Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Boredom Allowed!

Here are a few ideas if your kids are "bored" over the Christmas break:

Find History in Greensboro, NC

Make Finger Puppets

Watch a great science movie

Practice drawing in a sketchbook

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How to Keep Learning Every Day

Most people equate "education" with "school," i.e. a brick edifice filled with teachers dispensing knowledge. A true education, however, consists of acquiring what Dorothy Sayers called the "tools of learning" and then using those tools for the rest of one's life as an independent learner. Thus a true education is a lifetime of learning through reading, networking, and experience.

Learn by Reading
First, read! As a lifelong learner, I have always been a voracious reader. When I want to know something new, I seek out a variety of print and internet resources in order to engage in what Mortimer Adler called "syntopical reading" or the wise use of many books to serve one's purpose. Without sitting in a classroom, I have learned about historical costuming, the history of housework in America, how to teach reading to children with different learning styles, and how to compare various strategies for dealing with depression. I enjoy searching for old, obscure resources and utilizing the latest in technology. All the while, of course, I am separating the wheat from the chaff, as not all information is equally credible!

Learn through Networking
Network! I have a reputation as a "go to" person among my friends. I was one of the first in my circle to home school, so I became the person who helped others find curriculum and do annual standardized testing. When I discovered food co-ops and bulk cooking techniques, I shared those resources with my friends. When a friend has a problem, my first impulse is to find a person or resource that will be useful to them. I gain tremendous pleasure from seeing people learning new things because I helped them with the information they needed. As I help my friends, I meet new friends and all of us teach each other. Teach a friend to bake and they may teach you about investing or woodworking or even potty training.

Learn by Doing
Do it! For topics like knitting, foreign language, or sports, this active learning method can and should be used. I believe I enjoy learning more than many people because I am not afraid to jump in and try things; in other words, I am not afraid to look like an idiot on the way to learning a new skill. I have knitted ugly hats, said embarrassing things in foreign languages, and baked horrible bread, but those experiences helped me become a proficient knitter and a better linguist (who still bakes horrible bread.) Obviously, this trial and error method will not be practical if you are studying nuclear weapons or contagious diseases.

Reading or networking without a formal classroom is still education. Formal classrooms, if they do not facilitate reading, networking, or practical application, may be an expensive waste. Start today by deciding on something you always wanted to learn, finding a pile of reading material, and seeking people who know what you want to know.

1. Sayers, Dorothy, "The Lost Tools of Learning," 1947 essay
2. Adler, Mortimer, How to Read a Book, 1940, chapter 20

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Separation of School and State

Here is a challenge to anyone willing to take it up:  What if we kept government out of education with as much energy as is currently expended keeping religion out of education?  Would children learn to read and compute without a government-certified teacher using a government-adopted textbook during government-mandated hours?  I personally know they could.

Check out the Alliance for the Separation of School and State for an example of people who dare to imagine schools without meddlesome government.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Found: Great Independent Learning Information

Oxford Brookes University has this page devoted to independent learning.  This presents a brief outline of the gains and losses, successes and failures associated with independent learning.  Scholarly links are provided for those who want to do more in-depth reading.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Accelerated Learning Works for This Young Man

Congratulations to Ty Hobson-Powell for his continuing success as an accelerated learner.  Law school at age sixteen is a great start!  North Carolina Central University is blessed to have such an eager student. Read more about Ty in the Raleigh News and Observer

Monday, September 5, 2011

Help for Parents: Remembering Old Learning

When children reach high school (or earlier, depending on their gifts) parents may find themselves in the position of helping with some challenging homework.  If it has been twenty years since you took your last calculus class, you probably don’t remember everything.  Fortunately, if you learned it once you can relearn it even faster.  You just need to stay a step or two ahead of your child!

The following are some resources I recommend for helping adults recall old skills:

Forgotten Calculus by Barbara Lee Bleau, Ph.D.

Math is definitely a use-it-or-lose-it skill.  Even if you are an engineer, you may never have used a graphing calculator.  This book takes you through calculus again and also shows you how to use your child’s TI-84.  This is also a good reference book if you just need to remember a particular technique.

Physics: An Incremental Development by John H. Saxon, Jr.

If you need a refresher or need to relearn physics from scratch (e.g. a homeschool teacher who needs to learn physics in order to teach it) the Saxon approach may fill the bill.  Incremental means the material is presented in bite-sized pieces.  Saxon also integrates review of previous chapters into subsequent problem sets, so learning is reinforced instead of forgotten.

German in Review by Kimberly Sparks and Van Horn Vail

While you may retain some vocabulary from your German class, you may have forgotten those pesky declensions.  This book is intended for the adult who has taken several years of German, but has not practiced in years.  Awaken your sleeping language skills and help your child learn to enjoy German, too.

If you, the reader, have found a great resource in your own quest to remember old learning, please share in the comments section.  I’d like to know what you’ve found helpful, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Excelsior College—an Interesting Option for Accelerated or Nontraditional Education

Josh Kaufman’s articles on Hacking Higher Education are a good place to begin your quest for a college degree.  No, he does not mean hacking into a college computer and giving yourself a forged credential; he means using legitimate means to turn your work experience, personal reading, and non-accredited coursework into college credits.

One popular route to a degree is the CLEP test.  For example, you can get 6 credits in English Literature by taking two semester-long college courses (and paying the tuition) or by paying about $80 to take a CLEP test validating the fact that you were reading the Canterbury Tales in junior high and Tolkein in grade school.  Excelsior College offers a means of consolidating all your CLEP exams and taking whatever online courses you need to finish an accredited Associates or Bachelors degree.  They are friendly towards students who do not fit the four-year-college mold.  Excelsior also offers exams in many Excelsior College classes, accepts UExcel  and DANTES exams, and offers college credit for working students who have passed the Certified Pharmacy Technician exam, achieved industry credentials in computer networking, studied at the Defense Language Institute, and much more.

Before writing a fat tuition check, putting your career on hold, or taking out a huge student loan, spend an hour exploring the Excelsior website and reading Kaufman’s articles.  You may be closer to a college degree than you think!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why the Bias Against Acceleration?

I am puzzled about many “honors” programs in colleges.  Why are most programs designed around enrichment instead of acceleration?  The simplest path for the most advanced students is to accelerate by allowing them to skip over material they have already mastered, e.g. the general education core.  Instead, students are invited to participate in an honors program that adds more classes without offering the student the benefits of early graduation.  Some honors programs even extend the student’s time in school because time spent abroad does not necessarily fulfill all the college’s unyielding, one-size-fits-all core requirements.

Savvy students are smart enough to look at an honors program and realize it would mean more work simply to earn the right to wear a gold cord at graduation.  Is a gold cord more valuable than saving a year of student loan debt or beginning one’s career a semester ahead of schedule?

I have considered why so many educators are vehemently opposed to early graduation.  I have cynically concluded that the only reason not to accelerate honors students is to squeeze the maximum amount of tuition from them.  A year of savings for the student equals a year of lost revenue for the institution. 
Students should chart their own best course, doing what benefits them educationally and financially.  Institutions should not hold them back.
For suggestions on acceleration at the elementary and secondary level, see this article.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Accelerated Education is Sound Fiscal Policy

Legislators in North Carolina passed a $19.7 billion state budget that includes a 16 percent cut for the UNC system (Greensboro News & Record, July 7, 2011).  I wonder if anyone in the UNC system has considered that accelerated education could help them achieve this cost cut without jeopardizing four-year graduation rates.   Allow me to make my case.

The Costs of Egalitarianism in Education

While I firmly support equality of educational opportunities, that is quite different from the utopian egalitarianism that permeates today’s schools.  Requiring all students to sit through the same classes, regardless of ability or past achievements, is inefficient for the school and frustrating for students.  The price we pay for pretending all students are exactly the same is considerable.  In the name of general education, we pay to warehouse students in introductory classes even when those students have already mastered the material.  Teachers are being paid to teach students who have already been taught.  Why not free those classroom slots for students who truly need a class in English composition or western civilization?  Let the best prepared students prove their competency through CLEP tests, portfolios of research papers, or challenge tests based on the university general education classes.  These most competent students will use fewer state resources as they graduate on time (or even early) and the rest of the students will benefit from the additional classroom slots available to them at registration (enabling them to graduate on time.)

The Costs of Academic Snobbery

Strict course transfer policies and refusal to accept certain CLEP tests or other alternative forms of credit cause students to waste time and money repeating courses.  If a university is truly concerned about students going unprepared into upper-level courses, they can grant conditional credit for transfers or credit-by-exam.  For example, credit for English 101 will be granted for an AP English score of 3 or above, provided the student takes another English course and gets an A or B.  Such a policy would encourage the hesitant student to opt for repeating a class while the student who is confident of his preparation forges ahead and gains the credit for the lower-level course in the process.

The Multiplied Benefits of Early Graduation

Allowing the most capable or best prepared students to accelerate makes efficient use of scarce state resources.  If the state can graduate a student in three years, that frees resources for those who need extra help.  The net result could be more college graduates without more money spent.

Early graduates should graduate with less student loan debt.  Without crippling loan payments, such graduates can have money to use for retirement savings, raising families, or starting businesses. 

Budget cuts are never easy for anyone; who among us likes to cut back?  If handled wisely, however, North Carolina students could actually benefit from a more focused, more efficient university system.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Independent Learning

It seems fitting to begin this blog the week of Independence Day.  My passion is to promote learning without the artificial boundaries of a formal school setting.  I have experience with independent study courses, distance education, credit-by-exam, home schooling and accelerated education.  To read about my accelerated education experience, check out this link: How to Graduate from College in Three Years .

If you have questions about any aspect of independent learning, please leave a comment and I will see if I can help you.