Posts Tagged ‘creative learner’

With the influence of comments made by Dana’s psychiatrist and from reading the first few chapters of John Taylor Gatto’s book, “The Underground History of American Education” (online), I decided to make changes in our homeschool to not only allow Dana to follow his interests, but to make them the focus of his education. 

In particular, I was impressed by the psychiatrist suggesting that we should have different expectations of Dana than we would for other students and should encourage his strong computer, electronics and robotics interests and above average abilities in those areas. I was also affected by what Gatto said about reading, which is a strength of Dana’s that needs to be built on.

Gatto said: “Reading, and rigorous discussion of that reading in a way that obliges you to formulate a position and support it against objections, is an operational definition of education in its most fundamental civilized sense. No one can do this very well without learning ways of paying attention: from a knowledge of diction and syntax, figures of speech, etymology, and so on, to a sharp ability to separate the primary from the subordinate, understand allusion, master a range of modes of presentation, test truth, and penetrate beyond the obvious to the profound messages of text. Reading, analysis, and discussion are the way we develop reliable judgment, the principal way we come to penetrate covert movements behind the facade of public appearances. Without the ability to read and argue we’re just geese to be plucked.” –

Some of this is way beyond Dana at present, but we will try to lay the groundwork. Reading lessons on Time4Learning and grammar study address some of this, also, so we will likely return to that later.

For at least the next two weeks, and likely for a long time, we are going to try this experiment. Dana is to learn what he is interested in learning and do it the way he wants to do it. I discussed this with him and we came up with a curriculum that he agreed reflected this. If it turns out to be too much influenced by my expectations and uncomfortable for him, we will make adjustments. If he has over-estimated his readiness to learn scripting programming, I will provide more assistance or we will hold off for a while. 

The curriculum starts off with learning scripting because that is what Dana said he most wanted to learn right now. And since scripting, like other programming languages, requires at least basic math, we will cover it when he needs it, thus avoiding the usual battles.

Dana’s Curriculum beginning February, 2011

  1. Scripting on ROBLOX using the Lua 5.1 programming language, a simple scripting language that can be embedded into games or programs (parent applications). A scripting language is a programming language that allows control of one or more applications. John K. Ousterhunt, in “Scripting: Higher Level Programming for the 21st Century,” says, “Increases in computer speed and changes in the application mix are making scripting languages more and more important for applications of the future.” Roblox developers have added in functionality to Lua so that users can create interactive content. Lua tutorials are available on ROBLOX. One important feature that nearly all programming languages use is math. Lua uses basic math, variables, conditional statements, random numbers, and more. So math will be included in scripting lessons. Dana will mostly learn and apply on his own, with help as needed. He will share what he learns and applications he develops.
  2. Mechanical principles of physics applied to building robots and Power Funtions constructions, plus programming Lego robots. Dana will mostly build and explore on his own and will share with  me what mechanical principles he applied and demonstrate programs by running the robots.
  3. Reading for pleasure and sharing and discussing afterwards, beginning with “The Unusual Mind of Vincent Shadow” followed by other books of his choice.
  4. I will continue reading classic literature to him and discussing it as we go. We will finish reading “The Secret Garden” and then “read “Huckleberry Finn,” followed by many others.
  5. I will continue reading history to him, and discussing and referring to maps. We are finishing reading about explorers and will learn about pirates next before beginning the founding of the U.S. Dana will read the “Little House” books at the appropriate time in our study.
  6. Dana will observe and work with my husband and our handy man in work around the house and property to learn a variety of useful skills, get exercise and develop positive attitudes to work.
  7. Dana will continue to tutor a boy at karate as long as needed, as well as continue his karate lessons, daily practice and exercise.
  8. Dana will likely continue his membership in 4-H, complete a project and do community service with the group.
  9. Other lessons will be at his request only.

Comments are not only welcomed, but requested.


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I have been concerned that while my 10 yo can read quite well, he doesn’t seem to read for pleasure and only reads stories when I put it on the schedule. He loves for me to read them to him, however.

Yesterday I went into his room to have a discussion with him about how to help him choose to read on his own. I couldn’t talk with him, though, because he was on his computer reading a detailed tutorial on how to add laser light shows to the fireworks displays on Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 and did not want to be interrupted.

LOL. I forgot that he actually prefers reading for information (reading to learn, not learning to read) and does it when there is something he wants to know. He tests his own comprehension by following the instructions or using what he learns in some unique way. And I had been worrying that he didn’t seem to be pursuing knowledge on his own lately! I just need to remember that what I want him to learn and what he wants to learn are not always the same, but may get him to the same point. For example, he is learning problem solving, logical thinking and physics while he is “playing” at designing and building robots.

Now I just need to figure out how to work enough math into his interest areas!

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My 9 year old has a hard time getting excited about learning spelling or math, but you hand him some electrical components and you’d better get out of his way! He hates getting books for Christmas. I guess because we have a houseful already and he associates them with everyday life, or at least homeschool. But he got a couple of electronics books with kits this year that really pleased him.

He will talk for hours about spur of the moment robotic inventions and can tell you all about electronics components and schematics. So, I figure this is a passion that should be encouraged and fed. I am also hoping that he will learn higher math more easily and willingly when he sees he needs it for electronics. I have been searching the Internet for resources to help him learn. The problem is that once you are past simple circuits, there isn’t much geared to a boy his age that is both interesting and understandable and doesn’t use too much math.

I recently stumbled across http://makezine.com which is a great website for builder-types of all ages, and I subscribed to their free podcast as well as getting Dana a subscription to their magazine. Then they notified me about a fabulous book for learning electronics. “Make: Electronics –Learning by Discovery,” by Charles Platt is going to be Dana’s next textbook for science, just as soon as we finish “Real Science-4-Kids Physics Level I”. “Make: Electronics” teaches in a fun, hands-on way. As the back cover says, “You’ll build the circuits first, then learn the theory behind them. I love this book! You can find the book on their website or on Amazon.com. Better yet, you can download a free large portion of the book at: http://cdn.makezine.com/make/Make_Electronics_Excerpt_1.pdf (Caveat: This book is not written for kids and may be too difficult as a starting place. My boy started much further back and “grew.” For beginners, you might start with Snap Circuits, and then go to “Fun With Electronics” or “Fun With Computer Electronics,” nice little books with a kit of build and learn projects.)

If you want more, check out the free downloadable article  “Teaching Some Basic Concepts of Electricity” by Laura Spoerri for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. These lessons are designed to teach a few basic concepts of electricity to middle school students with experimentation, demonstrations, analogies, discussion, work sheets and vocabulary review. Handouts and a materials list are included.

If you go to http://www.tryengineering.org you can find “Get Connected With Ohm’s Law”, a lesson for ages 10-18

Then for high school age, there is “Electricity Visualized: The CASTLE Project,”  by Dr. Melvin S. Steinberg. CASTLE stands for “Capacitor-Aided System for Teaching and Learning Electricity.” It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Dept. of Education National Diffusion Network. This course is a part of the New York State Regents Physics Core Curriculum. The student manual WAS free to download. There is a teacher guide, but I am still trying to get that. (Apparently the original paper has just dissapeared from the internet. It appears that Pasco has obtained rights to change/update it and include it in a kit with supplies which they sell for around $79.00. Since the original student curriculum was funded with federal money and specifically states that it is free and can be duplicated, I have placed links here for you to download the student  files. Go to the bottom of this post for links.) UPDATE: PASCO now has their new revised and updated version available for free download on their website: click here. They also let you request a free download of the teacher’s guide. I have requested it and am waiting for their response.

For more advanced high school or beginning college/technical school level, go to: http://www.ibiblio.org/kuphaldt/electricCircuits/ for a free series of six big textbooks on the subjects of electricity and electronics, revised in 2009, by an instructor who was not satisfied with available textbooks. He encourages full free printing and use (including revision).

To cap this off, here is a great free computer program. For hands-on computer learning for the visual learner who likes to try stuff to see if it works, I recommend that you download Yenka at http://www.yenka.com/en/Free_Yenka_home_licences/  Yenka is a powerful piece of software for learning, which lets you use – and edit – an ever-growing library of free lessons for mathematics, science, technology and computing. It is used in schools, but they specifically encourage homeschoolers to download it for free, as long as you will not use it in a classroom (co-op) setting, etc. My boy tried working with the lessons on circuits already and certainly knew more than I did about the circuits and about how to use the program. Once we exploded a light bulb and it was fun – with no danger or mess to clean up.

Also, check out WatchKnow videos on electricity. And for knowledgeable comments and suggested teaching resources, click here.

Electricity Visualized, The CASTLE Project (Capacitor-Aided System for Teaching and Learning Electricity) Student curriculum. To download the pdf files, right click on each file name.

Intro.Student.09     Section.1.Student.09    Section.2.Student.09    Section.3.Student.09    Section.4.Student.09    Section.5.Student.09    Section.6.Student.09    Section.7.Student.09   Section.8.Student.09    Section.9.Student.09    Section.10.Student.09    Section.11.Student.09

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Spelling phrases with Algodoo

 The other day it was time for Dana to write some dictated phrases for spelling (and handwriting), but all he wanted to do was work on Algodoo, (his engineering/physics program that I have mentioned several times). Then he suggested that he use the “brush” in Algodoo to write his phrases on the computer screen, so I agreed. He certainly had more fun writing his spelling work and the letters were each in a different color. There were no lines, so they aren’t perfectly even, but we did work on things like writing an h that doesn’t look like an n, and proper spaces between words and he was able to easily correct mistakes. Well, he corrected some letter writing mistakes. I didn’t want to find too many things to be corrected, and using a computer mouse is not exactly the same as using a pencil. It was certainly an interesting way to do spelling and writing! Once he took a short-cut and “mirrored” a letter b to make a d and moved it to the right place, so I know he has no problem with incorrect letter reversals. His spelling and handwriting skills are far below his other abilities and knowledge, so I was happy to encourage a fun way for him to practice. 

Talk about creative homeschooling approaches for the right-brained learner!

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On my “technology” page I told you about the free physics-based program called “Phun.” Dana has had so much fun with “Phun” and created some amazing stuff, so when he found out they had a “new and improved” commercial version, I finally broke down and bought it for him. It seems the physics graduate student who created “Phun” went to work in his advisor’s company to produce a marketable version called “Algodoo.” It has some new capabilities and has fired up Dana’s engineering creativity again. He has built numerous versions of elevators and vehicles that pick up, haul, and dump stuff. Now he is working on new versions of pumps using three-tooth gears instead of the vanes shown in the one on the “Technology” page. He says they pump more efficiently. First he made the “water” black and said it was ink. Now he is working on making variations of hot chocolate pumps. I understand that the next addition will be a spout to fill a cup from the reservoir. He has also created a water powered vehicle.


The self-directed discovery learning, problem solving and creativity encouraged by this program makes it a worthwhile investment for him. As he gets older, I expect the projects will become increasingly complex and probably have more direct relationship with the real world. But the fantasy creations also must work using the same principles and limitations (unless deliberately set differently) as real-life objects. So the basic knowledge gained through direct manipulation will carry over.

For more ideas, there are many, many free “phunlets” which can be downloaded to the program and used as-is or manipulated to suit. There is really nothing quite like it for the budding engineer type kid (or adult) who loves to invent and fool around building and experimenting with no mess or danger, and no cost for materials.

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Do you know or suspect that your child is highly talented in some area but in someone’s opinion (hopefully not yours) is  “not performing up to his potential” and therefore must not be gifted? There is a great article that has apparently been around for a while about the danger of  identifying a gifted child only by his achievements, and what schools should do with and for gifted students. Since the author encourages wide dissemination of it, I am including it here. Is It a Cheetah ? I am also reminded of the old story about THE ANIMAL SCHOOL by George Reavis.

Those of us who homeschool often face this dilemma, also. We need to “learn the attributes of unusual intelligence and observe closely enough to see those attributes in individual children,” and ” recognize not only that highly gifted children can do many things other children cannot, but that there are tasks other children can do that the highly gifted cannot…a child’s greatest gifts could be outside the academic world’s definition of achievement and so go unrecognized altogether.”

As some of us deal with “twice-exceptional” kids we need to remember that it is important to emphasize the strengths and feed the passions. It is not OK to focus on the “weaknesses” to the neglect of the child’s special gifts. Even more, perhaps, than “once exceptional” gifted children, ours need down time and self-directed activity (or apparent non-activity). I have learned that my boy needs “digestion time” for things he has learned. Then one day he will come out with some new related idea or application. He can only handle traditional learning for so long. Then he rebels. No matter how hard I try to make it fun or hands-on, he eventually says, “No more! I want to do some other things.”

Fortunately, he does not require lots of repetition to learn something. He is often like a sponge, getting it the first time through. So we often take a day or two off from studies. Today was one of those days. In the first place, I needed to go someplace without him. Rather than give him assignments to complete in my absence, I told him to sleep late and relax and we might or might not do some studying when I got home.

Like any 9-year-old boy, he chose to stay in (my) bed and watch TV. But once he got up, he built an AirBlox “den” in his room and brought in a portable DVD player. In order to make room for his new setup, he had to clean his room and find a new storage spot for some things. The movies he then chose to watch were “Magic Schoolbus” science ones. I would say that was a day well spent, and he never would have done any of it if I had “assigned” it.

Recently we finished our Biology text (Real Science 4 Kids: Biology I) and I started him on human biology. One day about two chapters in, he announced that he was bored with biology and wanted to study electronics. After a discussion, I convinced him to start with some (more) basic physics to get ready for the concentrated study of electronics. We are now well into “Real Science 4 Kids: Physics I” and moving right along with experiments. His Christmas gifts will include some books and kits to enhance his electronics study later on and he is happy as a clam. These just happen to be the areas he is passionate about.

I do  believe he is gifted in the areas of reading and science. His abilities in these subjects are a natural part of him. These motivate him to learn other things that, by his nature, he has trouble learning. He just this evening announced to me that he had to learn how to spell better if he wanted to type or write big words for science. Just telling me that he wanted to type or write any words was thrilling. Saying he wants to improve his spelling made it more thrilling! By my encouraging his passions and building on his gifts, which are normal for him, his need for learning in his weaker academic areas becomes apparent to him.

However, twice-exceptional children, with or without a diagnosis, often have non-academic areas that need emphasis. For Aspies and others those areas often include behaviors and emotions that must be dealt with. We spend some time on anger management and self-control, as well as providing appropriate sensory stimulation and reassuring his anxieties. This kind of asynchronous development is often pronounced in children like him.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, I find that he has less difficulty with emotions and behavior when he is allowed and encouraged to spend plenty of time pursuing  his areas of greatest interest. Perhaps much of his frustration comes from not being allowed to single-mindedly pursue his strengths.

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Building on the bed

Building on the bed

After the County Fair, Dana and Joey decided to continue working on their 4-H robotics project at our house, since Dana has the same “Mindstorms for Schools” RCX robotics kit that the 4-H office uses. Since their interest is up, there is really no reason for them not to continue. They are zipping through the activities, learning about adding on sensors and how to program the robot for using them with the Robolab CD program. Interestingly, Dana has learned that he must do some math to figure out how to program the light sensor correctly. I am glad to see him learning that math is necessary to do science, but learning it in a simple way that doesn’t overwhelm him with some complicated formula. Hooray for hands-on science!
Robot with touch sensor bumper

Robot with touch sensor bumper

Light sensor robot follows the line

Light sensor robot follows the line

Joey’s brother and sister come along, too, and enjoy watching the results. Then they all get to have a play-date or do some other activity together.

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