Monday, March 28, 2011

A benefit of homeschooling: Flexibility!

One of my goals for my children is they have a deep understanding of our world. I want them to be able to look at current events and see today’s issues in the context of historical events. I want them to be wise in their investing. I want them to have great strength of character. I want them to be able to see pass the superficial.

Homeschooling allows us the flexibility to have our own personalized curriculum. It can even be unique for each child. One of the techniques I’ve tried to foster in this search for a deeper understanding of the world is to have my older two daughters read worthwhile books. For example here are some reviews by my daughters of The Tipping Point, Animal Farm, The Fred Factor, Carnage and Culture, and The Law. This worked well last summer. They had more free time. I think each daughter did close to a dozen books.

After school started I tried to continue this approach through the fall, but it wasn’t working well.

Because we homeschool it was easy to decide it was time to change, and then change the next day. I often cringe when I hear about children in public schools struggling with broken processes and listening to people say it will be fixed next year. Suffering for several months under a broken program just seems wrong.

So a couple months ago we tried a new approach. We had picked up a NordicTrack Elliptical for Christmas and our daughters will diligently exercising several times a week. Often they would watch TV shows on Hulu. I asked them to watch a TED talk and write up an easy. They were happy to give up the responsibility of reading deep books, and agreed to try watching a TED talk while exercising.

Below are the essays my older two daughters wrote on the same TED talk.

I am so happy that with homeschooling we have the flexibility to try something and quickly adjust if there is a need.

My oldest daughter's review of Steven Johnson's talk on where

Steven Johnson has spent the last several years studying where good ideas come from. While much of the populace wants to describe their good ideas with words like the stroke of genius, epiphany, or eureka, Johnson has found that good ideas are more like a network.

Timothy Prestero founder and CEO of Design that Matters is the inventor of the Neonatal Incubators. It wasn’t a revolutionary design. It was simply creating a normal Incubatory for premature infants out of car parts. What Prestero had found was that third world countries managed to keep their cars in working order and as such will have car parts to act as spare parts for the Neonatal Incubators. Prestero didn’t invent a Incubator that would break, but rather networked a Incubator out of other good ideas.

Kevin Dunbar, professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, conducted an experiment. He recorded every second scientists spent at work. He found that the scientist made their most important discoveries not, as they reported, in their labs at their microscopes, but at the conference table during the end of week reports. He calls it the Liquid Network.

Darwin himself tells his story as a eureka moment. His autobiography has him reading Thomas Malthus’s Natural Selection when the basic algorithm for natural selection just pops into his head. But Howard Gruber looked over Darwin’s notes. Darwin had the full theory for months just sitting there in his notes.

The problem is that people like to tell the epiphany stories. Perhaps knowledge should be less restricted, less of a property, easily shared and easily grown.

And here is my second daughter's review of the same talk:


I watched where good ideas come from, a TED talk by Steven Johnson. He opens with explaining how in 1650 Grand Cafe in oxford opened, it was the first coffee house in England. He went on to explain how the switching from alcohol to coffee or from a depressant to a stimulate opened a new time period of ideas called the ‘Enlightenment.’  But more importantly the coffee house became an environment for creativity and brainstorming. Ideas are more of a network then a epiphany. Often people describe how they got an idea as a flash or eureka when in truth it’s a slow build up of information to support an suspicion. Dunbar did a study and found that most of the good ideas of a certain science lab came from the weekly conference table when they were discussing problems they were having. Good Ideas come from brainstorming and build up of information.

If you are interested, here is the TED talk:


Chastity Handy said...

I love that you are pointing out homeschool's flexibility. We don't have to duplicate a school by staying at desks all day in order to be successful homeschool parents. I love getting out of the house for our learning and your idea of a treadmill is a great one. In college a speech teacher said that students retain more from reading and morization while walking!

Henry Cate said...

Yeah, there is such great power in being able to make a change the same day you recognize that something isn't working.

Diane Ravitch wrote about the history of public education in the US over the last hundred years in Left Back. One of the things that becomes painfully obvious is how long some school programs will stay in place. Most people will recognize that some educational approach is NOT working, but yet for years children will be inflicted with the program.

Oh, Chastity, please consider submitting something to the Carnival of Homeschooling some time.

(And anyone else who blogs about homeschooling.)