic tenets – ‘get out of the way of the child’ . Our job in educating children in classrooms and at home is to get them excited about learning by exposing them to great ideas, setting out appropriate choices, and standing at the back of the room waiting for them to call on you.
Wow, you’ve tried it a bunch of ways and landed at unschooling/home schoolingVery interesting
You are interested in looking at how social nets might benefit education. As a homeschooler, an idea that I’ve had is to link students online inside a tutorial system. I’d pay to have my students matched with others of similar development/skills/potential. They’d engage daily among themselves and weekly with a tutor for group discussions. For example, classical homeschoolers often follow a 4 year cycle of historical periods and within that there are certain works of fiction and historical fiction are consistently assigned. Groupings would be easy to make after applying certain filters and tests to entering students. A group for each child in the family for a number of subjects – potentially a lot of money but still less expensive and more efficient than private school.
Fascinating story, Johanna – I’d be most interested in talking to you in a few years, just to see how / if / whether you’re integrating your own (or your old) career into this new stream you’re traveling on now, or whether you will have had to reinvent yourself completely.The reason I’m interested is because I homeschooled my two kids for the most part, *after* first getting graduate degrees in a field I thought I’d make a career in. I have a PhD in Art History from Harvard, and taught at some pretty good schools, too (MIT, Brown), albeit as a visiting professor (this was in the early 90s, when schools were cutting back, hiring adjuncts, and my ability to apply for jobs was geographically limited to the Boston area since my husband had the well-paying job in the computer industry). But by early 2000 – when my son was in gr.3 and my daughter in Kindergarten in a one-room-schoolhouse “unschooling” type school in Salem, MA – we started homeschooling. (Why? Long story, but basically, the school couldn’t meet their needs.) And that meant that my own (old) career went totally dead in the process.What did we do, as homeschoolers? We did some unschooling, we also looked at the classical model (but couldn’t really relate to it, too rigid), we let them pursue project-based work, we used a lot of the material produced by http://www.criticalthinking.org, and (as wee youngsters) we had them work through http://www.eimacs.com ‘s “Logic for Mathematics” course (which we all rather loved, it was so …different, learning about the Well-formed Formula etc.).We moved to Canada (British Columbia) in 2002, and I knew the provincial government was very supportive of distance (or distributed) education – to support learners at whatever level they’re at. For the most part, the B.C. government’s approach has helped special needs learners, but it also helps highly capable learners. What that meant for us was that our kids could take Ministry curricula at their pace and at their level, without being constrained by a Fordist or Taylorist model of grades according to age. Strictly speaking, this is no longer pure homeschooling since you’re accepting the Ministry curricula (and it sure isn’t unschooling because, well, there is a curriculum!), but it’s flexible – and the kids who use it *have* to be self-motivated, independent (or independently-minded) learners, since no one is going to make you work.So where are they now? My son graduated last year and just finished his first year at university (he was 17 when he entered, just turned 18 two weeks ago), and my daughter decided last September that she wanted to experience a year at a neighborhood school. Last September she entered gr.12 (she was 14 – kudos to the B.C. system, there was never any question from the school regarding her age). The advantage of a “real” school for her has been awareness around scholarships – she applied for and was awarded a Major Entrance Scholarship (plus a President’s Scholarship) to go to the University of British Columbia this September (09). Again, no one at the Ministry blinked over the fact that she only just turned 15.That, in a nutshell, has been our family’s experience with unconventional schooling – but it didn’t come cheap, insofar as putting one’s kids into a conventional school system (public or private) typically affords both parents the opportunity to maintain their careers. I find myself now, basically 10 years later, wondering how to re-invent myself at age 50-something.And I guess that’s the other side of this #hackedu business: education as it’s currently offered to children *also* fills a need that parents have. If you hack education, you have to consider where, how, or *if* the parents are stepping up, and whether they can afford to. John Taylor Gatto wrote that, at its worst, industrial schooling (derived from a Prussian model) filled the needs of an industrializing society that needed workers (cogs in the machine). Now, in a more post-industrial age, I think that same model of schooling continues because parents – stressed to the max by the need to have two incomes – need it.PS, @Fred – how funny that you should find Dave Pollard’s blog. I used to leave lots of comments on his posts, including one or two around the topic of education… Small world.
Good content brings together like minded people into instant communities
I took an Organizational Behaviour class at McGill that was entirely taught by undergraduates. After taking the course you could apply to become a teacher next year (with a semester of training). The student-teachers were not only among the best professors I have had, but also the most knowledgeable undergraduates at the school on the subject matter. Most of them did not come in as excellent students, or experts in the subject, but they all walked out knowing it backwards and forwards.The article rings true for me.
I had two truly amazing schooling experiences in my life.In the then-experimental GATE program in Orange County, most subjects were independent and at your own pace. Most work was project based, and always had a creative side. Teachers guided us in their interests. I recall a teacher taking us to see a musical or theater performance weekly. I recall being heavily engaged in creative writing in the second grade.Then I went to a regular junior high where I learned to graph sentences for the first time, and to memorize facts without understanding context. My learning slowed.My sophomore year of college I read the writings of Muhammad Yunus and decided that microfinance was my passion. I dropped my classes, quit my job and moved to DC to work with Grameen Foundation. When i returned I spent 70% of my time working on microfinance ventures (Editing Journal of Microfinance, Running the MicroEnterprise Conference, fueling the largest and most-active student organization (which was about microfinance)). That led to research, which led to a fellowship, which led to Stanford, which led to today. I took 7 years off from microfinance, and am just getting back involved again this year. But I learned to think by avoiding class to write, forgoing studying to research, and taking an extra year in school to ensure I spent time in field research.Learning does not take place in the classroom. Inspiration for learning can spawn there, but learning is found in discovery.
Dave — I didn’t know you were so microfinance-focused — gives us another topic to dig into, as I worked with the folks at Unitus from 2005-2006, and am still a big supporter.
A parallel thought… do you learn more from the blog post, or from the responses below? mmm…interesting parallel 🙂 For me, I find the original post very interesting, but its the community generated responses that makes it lots of fun.Why do we contribute? What is it about this discussion that makes really smart people try to add more and more clever responses? Is it a competition to see who can add something original/ with value?There may be a parallel to the unschooling environment…Maybe creating an unschooling environment is similar…you need to start with thought-provoking subject, and invite passionate people to join in.But, how do you find that passion? and what do you do with the students that dont already have it? Do you ignore them? Or, find a way to inspire them too?I will be curious to watch where this conversation goes. Thanks!
it’s all about the discussion. i would stop blogging today if i could notget comments and reply to them
The students who enter class without passion, just like the presentation attendees who are there with little interest in opening up to be truly engaged are actually the most inspiring members of the groups. They’re the ones who push the “teacher” to do more than talk to the choir, they make us try new methods engage new approaches. If I can get the person who starts my lecture looking like they are going to pass out from lunchtime sleepies and speaker overload, to spark and engage then that’s when I really know I’m getting it right. If I can get the C or F student who walks into my classroom to leave really believing in the wonders of discovery, that’s where the real thrill of teaching is. We call it the amp-effect in my neck of the woods.
In mathematics there’s something called the Moore Method: http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…It’s usually used to teach topology. You start with the basic axioms of topology and with a little direction let the students guide the course of the class.A quote of Moore’s: “That student is taught the best who is told the least.”
great post. i absolutely agree and love the idea – i only wish this style of learning would have been available at my school. i have to say, in the last three years i’ve been working in a role where i’m left to my run with my own concepts – i have to present, pitch and justify everything – and can honestly say i feel like i’ve learnt a million times more than i ever did at school/college- where traditional teaching methods were used.i think back to the odd presentation i had to do back in year 11 or 12 of school – and i can almost still remember them down to the last word… it works. and – not only does it work – but it provides you with skills that you need in the real world. i’m all for it.
Fred, before you get all excited about this, you should realize that a key reason the school systems are in the terrible state they are in now is because people followed all these re-warmed1960s and 1970s ideologies like Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society” and — here we all are in the year 2009. I happen to have been able to be in an “independent study” course in the 1970s in my high school based on these ideologies, and that’s all well and good, but I also so it fail miserably for people who didn’t have enough support structure in their lives. I was also able to enroll in AP and college courses while still in high school, and I think that’s another option that you can follow. But it can’t work for everyone. Some students need structured, guided settings to flourish.It’s hard to create all kinds of flexible alternatives and potentials in something like the New York City school district where you are dealing with a very grave set of circumstances: poverty, criminality, impunity, excessive use of force, insufficient protection, etc. As I’ve noted before, nothing short of allowing parents to invade the schools would work — enabling adults to sit alongside their children will stop the rampant criminality, destructiveness, and despair from teachers, who are excessively absent, leaving treaching to part-time substitutes who hand out word-search puzzles or let kids surf on the Internet.A key destructive factor in the schools was this liberal “child centric” stuff that said that the child should be “unschooled,” and “learn what he feels like learning” and now, as you say, even become the teacher instead of the learner. That’s not working. That’s been done, and that’s why the schools are an atrocity.I can contrast what public and parochial schools are like, having one child in each type, and I have to say that there is a lot to be said for the Catholic theory of community. The principal stands at the door step and greets each child personally, by name, and if they are straggling, without a shirt tucked in, he brings them to order, but also remembers who has succeeded and gives them praise — it’s child *attention* without being child *centric*. The child is taught to feel himself in a community. If he destroys property or steals from the stores in the neighborhood, that harms other people, there are consequences, they can be seen. The kids have after-school community service built into the programs so that they feel they can contribute and see how needs are met. To make Confirmation, you need to have 40 hours of community service. I think children do well when they have a sense not of their own endless entitlements and gratifications, but feel themselves in a setting of community where they learn to consider others.I think a key notion in changing the schools from failure and crime incubators is to stop thinking of them as “educational facilities” where some sort of philosophy, whether it be strict or lax, liberal or conservative, is supposed to be tried yet again on kids who have been subjected to numerous such faddish ideologies for decades.Instead, they should be though of as community centers where all ages are welcome, where senior citizens can have lunch and have kids read to them. Where parents can learn skills, too, and help out. Where business leaders can provide apprenticeships and talks, etc. It’s about de-isolation, not about de-schooling.
It seems to me, as a teacher, that the students who most suffer in our top-down systems are those with the most curiosity–the non-keeners. Instead of nurturing the most curious amongst us, we instead, punish them with low grades and low rankings. Our schools do an abysmal job at nurturing these individuals who are of independent mind. These are the value creators and innovators in our society. We need to let them learn (often by teaching) in spaces that afford access to a variety of minds and formats, without all the geographic, bureaucratic, and temporal barriers that too often, extinguish the light.You might want to check out Sudbury Schools if you haven’t already.I’m trying to establish an open class at Plearn.net, hoping to offer more “unschooling” type of options to those interested.I’ve enjoyed the hacking ed approach that’s happening here.
I love it when teachers comment on these posts. You are living this stuff daily. Thanks for participarting
If you haven’t done so yet, you should check out the McKinsey report on the achievement gap. Nothing too surprising (America is behind and the current system has resulted in significant socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps), but it contains some figures that underscore the need to dramatically reshape the educational experience. http://www.mckinsey.com/cli…
Why students learn better when they teach their peers?Because they Play a Game.When student plays as a teacher, his Emotional Brain is active and that’s where the real learning begins.Humans have two brains – Thinking and Emotional. According to scientists Emotional Brain is in charge of learning.Schooling works mostly with Thinking Brain, and Unschooling targets Emotional Brain.Emotional Brain likes to play games. When animals stop playing. they stop learning.IMHO To Hack Education we need to develop a new kind of Educational Games based on existing Internet Technology (YouTube, FB, Twitter etc)
That’s certainly a big part of the emerging #hackedu manifesto!
after teaching for ten yearsi think the natural progression of the maths department is to becomethe games departmentalgebra is just a special type of game playingwhich should be kept from the game because of the strategic advantage it gives to all game playing 🙂
Hey Fred,This reminded me of my favorite quote from Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’:“The best students are those who never quite believe their professors.”I mentioned it to my professor after it had been assigned during my leadership program. Unfortunately, I don’t think it went over all that well (some professors will take offense..)-Adam
All of mine did too!
Hi Fred, Hi everyone,Coming from someone like Dave Pollard, this unschooling story illustrates even more what every person who had been exposed to the traditional education system already thinks. I have had the chance or the bad-luck (I am not judging on the results here) to do pretty much all of my education through the French education system, from kindergarden to college. What struck me as a kid was first the heavy weight of all the materials we had to carry with us into school everyday and back (totally stupid and harmful for kids), and all needed to attend the mandatory curriculum (at least until the last year of high school). Then I remember the never ending hours we had to spend sitting in class rooms to listen to the teacher, trying to get away with some interesting information among this enormous flow of knowledge, and finally spent another good hour to do the homework…Then I moved to the US to do a Master’s degree and I realized the huge gap in between the French and American system, well they couldn’t be more different. For the first time I really enjoyed the interactivity with the teacher, the sometimes tough discussions with other classmates, the team work….I agree all this was still very typical, but I can tell that the most unusual and interactive part of this program made me realize that another way of learning was possible and should be recommended for avery kid or parent who thinks they want to do it their own way…I hope that I haven’t bored everyone here.Thanks
I enjoy your blog and Twitter posts — thanks!I volunteer in my kids’ Expeditionary Learning (based on Outward Bound principles) Middle and High Schools in Portland, Maine. I understand Portland is the only spot in the US to offer EL K – 12 in a public school context. I encourage you to explore Expeditionary Learning, especially in two specific contexts: within a public school district and in a district which serves a high % of recent immigrant kids. Exciting stuff is happening in this context, i.e. – peer mentoring, participatory learning, experiential learning, etc.!My 16-yr old daughter, now studying for a year in Germany, was mostly unschooled during Middle School. It’s interesting to see how her self-taught Middle School experience coupled with her EL High School experience has affected her year abroad in a fairly formal High School. Her experience abroad has reminded me of the importance of identifying and teaching to various learning styles. EL encourages self-assessments of one’s learning style. Once you had have an idea of your particular learning style, you become a better educational advocate for yourself. You seek instruction and learning tools that match your, say, visual learning style.As a result of my kids’ technology interests, I have become very interested in the MIT project (founded by Henry Jenkins), New Media Literacies. “Project New Media Literacies (NML), a research initiative based within MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program, explores how we might best equip young people with the social skills and cultural competencies required to become full participants in an emergent media landscape and raise public understanding about what it means to be literate in a globally interconnected, multicultural world.”A couple resources:MIT New Media Literacies Programhttp://newmedialiteracies.org/UnschoolingTeenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn (some think of it as “The Unschooling Bible”http://lowryhousepublishers…Unschooling Camp, Not Back to School Camphttp://nbtsc.org/Expeditionary Learning, based on Outward Bound principleshttp://www.elschools.org/I would absolutely love to give you a tour of the EL world in Portland, Maine!
Thank you, Fred, for helping to move this ball forward. Yet another great starter post and an addition to the case for “the genius is in the comments.”There is a TON of energy in schools (and out!) right now around some of these ideas.Scott McLeod of CASTLE (http://www.scottmcleod.net/… has been inviting school folks to submit their school to a growing wiki of schools with innovative practices (http://www.dangerouslyirrel…His blog is a great read, as is Will Richardson’s (http://weblogg-ed.com/). Have you seen Sir Ken Robinson’s most recent TED talk? (http://www.ted.com/index.ph…Let’s HOPE more and more students and families considering their educational options will be looking at “preserve and fosters a love of learning” as a primary criterion.Homeschooling is up. Unschooling is up. Online learning is up. Parents who “get it” (maybe like @JLM, above) may be saying, “Forget that pointless worksheet, spend some time playing Debt Ski tonight, kiddo.” (http://www.indebted.com/the…Word on the street is that they’ve got it working at Science Leadership Academy (http://www.scienceleadershi… in Philadelphia. That and some of the other schools on the Moving Forward wiki might be worth a road trip…
Thanks for the linksGreat stuff!
Hi Fred – a friend has just directed me to your post and I want to say thank you for sharing these great thoughts. THis is a very important message that needs to be widely broadcast. I do encourage you to check out Montessori schools – they are doing all the right things – the only difficulty is that the name Montessori is in the public domain and therefore anyone can use it – a school which is called Montessori may not actually be employing Montessori pedagogy. Look for ones that are accredited with AMS or AMI.
That’s good to know
We ran an experiment at BYU very similar to what Dave describes. Students could choose to do any projects they wanted during the semester. They did regular updates on the class website and four times through the semester we met to do mini “ignite” sessions reporting on what we were learning. There was some fascinating projects done!Here’s the class website:https://island.byu.edu/grou…I presented on the class as well at Ignite SLC 2:http://www.youtube.com/watc…
You’ll like this post and the theme in general – it’s exactly what you do so well with this blog:”when we make our learning transparent, we become teachers.”from:http://www.connectivism.ca/…So how can we give open learning a game interface, as @GrishaRemake was suggesting above? I think both tumblr (for its simplicity) and disqus (for its “comments stay with content and the commentator” architecture) could be important parts of the publishing. Then we just need a mashup to parse the open data (feeds or api) from each and provide an accreditation (for the schools) component and a student feedback UI. The student feedback should borrow heavily from MMPORGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games).
Rob Kalin, founder of Etsy, is working on something quite interesting in this area as well
great! excited to hear about it.
Given the fabulous user interface that Etsy has, that’s really exciting to hear!
My educational preferences (as a father of three young ones) have shifted from traditional homeschool to unschooling to the Sudbury school model, which some have called an “unschooling school”. I’m still very sympathetic to unschooling, but I’m much more excited about the distinctives of Sudbury–in particular, its ability to foster independence from parents. (My envy of kids who get to attend a Sudbury school was what led my family serendipitously to co-housing, and our current residence in paradise in West Puget Sound–within a mile from a Sudbury-model school.)I had the good fortune of visiting Sudbury Valley School last summer. Two books were being promoted: the one you mentioned (Turning Learning Right-Side Up), and A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting. The latter (although too dismissive of homeschooling/unschooling, I think) really hit home for why Sudbury works so well, and why it’s so needed in our day and age. Highly recommended.
Large-scale student-teaching: Bell-Lancaster Method.http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…
AwesomeThanks for the link bill
Be careful when evaluating “research” on educational styles or methods. The field is famous for poor research that focuses on anecdotal and impressionistic data — subjective, not objective data. But, what is intuitively appealing is not always what is best and the best stories are not always true. The field would be well served by more focus on empirical data and the development of decent longitudinal studies. For instance, if Montessori or some other approach really is better, shouldn’t we have solid statistical evidence in the form of distinct differences in life “outcomes” long after students leave school? (i.e. Shouldn’t students, after 20 years, either be richer, happier, more or less likely to be incarcerated, etc. than other students? Try finding the data…) If there are no significant differences “long after” students leave schools, then what does it mean to say that one method is superior to another?Also, for an intriguing bit of school data, check out the DoDEA schools (US Department of Defense). These schools consistently rank at the top of all US schools on NAEP scales. Why? Note: They don’t have charter schools and they don’t participate in most other “teaching fads.”http://www.dodea.edu/home/a…
That’s what used to happen in Victorian England – the older kids teaching the younger ones – the best way to learn is to teach! I remember being taught
Fred, check out the Problem Based Learning approach that was pioneered at McMaster University in Hamilton. * Learning is driven by challenging, open-ended problems. * Students work in small collaborative groups. * Teachers take on the role as “facilitators” of learning.http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…
Thanks fraser. Looks great