First Day Insanity… Me.

[I rescued this post from my drafts folder…. obviously, it’s not the first day! We just finished first semester. Still applicable, however.]

Today was our first day back at school. My first day with this new personal learning school.

Insanity sums it up in a word.

The insanity wasn’t the students, the content, or the environment (although it was a wee bit boisterous and hectic). The insanity was me.  My knee-jerk response to being in a smaller, mentoring focused environment  was a desire to recreate the traditional classroom. Amid the noise and chatter, I wanted to sit everyone down, talk about the tools we will be using, and then to model for them on a stinking projector how to do the digital assignments.


Where did that come from? Is the pull of my measly two years in the traditional classroom so great? Why do we immediately turn to these traditional modes of relating to children? Why didn’t I see different ways to easily share with a small group of students? How can I possibly be falling back on that when I’m trying to move forward in learning about inquiry and student-centered learning?

Stop the insanity. I need to open my eyes, to trust in the process, and to help my students gain trust in the process of mentoring and personalized learning.

How’s your insanity level? Are you doing the same things in a different environment? Are you doing different things in the same environment? Or are you changing both?

Do Fish Live Near Airports?

Sometimes inquiry leads in strange and funny directions. It requires trust in the process and outcome. I’m learning to let go and enjoy the ride, even though I don’t understand this whole inquiry thing.

In the afternoons, my children and class group have the amazing opportunity to spend time at the be you house through the Innovation Lab of Thompson School District. There, they have the freedom to pursue their own interests and passions supported by mentors and expert tutors. My son, Caleb ((I have  his full permission to share this story… he’s always interested in seeing newcomers to his blog and knows that linking is a powerful thing.  He’d love a few visitors. 🙂 )) , has decided he has a passion for fishing that he would like to pursue… in addition to authoring a chapter book, which he plans to self-publish ((Using or a similar site.)) later this school year. This week, he toured a local tackle shop, researched local fishing places, practiced casting in the backyard of the be you house and went fishing (or wading) with his Dad.

However, I’ve been struggling with letting him direct his own learning. Today, I finally sat down with him and asked him to map out some questions he has related to fishing. And because I’m a total nerd, he grudgingly opened a mindmap on… added “Fishing” as the main node…. and promptly had a meltdown.

Why is it so hard for children to think freely?   I don’t have an answer, but I can say that this has been a difficult transition for my own children. It’s like the years of filling in blanks has trained them not to think. Part of me believes that memorization and worksheets create lazy learners, but part of me also senses a great deal of fear coming from these little minds…. “What if I’m not correct?” “What if I make a mistake?” “How will I know what the right answer is?”

After I reassured him that I just wanted him to get some questions down, he relaxed and typed this:

Do fish live near airports?

Seriously???? Of all the questions in the world, that’s the one he wants to know about fish? I took a few deep breaths, let him return to his game, and then tried to figure out how to question without leading. I finally asked, “What do you think about that? Do you think that they do live near airports, or not?”

His response really made me a believer in this whole inquiry thing in a concrete and real way. He said, “Well, I think it would be pretty loud near the airport, and I wondered if fish would not like the noise. Can they hear? Do they have ears?”


Guess that shows me, huh? I think those are great discovery questions, even if the first one sounded pretty insane to me initially. It taught me that we all think very differently. He saw an airport built in an online game world with water near it earlier in the day, and it made him wonder…. would fish live in that water with all those loud planes flying overhead? The student is the teacher.

Have you heard any very unusual inquiry questions lately? What is your favorite resource on inquiry?

A Peek at Student-Led Learning

Today, school started in our local public district. However, I still had three children at home. ((My oldest elected to stay in public high school, which is fine and meets his needs for the year.))You see, after much contemplation and soul searching, we have chosen to give our children the chance to pursue their own interests and have a voice in their education. Ideally, this would occur within the system.  But for now, it’s not really an option.

I’m all for advocacy, but in the meantime my little people are growing up. I can’t in good conscience work at a personal learning school, intern at an inquiry based school, and also be involved in an innovation zone while still placing my children in a traditional classroom. Although our school does not start for another two weeks, we are easing back into the year by spending some time learning each day. (What a great practice for all of us, huh?)

We spent 2 hours this morning together, without a decided plan.  I just stipulated that they needed to be learning something. (This is a huge leap for me, and something I’m testing out after reading Deschooling Gently.)

Here are some things they chose to do this morning:

Chicken Egg Production Chart

I think the biggest surprise for me was how easily something like collecting chicken eggs can lead to a discussion of fractions (10 of 13 chickens laid eggs… 10/13), probability, ratios, bar graphs, formulas, and the possibilities of shared documents. There was also reading and writing.

Another surprise was my inability to adequately express why it mattered that we say “I” instead of “i”. I didn’t resort to “I said so.”, but my best argument was so that other people can understand you and think you are educated…. uhm, since when did I become such a snob? Educated? That’s the best you can come up with, Julie? I obviously need to rethink this. It’s not that people couldn’t understand the word. It’s that it looks bad or improper or uneducated or wrong. Why is that? ( ee cummings, anyone?)

Learning opportunities abound. Unschooling is becoming less and less of a ‘bad word’ in my mind. Children need access to tools to learn, a la Sugata Mitra, and mentors to help them along the way.