Welcome to LOLIPOP

LOLIPOP began as my master's thesis - an experiment in group learning with twenty homeschool families, including over sixty kids between six and fourteen years old. I coordinated 2-4 projects happening simultaneously, in 6 week sessions. The kids had a lot of fun, and the parents learned a lot about how this energetic and enthusiastic age group can have a successful learning experience. Since this first experiment, I have conducted seminars and webinars based on the LOLIPOP concept, and published For the Love of Learning: Giving Your Child a LOLIPOP Education.
This BLOG is for all those out there, trying to give their children and students the foundation they need to grow into great scholars, thinkers, and leaders. The principles align with the Leadership Education model and foster a love for learning, build individual confidence, and teach learning strategies that apply to a life time of great learning.
Check out more info about the book, seminars, webinars, and more at www.sdlaa.com.

Lolipop Learning, and terms and concepts such as "Love of Play", "Love of Sampling", and "Love of Producing" are the sole property of Amy Edwards. “TJEd", "Leadership Education", “Love of Learning Phase”, “Inspire, not Require” and other similar terms and concepts are taken from the works of Oliver & Rachel DeMille, and are used by permission and under license. For more information, visit http://tjed.org/.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Trouble with Homework

Recently I was browsing a blog for new teachers, and someone asked, "What do you do when students don't do the homework?" She received several positive and creative answers and some ideas for negative punitive responses. My thoughts?  Well, I've never had that problem.  Why wouldn't they do the homework? So I sat down to think about, why do my students always (ok, almost always) do their homework... Here are my thoughts...

I don't believe in "busy work".  Some teachers refer to it as the practice of concepts or skills taught during class time.  Ok, maybe a little practice, but once the student mentally checks out, because the "practice" has become ridiculously repetitive, he is no longer learning. Isolated problems on a page, outside of the context of child's real life and whole learning, are not retained. I mean those worksheets of capitalizing the beginning of sentences and proper nouns that have no connection to the child's life or to any quality literature he is reading.  I mean multiple pages of addition or multiplication problems with no application to the real world. Of course, if I assigned such nonsense, I would most likely have at least a few students brave and smart enough to refuse to do their homework.

Any homework I assign is an extension of the concepts or skills I have taught in person, either in class or one-on-one.  It is an application of those concepts or skills to the child's real life and the real world, and the whole and connected learning of the child.  If we are reading a book together, the homework may be a project about one aspect of the book that inspires the student.  Draw a map of Middle Earth, make a replica necklace from Shakespeare's time period, try out some recipes that the character may have eaten.  Need more paper and writing to feel "good" about homework?  Ok, write a different ending to the story, write a diary from the point of view of one of the characters, tell a story from the point of view of one of the "villains", write a persuasive paper on behalf of one of the characters to request something they need or make their case. Need to practice grammar? Type up a passage from the book but leave out all the punctuation, or misspell several words and challenge your student to find all of them (prizes to follow).

Read a fun math book, such as Mathematicians Are People Too, and then try out some problems related to whichever mathematician you just read about.  Go outside and find shapes (2D and 3D). Calculate gas mileage. Calculate the cost in gas to get to Disneyland (or other desired location). Bake something and double or reduce the recipe.

Another great motivator is group learning...positive peer pressure! Kids love to be heard!  They love to share! IF they are in a safe environment. Providing an opportunity for children to share their learning and show off what they can accomplish is very inspiring to many kids. Keep feedback positive for all children under 12, and after that age only critique as much as they request. This is not an opportunity to shame a student into participation.  When I occasionally have a student who declines such an opportunity, I don't make a big deal about it.  Some students need a smaller audience - perhaps just me. Some students need to watch it done by peers a couple of times before they dive in.  That's ok!

I will admit that occasionally I have students who don't do their homework.  I don't punish, but with older students, their grades will reflect any holes in assignments.  But even for older students, I talk to them and uncover why they were not inspired to do that assignment, and we work out a plan for an assignment that reinforces the same concepts but is inspiring for that individual student.  Are their other factors happening in their life right now that take priority over my assignment (yes, they may have something more important to deal with than memorizing multiplication tables)? If so, what is a reasonable time-table for this student? Even better, how can the assignment help them with a personal problem? I have often renegotiated writing prompts, so that students could work through their own issues as they complete their writing assignment.

The bottom line ... if I have a student who is not "doing the work", then I need to do the work of figuring out how to inspire that student.

P.S. If your child is participating in a class or a school that assigns "busy work", I suggest a friendly chat with the teacher.  Perhaps you can negotiate a compromise to cut down on the amount of this type of homework required.  For this is exactly the type of "learning" that fosters a hate for learning in children and erodes their confidence in their ability to self-learn. Perhaps you can suggest an alternative assignment for your child that still reinforces the concept or skill but connects to the child's real life. It's worth a shot!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Math Journals

    Math!  When you hear that word, do you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?  Do you love to teach math?  Are you exceptional at creating concrete problems for your children or students that really help them understand math concepts? Well, you can stop reading now!
     Ok, now that all those math-teaching-geniuses are gone, let's talk.
     Math has been one of the most challenging subjects for me to teach over the past twenty-something years.  I know that math should be - can be - fun and engaging, but figuring out how to do that as a teacher has been challenging. I've spent more money on math curriculum and activity books and fancy manipulatives than I've spent on all the other subjects combined! If you're nodding your head (or shaking you head in discouraged agreement), keep reading.  I have an idea - an inexpensive idea.

     I finally found a math book I enjoy - a blank composition book, with the handwritten title on the cover, "Name's Math Journal".  Let me share with you some of the benefits of using math journals.

     Before I do that, let's review the 3 foundations children need before age 12 to prepare them for scholarly studies and a life time of learning:
 - A love for learning
 - Self-confidence in their ability to learn (anything and on their own)
 - Basic learning strategies

Math journals help build up all 3 of these foundations.

A Love for Learning
     Children develop a love for learning when their learning connects to their own lives.  When they can learn about what interests them, rather than what will be on the test. When they can use learning to answer their own questions and make personal discoveries, they begin to love learning.
     Math journals allow children (and you) the freedom to include math that connects to their own lives. You are free to put whatever math you want to in that journal.
     Do they want to save up for a bike or a puppy?  Create a math problem for that.  Budget.  Brainstorm ways to earn money and create a timetable.
     Do they want to run a lemonade stand? Write out the expenses and projected profit in their math journal.
     Do they want to bake cookies, but they need to double or half a recipe?  Figure that out and put the new recipe in their math journal.
     Are you buying a new piece of furniture for their room, or any room in your house? Make a sketch of the room in the journal, take measurements and record those on the sketch, and then make a plan for where the new piece of furniture will best fit.  If your kids are a bit older or like an extra challenge, make the sketch to scale!
    Figure out how many days until Christmas or a birthday by adding up the days from each month.

     When you identify the math that naturally arises in their everyday lives by recording it in their math journal, you are showing them how applicable and lovable math can be!  Don't limit your math journal to problems from a textbook.  Put real life math in there! They can even include notes about anything interesting they learn about mathematicians (you're reading them stories about mathematicians, right?!).

Self-Confidence in their Ability to Learn
     Children build up their self-confidence as they are allowed to explore their own interests.  Most kids come pre-filled with self-confidence, and sadly that confidence is eroded by criticism or invalidation of their ideas.  When any authority figure (parent or teacher) discourages a child from exploring his/her own interests, that child develops an internal dialogue that their ideas are wrong or worthless. This doesn't mean that we must indulge every crazy idea that pops into our kids' heads.  But a math journal can be an outlet for them to plan out their ideas, experiment, and record results.  They don't need to succeed at every idea to build confidence.  Simply being encouraged to express and work out their ideas will build their confidence, because they will come to believe that the authority figures in their life value their ideas.

     One of my son's favorite activities to do in his math journal is to create his own math problems.  Sometimes he creates them and solves them himself, and sometimes he creates them for me, and I solve them.  He considers himself a math genius, simply because I have never indicated to him that his problems are any less relevant than the ones I put in his math journal. Don't panic if their math problems don't make complete sense, especially if your child is under 10-years-old.  They will figure it out with time, and they will look back at their journals fondly and laugh at their own early math reasoning. Correcting them will not ensure correct math reasoning; it will only erode their self-confidence.  Don't panic about "forming bad habits", as their own math problems are only a small part of what is going into their math journal.  You continue to model correct math procedure, and they will catch on.

Basic Learning Strategies
     Math journals are a great place for kids to experiment with and record basic learning strategies.  Help your child to make notes, maybe in the margins or below a problem, with tips that will help him/her remember how to do that type of problem.  The tips should be what clicks for that child, so make it personal.  In doing this, you are teaching them a few different learning strategies.  Of course, you are teaching some basic math strategies.  But you are also teaching them that everyone learns differently and that they need to use the best ways for them to remember or learn a concept.  There is no right or wrong way - just the best way for them and their brain.
     Simply teaching the strategy of using a math journal is beneficial to students for later, more scholarly math work.  My oldest daughter still uses a math journal for her high school math.  She takes her own notes, as she is learning a concept-notes that make the concept clear to her. She records sample problems and observations from her life and the world around her, and she makes connections between those observations and the math she finds in her textbooks. 
     Many homeschool parents express anxiety over what will happen when their children reach high school math, but my daughter teaches herself math, for the most part.  If she gets stuck, we work together to find a solution - search online, search the textbook, or work with a tutor (not me, as she passed me up a year ago in math). Her math journal is the primary tool that enables her to learn math.

Using Math Journals with Textbooks
     Yes, you can use math journals with textbooks!
     If you are very confident in teaching math, and you understand how each math concept builds on the ones before it (for example, teach skip counting by 5s and then teach clock minutes and counting by 5 minutes for each number passed on a clock), and you are creative enough to come up with math practice problems, then great, you probably don't need any help in the math-planning department.  However, if you are interested in some basic math scope and sequence, here are some of my favorite resources.
     The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is a group consisting of experts not only in math, but in teaching math (in how children learn math concepts and build on each concept).  They have published a series of guides, Curriculum Focal Points.  These are not workbooks or textbooks.  There are no math problems in the books for your child.  These books outline the order in which math concepts are best learned.  They do break up the concepts by grade (mainly due to public demand), but you can ignore the grades and just pay attention to the order.  Look at where your child is, based on the concepts he/she already understands and then choose a topic that will build on that from their list. 
     Once I choose a topic, another resource I love is AIMS.  If you look online at www.aimsedu.org, you will find a lot of math activity books.  Again, these are not workbooks.  They provide ideas for hands-on activities for every math topic you can think of.  I choose an activity, we do it together, and then we do some practice problems in the math journal.  Other resources are: Math Wise! and Hands-on Math Projects, both published by Jossey-Bass Teacher, as well as many books by Marilyn Burns (just google her or search on amazon.com, and you will find several fun math books).
     I also use an unconventional math series, The Life of Fred, with my children.  This is a collection of books that cover math concepts from the very beginning, through Algebra, Geometry, and Calculus.  They do this through a series of stories about the life of Fred, who is a math genius - teaching college math at the young age of 5-years-old.  These books are funny and entertaining, while providing a solid foundation for higher math concepts.  You can check them out at www.lifeoffredmath.com.

Using Math Journals with Public or Private School
     If you prefer more structure, or if your child is enrolled in full-time public or private school and required to use a specific math book, math journals can still be beneficial.  If your teacher will allow it, work out your textbook problems in the math journal.  If that won't work, you can still include a few textbook problems in the math journal.
     The problem with math textbooks is that students too often get the impression that math only lives inside a textbook.  This creates the impression that math is disconnected from the child's real life, or from anything the child finds worthwhile.  Remember, we don't want them to be disconnected from math.  When you include math problems from their textbook in their personal math journal, alongside their own investigations and their own problems, you create a connection between what is in the textbook and the math in their own lives.  Oftentimes, they will perceive a connection between the two as they notice that some equations or rules learned from the textbook can be applied to their life-math.  Now, the textbook has become a resource, rather than a task-master. Aside from a coaster, the only good use of a textbook (in my opinion) is as a tool and resource.
     Even if your child's school provides a math workbook, you can still buy him/her an inexpensive composition journal, and the two of you can spend just a few minutes each day working in the math journal.  
     If you are a public or private school teacher, consider a math journal for each of your students. Spend just 5 minutes of each class day having them record their own, personal math in their journal.  What did they observe that day that was mathematical (seasons, patterns, shapes, arithmetic, etc.)? What questions do they have that are mathematical? They don't have to answer them - just record questions. What do they like or dislike about math right now? Record feelings too! Help them connect math to their lives.

     Learning and teaching math should be an enjoyable activity!  Yes, really!  If you want to teach your children the joy of math, the first step is for you to find some joy in it yourself, so begin with getting yourself a math journal.  Record your own mathematical observations and questions. Make notes.  It can be messy!  Enjoy yourself!  Now, share your journal with your kids!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The End of Another School Year

This story was originally posted on LOLIPOP's Facebook page, which you can LIKE at  https://www.facebook.com/LolipopLearning?ref=hl.  I posted this story to encourage the many hard-working and stressed-out homeschool parents whom I meet and correspond with from all over the country. I repeatedly hear the same worries everywhere I go...Am I doing enough? How can I make sure my child is ready for high school / college...What will my neighbors/in-laws think if she can't spell...  This FB post got such an overwhelming response, it must be even more needed than I originally imagined, so I share it here--the long version--in the hopes of encouraging even more of you devoted parents out there trying to ensure your children have the best possible education.

My 14-year-old daughter just completed her first year of high school, earning all A's. She is a full year ahead of schedule, according to public school age guidelines.  Despite her young age, most of her courses were advanced or honors, 10th-12th grade level courses. She studied Comparative Literature, in which she read The Odyssey, Antigone, Faust, Dante's Inferno, Canterbury Tales, Don Quixote,  Les Miserables, short stories by Russian authors Tolstoy and Pushkin, and sonnets by Shakespeare.  She wrote analytical and synthetical essays (AP level writing) throughout the year and passed two Blue Book exams (typically reserved for college).  She studied World History, reading selections from Aristotle's Politics and Plato's Republic, investigating the causes and effects of world events from Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages up to the 1980s.  She participated in a document study of the United Nations Charter and several simulations that would have been a challenge for many college students.  She also took a Biology lab class, Math, Advanced Fine Art, Speech & Debate, Classical Acting, and PE.  To top it all off, she attended religious seminary every morning at 6am, (her choice, not mine, trust me).  

So why should this be encouraging to other parents? Shouldn't this just stress you out more? Here's the good part! 

Although I do believe my daughter is very bright - as I believe that every child has genius within them simply waiting to be unlocked, I will tell you that her success is not a product of exceptional intelligence. She does not have a photographic memory or the ability to learn something immediately.  Her success this year is the product of a good foundation in her early years of learning, specifically the years before 12, and a lot of hard work.

This is a child to whom I never taught a spelling or grammar lesson before the age of 12. She didn't work her way methodically through phonetic readers during her "elementary school years". She simply listened to me read great classics to her, got inspired, and jumped into reading around age 10 with books like Jane Eyre. I never required her to do pages and pages of math worksheets or memorize her times tables in 3rd grade.  I did not start teaching her essays or any form of academic writing before age 12.  Her experience with Science, in elementary years, consisted of random, hands-on experiments and absolutely no worksheets or tests.  In her first 6 years of "elementary school", she only participated in standardized testing twice, and both times I threw away the results before anyone could see them.

Our priority when she was under 12 was to foster a love for learning, build up her confidence, and support her in learning about what she was interested in. Despite her lack of traditional, academic foundation, she blossomed into quite a scholar around age 12, reading documents and literature typically reserved for upper high school and even college. She manages her own time and studies with little prodding by me. She asks for help when needed, but she also knows how to self-learn most of the time. 

Here's a great example from this first year of high school.  She was cruising along in math all year, doing just fine, as nothing was particularly challenging.  Then she got to a section that required more memorization of formulas and steps.  This slowed her down, and I could see that she was heading for a problem.  What did I do?  I stood back and watched.  Ok, I did say once that it might be a good idea for her to take more notes, but she rejected that suggestion and I let it go.  When it came time for her to take the test, she got a very low score.  She was not a happy camper!  Did she blame the test?  The teacher? No, she thought about what she needed to do.  We discussed options. She then asked me to buy her a composition book, which I did (we had used "math journals" in her early years).  From that point onward, she proceeded to take copious notes as she went through her math program.  She earned As on the last two tests, ending the year with an A in the course.

I am not advocating that parents teach nothing when their children are under 12.  I taught a lot during those years.  I read aloud from classics, for at least an hour each day.  We discussed them as we went along, identifying plot elements, characterization, setting, and literary elements (of course I didn't call them that at the time).  We played a lot of games that taught reading, math, science, and history.  We read stories about people from history and did hands-on activities to learn about different historical periods and cultures.  Writing focused entirely on creative writing.  I never mentioned book reports or essays before the age of 12. My goal was for her to love writing and to learn the value of writing.  

I pointed out math in our everyday lives, so she could see "why we need this stuff".  I read stories about mathematicians and scientists to show the relevance of math and science, and to inspire her to love these topics.  We did science experiments to answer questions she was truly interested in.  We did a lot of thematic learning, integrating all subjects around an idea or topic in which she was interested, so she could see the value of learning.  

I taught her strategies of learning - gave her tools that she could use whenever she wants to learn anything on her own.  For example, she knows she can read a book, research online, talk to an expert, organize a class or club to work out thoughts and experiments with friends, hire a teacher, write about it, do her own experiments, or simply give it quality time and thought.  

Most of all, I taught her, by word but mainly by example, the value of work and that the product of work is joy.  This is probably the most important lesson for budding scholars, because the work of true scholarship is challenging.

Some approaches to learning view knowledge and skills as external entities that must be crammed into each student. This approach requires drills and testing and repetition. But I truly believe, and I teach my children and students that they have genius within them...it's all inside them somewhere, and my job as teacher is simply to help them figure out how to get it to come to the surface. I can provide environment and tools for learning, but only they can choose to become educated.  

Once my daughter was about 12-years-old, armed with a love for learning and self-confidence, we really went to work.  She began reading and analyzing challenging texts, including The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, Lincoln's Gettysburg Speech, and many classic literary works.  We began a more focused work on writing academically, and formal scientific process through high school-level lab courses and writing many lab reports on various experiments.

I have taught many students over the past 20-plus years, and I say...once again and confidently, confirmed by one of my own...the foundation they need when they are younger is a love for learning and self-confidence in their ability to learn anything they want to (with some work). They truly can learn very quickly once they are a little older and inspired to do so. They don't need to have been practicing spelling words or grammar for the past 6 years. But they do need to have been encouraged, and they do need to have been exposed to classics and quality educational material. 

I attest that the foundation offered in too many of our mainstream schools, and carried over into many homeschool families, is not only lacking what our children need, it is actually detrimental to their development as scholars and life long learners. This conveyor belt approach--forcing children to learn specific facts and skills on an arbitrary schedule rather than when they are individually ready--fosters a hate of learning by pushing too hard at the wrong times and erodes their self-confidence. That is much more challenging for a teacher to overcome than bad spelling or a lack of math facts.

Enjoy those early years, and relax! Trust your instincts. Encourage your children. Learn side by side with them. Relax and enjoy your time together.