Monday, 29 September 2014

Quotes from "Schooling the World"

"Our schools are, in a sense, factories, in which the raw materials -children - are to be shaped and fashioned into products. The specifications for manufacturing come from the demands of 20th century civilisation, and it is the business of the school to build its pupils according to the specifications laid down."
- Ellwood P. Cubberly, Dean of Stanford University School of Education, 1898.

"School forcibly snatches children away from a world full of God's own handiwork. It is a mere method of discipline which refuses to take into account the individual, a manufactory for grinding out uniform results. I was not a creation of the schoolmaster: the Government Board of Education was not consulted when I took birth in the world."
- Rabindranath Tagore, 1913 Nobel prize Winner for Literature.

"You have an institution that is in place globally that is branding millions and millions and millions of innocent people as failures. What's amazing is that people who are claiming to be concerned with social justice cannot see the huge social hierarchy and inequity that is created through education, modern education. It's mind-boggling for me how people don't see that."
- Manish Jain, Shikshantar: The People's Institute for Rethinking Education and Development.
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Friday, 26 September 2014

Schooling the World

If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children.

The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a 'better' life for indigenous children. But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture's way of learning and understanding the world with our own? SCHOOLING THE WORLD takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply disturbing look at the effects of modern education on the world's last sustainable indigenous cultures.

Watch the full documentary online, but only if you are prepared to be seriously challenged in your thinking: Schooling the World (2010)

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Friday, 12 September 2014

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Not Back to School

September ... A time of mixed emotions for the home educating parent. In recent years, most children's return to school has heralded a time of glorious sunshine, and early autumnal warmth. It is such a great time of year to be out of doors. And there are numerous "Not Back to School" picnics being held in parks up and down the country in celebration. We attended one local to us today. As we watch other children return to school, September can be a time when we are at peace and in celebration of the freedoms home education brings. However, it is also a time of new beginnings, the time of curriculum appraisal, a looking forward to the new school year and thinking about what it is we are hoping to achieve. It is very easy to panic. And it is then easy to look around at curricula, many of them expensive, and hope that by introducing some expensive new set of resources, our home education will be miraculously transformed into the exemplary ordered and joyful process we so want it to be.

I do not think a curriculum will solve the problem. Usually the problem is in our heads. It is borne of our own confusion about what learning ought to look like, and about what our children ought to be achieving. This thinking is a product of our own schooling, and the process of unlearning it - of redefining learning - and of releasing control, is a difficult and sometimes painful journey. It forces us to ask questions, to evaluate and to change. Changing attitudes requires change deep inside us, and it does take time. We often read about the process of 'deschooling' - at least a month is recommended for each year a child has been in school. But for us, the parents, it is a far longer process, and if you have any background in teaching, well, give yourself even longer!

If I could recommend one book to aid you in your home educating journey, it would be Lori Pickert's "Project-Based Home-Schooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners". I intend to pick it up again this week, and re-read it. So much of what Lori writes - both in her book, and on her blog, resonates with the way I feel home education should look, and it is a very easy book to read. Recommended.

As I begin the process of attempting to reign back some order to our days - It has all been rather lax since our move six months ago - I have looked around for 'projects' for the boys. I found a website which I thought was full of great resources for my eldest son, that he could really delve into: Iggy. My second son is very enthusiastic about his Arts Award. And for my third son, I spent a minimal amount of money on a unit study with which we will journey around the world, learning about the geography of our planet, as well as lots about different countries. I figured that some time each day could be devoted to these 'projects' and bring some focus. However, as I reflect upon the Project-Based Home-Schooling idea, and the idea of autonomous, child-led learning, I realise I am beginning in the wrong place. A post on Lori's blog today reminded me that, rather than running with my own good ideas, I need rather to begin by looking at the boys, by really looking and by seeing what they are actually interested in, right now. And we need to start from there, in dialogue, giving them ownership of their own projects and supporting them in that however we can, in scaling the walls they want to climb.

My eldest son wanted to learn about the Crimea and the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, so that he can better understand what is going on in the world. He came home from his grandparents' this week knowing far more about the Crimea than I do. He is interested in history. He learns by talking to his Grandpa, and taking it all in. He retains it. He knows a lot about history. He is also interested in the building work we are having done on our house. He loves scouting and the outdoors. He and his brother are very interested in yo-yos and are looking for ideas for new tricks on youtube, then practising and practising to get them right. He is interested in playing tennis, in learning to confidently navigate our new locality .... Lots of things if I am paying attention. And these are not things which I have to try hard to engage him in. The motivation is intrinsic. Can I not just draw alongside him in these endeavours, and support and encourage him to dig in and deepen his understanding and skills?

My second son saved up so hard to buy himself an iPad. He wanted to use it for art and for music and did a lot of research before deciding it was worth the money. He is totally absorbed by this new gadget at present, and in figuring out what he can do with it. He is interested in musical composition using Garage Band, and in making movies with iMovie. He is figuring out how to connect with his friends using his new technology. And then there is yo-yoing, tennis, fencing (which he wants to try this term), baking (He loves The Great British Bake-Off), scouting. Both boys love Bear Grylls, and are watching and reading a lot about him.

Our 8-year-old loves Lego and Minecraft. He is just beginning to be much more confident about attending a few more clubs with friends. That's a new thing for him. He is reading more and chose a book about "The Wonders of the World" from the library with great enthusiasm. (I haven't even looked at it with him yet!) There are so many starting points if we will only stop to look!

So, having mentioned Lori's inspiring post, over to her blog for some timely advice: "Trust, Respect and Attention: How Not to Diminish Your Child's True Self". Enjoy September!

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Model Boat Building Develops Imagination

A Guest Post by Grandpa following ongoing project work with the boys this year

Our experience of Model Boat building is that it develops the imagination, it builds skill in project planning, in drawing, in measurement/arithmetic, in mechanics/physics and in construction techniques. It also provides a platform for looking at the science of flotation, and at history. It develops manual dexterity and instructs on the effective/safe use of power tools.

We used a powered jig saw, a power drill and a powered sanding machine. We also used a sewing machine. The boys had to be taught how to safely use these but then trusted to operate them solo.

We first discussed what sort of boat we were to build. As a result, we have built five different designs:
A pirate ship
A sailing boat
A bigger sailing boat
A big fast racing sailing boat
A warship from the Second World War.

We used three techniques:
A Horizontal sandwich
A vertical sandwich
Solid wood

The Horizontal sandwich: On a piece of 5-ply wood, we made a series of 10 drawings of horizontal sections through the hull. Straight lines were OK at this stage so careful measurements, and reducing or increasing the same point in successive sections by a centimeter produced the desired result.

The Vertical Sandwich: We decided that we wanted to sail the second boat we made. It followed that it had to have a keel. The keel had to be integrated into the hull. So we used a mix of 5-ply and timber in vertical sections, the first section featuring the keel and then four to six sections each side. Into each vertical slice we needed to cut a central flotation chamber – that is, the hull is not solid but hollow.

In our “sandwich”, we needed reference points at a position common to each section to give correct alignment as we glued.

When we had drawn, we cut everything out with the electric jig saw. The sections were then glued and their alignment carefully checked before clamping and leaving for the glue to set. In all three of our sailing boats we used an “exterior” waterproof wood adhesive. Applied generously it gives a wonderful seal.

The hull was then sanded to shape. This required some hours of work and produced a great deal of sawdust.

We then varnished the hull, building up 8+ coats over a period of days, sanding down in preparation for each. A pleasing feature of the horizontal 5-ply design was that the exterior of the hull features “planking”: use the 5-ply vertically and the planking appears on the deck.

We then drilled holes into our hull for the masts. These were commercially produced dowel, cut appropriately, and then glued into their sockets.

We prepared for the installation of the rigging by fixing brass eyes, for which a small hole had to be drilled at strategic stress points in hull and masts. We identified those stress points by discussion of the forces that would act upon them.

“The Crocodile”
For the pirate ship, our decision was that it would be a model from the waterline up. Waterproofing was not specified. The hull sandwich drawing took some imagination : an old ship was wider above than at the waterline, and there needed to be an authentic tumblehome. This lends itself to the horizontal sandwich. Our hull is 60 x 20cm. It has two hatches in it, and these were drawn in at the earliest stage. The yards were dowel, cut and fixed to the mast by hook and eye. The requirement for the sails was assessed and measured, and run up on a sewing machine. We put a tunnel on the top edge of each sail which then completely enclosed the yard, so the yard was fixed to the mast after the sail was hung. Other details, a figurehead and stairways were fashioned from “Milliput”. The choice of figurehead gave her name. A 1/72 scale plastic crew was purchased before she set sail for the Caribbean.

On reflection, I wished that she had been waterproof. The picture also shows a pirate puzzle, drawn and then made with a jig saw and housed in a specially designed box.

Our first sail boat was named after the Tolkein character. As originally built, Galadriel was inspired by something seen in my brother’s house. She carried a rudder cut from biscuit tin metal, then folded round a shaft and soldered. And to the keel we fitted a lead weight (which we cast ourselves). However, we then found she was not a good sailor. So we discarded the lead, and the rudder, reshaped the keel, gave her a bowsprit, and re-rigged her Bermuda-style, adding a bowsprit. In her radically different new style she sails well. She was made from 11 vertical slices of 5-ply and measures 44 cms in length and 54 cms from keel to masthead.

“Galadriel II”
We had then wanted something really impressively big, so our second boat was planned at one metre in length and over a metre from keel to mast head. Following the vertical sandwich technique we used 5-ply for the centre section with an integral keel, then we used on each side two layers of two-inch timber. The result was a sleek hull. However, she was actually laterally unstable, too narrow, too heavy and sailed poorly. She was at first ketch-rigged but we concluded she could not spill wind and must be allowed to do so. So we radically rebuilt her, power drilling into her hull with a big bit to make floatation chambers, and then added extra width by adding two extra sandwich layers. The result was wider but lighter. Now Bermuda rigged, she sails well. As finally configured, she is 98 cms long and 91 cms from keel to mast head.


These experiences led to “Arwen”. She is a metre long and 95 cms from keel to masthead. From the beginning she was constructed using a hollow hull, and again 5-ply for the central section with integral keel, and four wooden sections on either side. From the start she sailed beautifully, so our learning curve had peaked satisfactorily. Arwen was Bermuda rigged from the start. Note her rudder.

A feature of our sailing designs was “the bath test” at an early stage to check sailing characteristics, and to make changes as problems were detected. We also looked at bouyancy in a crude Archimedes experiment - assessing how much water was displaced by the boat and what that weighed in comparison with the weight of our model.

As suggested above, experience led to complete redesign of our first two sailing boats, and in finding success, we were guided by a “pond boat” which we bought on the internet.

We kept the rigging very simple, following the example of the commercially produced pond yacht. Our rigging is nylon twine which has slight elasticity, but needs the ends glued when cut (as it rapidly unravels). It is fed through small brass eyes, and tension is maintained by small wood “blocks”.

We added the ensigns by painting (in duplicate) a piece of paper in enamel paint and folding and gluing this around twine (so that we can raise and lower the flag).

The solid wood model

This brought much quicker results, but not a sailing model. Following a drawing obtained from a library book, we produced a waterline model of the hull by drawing on a piece of wood and then shaping this with the electric sander. The bow section being higher we had to add and treat similarly a second piece of wood. Details were added using cardboard, wood blocks, balsa wood, and wire from clothes hangers. The funnels were steel tubing. We prime painted and then used grey undercoat, which effectively hid all the blemishes. The gun turrets and torpedo tubes were screwed in place, so they traverse.

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