Friday, August 29, 2014

Seven Steps to Creating a Productive Project Based Environment

The S.E.E.D.S. curriculum is based on the perspective that education should be community-based and focused on student centered learning. In order to create this type of curriculum S.E.E.D.S. utilizes project based learning activities. Project based learning has come to the forefront of the education debate, becoming a “new” form of education. Yet, contrary to this perspective, for some of us, project based learning has been utilized for over two decades. Though many see just the positives or negatives of project based learning few realize that both exist and both are based on how the teacher (parent or educator) presents the project and the associated information. At S.E.E.D.S. we understand the importance of full teacher and students engagement so we believe for project based learning to be successful teachers and the curriculum must:

1. Create the Link
In order to create a project from which the children will have long term learning through full comprehension, teachers must create the link between the information that needs to be taught and the desire the students have to learn the information. Most teachers forget (or fail to realize) students drive the learning process. Once a teacher (parent or educator) understand this, they also understand that it is essential to get the students input and participation from the very first step. Topic Selection. This creates a connection between the desire to learn and the content (what needs to be learned) based on the students’ natural curiosity. Project based learning makes the vital connection between knowledge and skills.  Working on a project is definitely active and interactive learning rather than passive. This is fantastic for educators and students alike. When you allow the link to be created through a mutual desire to learn or teach a topic, than both the teacher and the students have created a link, through a student centered learning environment.

2. Lead Out
The word education is derived from the Latin words “ex” and “ducere” meaning “to lead out.”  In a traditional classroom, the teacher teaches a lesson, talking about a topic for 20-30 minutes while the children sit quietly and listen. Once the teacher is done with the lecture, the children are given a quiet activity to complete individually or in small groups. This is where the real learning occurs- through the interaction and the conversation. Or so we think.  I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like a lot of learning or education is going on. The traditional class described above is more an act of “pouring in”. 

For project based learning to be successful it has to lead out. The learning must occur though inquires, comments, introspection, reflections and interactions of the learner. I say learner because the learner is not only the students in this case, but the teacher too. In this case you must use the cyclic learning system where “Teachers should be students; students should be teachers,” (Lee, 2014).In order to get the most out of project based learning, the teacher (educator or parent) must use a hands on approach to facilitate the learning process. Through this hands on approach the students have something tangible to learn from and through. Therefore, producing concrete results to prove learning taking place. Real comprehension occurred rather than the “learning” of abstract theories. Project based education “leads out” because it teaches our students HOW to think rather than WHAT to think. When you look at the current day job market and our children’s future, it is far more essential to teach our children to be critical thinkers by nurturing their curiosity rather than creating walking information containers. 

3. Establish a Hands on Learning Environment 
True project based learning uses the hands on project to facilitate the learning process.  Peers and instructors interact to complete the project. The learning process and relevant content is directly related in tangible ways.  This makes the lessons content (often abstract theory and concepts) concrete. This is essential. Then long term learning and comprehension has a better chance of occurring. Hands on learning is also fantastic because it gives the teachers and the student’s flexibility to teach and learn interactively. Hands on learning doesn’t necessarily mean you make a volcano when you are learning about chemical reactions. You do not need to do that to create learning (although you SHOULD). It means you create a dialogue with your students and you explore real world examples of how the chemical reactions take place and what the outcomes can be. This can be done through actual science experiments where bases and acids are mixed to create a reaction, or it can be done through the students creating their own possible chemical reaction recipes. Again its hands on, because it involves FULL student and teacher participation and dialogue.

4. Use Textbooks as a Resource ONLY 
As many teachers can tell you, lecturing out of a book is not real teaching. When you make the teaching an active interaction between the students and the teachers, you have enthusiastic teachers and students.  Teachers love to see their students learn and comprehend. Which encourages them to create and teach more effectively.  When the learning being conducted is students centered, the students have a voice in choosing or guiding their learning.  Student centered learning empowers students to want to learn by nurturing their natural curiosity and engaging the teacher, rather than learning a textbook. Don’t get it wrong, textbooks are important in a classroom. Even through project based learning, a textbook is a great resource to have if you need to look something up or do more reading and research on a topic. But for project based learning to be truly successful a teacher cannot teach from a book. They must engage the students through interactions.

5. Make Learning Fun
Every teacher knows that they must teach certain subjects every year, because of the requirements by the school, the districts and Common CORE standards. But, as educators we all know that teaching children to test well by drilling them with information is not helping children comprehend information, which would indicate long term retention of the knowledge. Rather it means teaching children to utilize their long term memory to remember standardized material. This is not fun. It’s not fun for the teacher and it’s certainly not fun for the students. To make the learning fun it is essential to understand your student’s needs. The Common Core standards can still be met through student center, hands-on learning. When learning is fun, concepts are retained and can be built upon, with less “refresher” or review times. So you want to solve the problem of all this wasted time reviewing concepts over and over again… well make learning FUN.

6. Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself 
This is a big one. The initial steps of project based learning can be boring. Oh yes, I said the word that all educators hate to hear. Why? Because when they hear that word they know learning is not taking place. So what do you to make project based learning less boring? You don’t get ahead of yourself. Just jump in. Teachers need to understand that though they know how the project will progress their students do NOT. So if the first few steps are boring, students lose interest. This can be avoided by getting students involved from the start.  Ask them what they want to do.  Let them choose the project.  The teacher then facilitates the project by fortifying it with appropriate lessons and activities using the approved curriculum. Don’t extend it. Get through it and then the project can get started with the fun stuff. If you need to review concepts, that’s fine! Ask the students questions to “lead out” from them what they may know or might think about a relevant aspect of the project related to that concept. This actively engages the children are in the learning process. When they are engaged they listen and comprehend what you say! Which means they are learning actively.They want to learn because of their natural curiosity. And while you facilitate their learning you get caught up in it too. So guess what, don’t get ahead of yourself.

7. Do Not Create a Multiple Topic Jumble 
Another issue with project based learning is that each project can connect to tons of other subjects creating an interdisciplinary subject jumble that can be chaotic for the teacher.  This can overwhelm all the concepts, making it confusing for your students and create a situation where the learning becomes stagnant.  This is counterproductive. You can make those connections. But, you need to let the students learn to connect the dot themselves. Let the children explore and discover connections by asking questions. Use their curiosity to determine which topic subject matter they dabble into next, because believe me, they will find those interdisciplinary links and lead you to them. So step back, guide facilitate their learning and watch where they take you and themselves!  Ask leading questions to stimulate their thinking, reflection, and introspection.

If you are a parent or a professional educator, you can make learning fun! This is best part of project-based learning? When it’s FUN for everyone. This means that, everyone can will enjoy the learning process. The students will feed off your enthusiasm and this will greatly enhance their learning and your love of teaching.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The SEEDS Logo: Background

     It is said that the first 3 years of formal education can set the learning habits for the rest of your life.  Sustainable Early Education Development System (SEEDS) strives to help empower people to become their own best teachers and life-long learners. 
     The SEEDS logo embodies the critical elements for the Sustainable Early Education Development System.  Yin-Yang is the backdrop for a young sprouting plant.
     Yin-Yang is a non-linear model of dynamic equilibrium.  This symbol is a model summarizing the dynamics of the universe in simple (i.e. basic or fundamental but not necessarily easy) terms.  Conceived in China in the 6th century B.C., Yin-Yang symbolizes the dynamic and changing forces in the universe.  The forces may appear to be opposites.  It is best to think of them as complementary.  There are few absolutes; few things (if any) are 100%.  We must constantly and consciously be aware of this when studying the world.
     To properly view this model, first focus on the entire symbol.  There is one circle. Yin-Yang is a unified whole.  Inside the circle are large areas of light and the dark.  These appear to be contrasting opposites.  Instead, view the two parts of one whole circle as complements.  The division between the light and dark areas is not a straight and static line.  Instead, it is curved, dynamic so that each area appears to be moving into the other.  This shows the dynamic nature of the forces in the universe.  Change will occur.  If you draw straight lines across the symbol, you can get different ratios of light to dark.  Each ratio can represent a different “balance” or a kind of dynamic equilibrium.
    Inside each large area is a small spot of the opposite color.  This indicates that nothing is 100%.  You can also think of the small spot as the “exception to the: rule” or a reminder that contradictions exist.  There are no simple (i.e. easy or black-and-white) situations or answers.  And yet there are some simple (i.e. basic, fundamental, or universal) models to help guide our inquiry.
     In traditional Taoism, the light area represents (Yang, the Sun, male, positive, facing south) and the dark (Yin, the Moon, female, negative, facing north). At first, these seem to be opposites.  In reality, you cannot have any humans without both male and female.
     Yin-Yang accommodates "Chaos Theory'” as it represents dynamic equilibrium. In “Chaos Theory” small, random or unexpected events sometimes result in very disproportionately large outcomes usually regarded as a different equilibrium or level of balance than existed before the change.  Yin-Yang indicates that change occurs and the "balance' is dynamic. It doesn't require the "balance" be the same as before the change.
[Note: Yin-Yang is hyphenated to show it is a single unified entity. It is spoken as one word. To say “Yin and Yang” is to indicate a pair of separate entities. Yin-Yang cannot be separated. You cannot have one without the other. It is more appropriate to view them as complements rather than opposites.]
The young sprouting plant represents the result of sowing seeds.  For us, P.L.A.N.T.  means Personal Learning and Natural Teaching. P.L.A.N.T. goes back to the days before schools, diplomas, colleges, teaching certificates, and departments of education existed. Inherent in PLANT is the idea of LIFE-LONG learning. People need to continuing learning throughout their lives.  SEEDS teaches people to become their own best teacher.  Beyond the individual, the teaching unit is the family.
     P.L.A.N.T. evolved out of an earlier community-based education effort I began in 1999. My approach to community-based education came from:
·         my personal learning and education experiences starting from public schools in Hawaii,
·         college training in various universities,
·         my work experiences in the private sector which involved on-the-job training of new hires,
·         professional teaching
·         my volunteer experiences in various communities and countries over the years.
     Here are some key points that have shaped my thinking about PLANT and
community-based education:
Education Defined: Generally, an educational system involves teachers and students.  This can occur both in and out of formal schools.  In fact, most parents are the first teachers most of us have in life.  And most parents do not have formal teaching credentials and certificates.  Education is derived from two Latin words: Ex meaning “out of” and ducere meaning “to lead.” Ironically, traditional teaching seems more of a “pouring in” process rather than a “leading out”.  Teachers (as fountains of knowledge) fill up students (empty containers) with knowledge.  Exams try to determine if the containers were adequately filled.
     I prefer to think of educators “leading (themselves and others) out” from ignorance and toward enlightenment. [Note: I feel ignorance can be “cured” by learning. This is reinforced by Thomas Dewar’s quote: “Minds are like parachutes; they only function when open.”  Education is a life-long endeavor.  
As a reminder of this idea, I created the “cyclic saying”: “Learn to live, live to learn.”  This cycle suggests learning is perpetual.
Education is holistic.  The Geographic Systems Model, General Systems Theory, and Yin-Yang are the guiding conceptual models to perceive and identify connections and interrelations in our world.  I have another cyclic saying: “Connect to learn; learn to connect.”  Teachers and learners, while attempting to be “objective” are immersed in the subject / object being studied.  Thus, they must always be wary of personal biases affecting their studies. Integrity can be readily maintained by transparency; openly declaring your biases and potential or apparent conflicts of interests and taking steps to safe guard against them.  Peer review is a common reality check.  This is obviously an optimistic and positive view.
Self-Selection: I see education as an individual’s free choice. The learning can be self-initiated or guided by others. In C-bE model, self-selection is a key factor. Teachers and learners self-select to get involved in the education process. This also involves personal responsibility for their actions and decisions. In the end, learning is best facilitated when the learner wants to learn.  My cyclic saying for this is “Learn to choose, choose to learn.”
Teachers as Examples and Facilitators: For a teacher to be credible, they must be knowledgeable and skilled (competent) in their subject. Other personal qualities include integrity, consistency, and thoroughness (among others).  Teaching by example is far better than “do as I say, not as I do.” Effective C-bE teachers care to share. They care about people. They freely share their knowledge and skills expecting nothing in return. Effective learners are the key reward for dedicated C-bE teachers. I created the “cyclic saying”: “Teachers should be students, students should be teachers”. Consider this cyclic saying: “Learn to care; Care to learn.”

Saturday, August 23, 2014

S.E.E.D.S - Sustainable Early Education Development System

Who and What is SEEDS

SEEDS (Sustainable Early Education Development System) is an innovative program developed by Gregory Lee and Natalie Zartarian.  Mr. Lee, has decades of experience in teaching at the college level.  He has taught in the US and overseas.  He values a student centered educational approach. Ms. Zartarian has worked with preschool though high-school students.  She has worked as a teacher, coordinator and program/curriculum developer.  Both Mr. Lee and Ms. Zartarian understand the need for an independent, interactive and multifaceted learning system. They use STEAM - Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, to helps people to learn familiar and advanced concepts.  Both strongly believe learning should be holistic, fun, and understandable.  It should be adaptable to all learning styles and needs. Through their years in education, both Mr. Lee and Ms. Zartarian realized that a program like SEEDS did not exist.  They began their collaboration and developed the SEEDS curriculum using the STEAM concepts (which incorporated teaching the concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math through an interdisciplinary perspectives).  The SEEDS curriculum guides, not only individual self learning, but also community learning and development.