What you teach only matters if they remember it …

 

cropped-light-bulbs-website_class-slides.jpg

RealSchooling and the Homeschool Nation Podcast exist for many reasons. Chief among these reasons are, firstly, to enhance the benefits of the limited time we have to educate our children and, secondly, to make life a little easier for all involved. Few things aid both of these missions as effectively as giving teacher and student alike the tools for retaining information and knowledge. Retention is different than knowledge. For example, as you read the first paragraph, you understood every word. Yet, if I asked you to rewrite the words that you’ve just read, verbatim, I doubt that you’d do very well (I wrote them, and I don’t think that I’d do very well)! That’s because, while you had knowledge of the words, your brain didn’t have any reason to think it was important to memorize them. Even if you did have a reason to memorize them, without knowing what tools would allow your brain to succeed would be like expecting someone to solve “3×3= (?),” without ever having introduced them to the concept of multiplication; it’s just not going to happen.

So, how do we teach for retention? The process, discovered over a hundred years ago (and effectively proven, and reproduced, in subsequent research), is called spaced repetition, spaced learning, or the spacing effect, and, if you want the extremely detailed explanation, you can read about it here. If you’re just interested in actually applying it, then read on.

Some of it is very obvious, and only seems to be forgotten when placed into the context of education, ironically. People have short attention spans. The less interested we are in the topic, the shorter our attention span. So, new material should be taught in 15-30 minute bursts. 45-60 minutes later, that material should be reviewed with a short quiz (3-5 questions will usually do the job). A 5 minute review that evening would be a serious bonus – especially if it is in the form of the student explaining the content to another family member (ideally, the non-homeschooling parent). The following day or two present an opportunity for the student to teach the information to the teacher. The more thoroughly the student can explain, the deeper their understanding of the subject actually is. Then, the material is reviewed every other day, then weekly, then monthly, and so on. As the student demonstrates retention, less and less time need be spent reviewing the material.

The following bullet points are taken from the linked article, on the brilliant, Farnham Street Blog, found at FS.blog:

  • A schedule for review of information. Typical systems involve going over information after an hour, then a day, then every other day, then weekly, then fortnightly, then monthly, then every six months, then yearly. Guess correctly and the information moves to the next level and is reviewed less often. Guess incorrectly and it moves down a level and is reviewed more often.
  • A means of storing and organizing information. Flashcards or spaced repetition software (such as Anki and SuperMemo) are the most common options. Software has the obvious advantage of requiring little effort to maintain, and of having an inbuilt repetition schedule. Anecdotal evidence suggests that writing information out on flashcards contributes to the learning process.
  • A metric for tracking progress. Spaced repetition systems work best if they include built-in positive reinforcement. This is why learning programs like Duolingo and Memrise incorporate a points system, daily goals, leaderboards and so on. Tracking progress gives us a sense of progression and improvement.
  • A set duration for review sessions. If we practice for too long, our attention wanes and we retain decreasing amounts of information. Likewise, a session needs to be long enough to ensure focused immersion. A typical recommendation is no more than 30 minutes (for older students – less time should be taken for elementary school students, in particular), with a break before any other review sessions.

For further insights on memory and forgetting, see the forgetting curve and Hermann Ebbinghaus.

Being A Parent Means Being A Coach… So, What Kind Of Coach Are You?

baseball-1478289_640

My 11-year old was taking a math test today and he had a weepy, frustrated, angry meltdown, when he was told that, despite getting all 20 questions correct, he needed to go back and show his work for each problem. Anybody else been there? Now, as the parent, I have a few options.

  1. Yell. Yelling is always great, isn’t it? I know that, personally, I prefer to be yelled at, as opposed to being spoken to calmly. Especially, when I’m already anxious, stressed or upset said no one ever.
  2. Threaten. This is an option. Sometimes, it is the required option. However, once you get threaten, there is no more discussing. No room for a teachable moment. Compliance by coercion teaches obedience – but, the message of this lesson will extend far beyond schoolwork. So, you might want to ask yourself if the adult that you hope to help mold is one that responds to situations by simply doing what he is told for fear of the consequences of thinking or feeling differently about the situation?
  3. Coach. Put yourself in their shoes. See the world through their eyes. Try to remember a time where you felt the way that they are feeling. Ignore your own frustration. In this case, it was pretty easy for me… You know the feeling: I’m almost done, I’m almost done, I’m… I’m being told that the program crashed, or that my application was lost or that I misunderstood and need to start over. That’s pretty relatable. As an adult, I still want to cry in those situations. Now that I’m not focused on being personally annoyed at having to refocus my attention on my kid and away from the other projects that I was working on, and now that I’m thinking of my role in guiding him, and not quite so focused on myself, I can talk him through it. I Don’t mean do it for him, but, I can give him the tools that he needs to get through, and learn from, the experience.

 

All three of the above options are available to all coaches and every coach has a different idea about the best way to approach whomever they are coaching. I would argue, that, where the immediate safety of your child is not at issue, the ideal order of approaches here is Coach, Threaten, and then Yell (note: you do not have my blessing to yell, unless you have read to the end of this blog post), and I’ll explain why below. Before we get into that, though, let me tell you what I told my son, to help him get through his meltdown.

My kids all play ice hockey and are all die-hard Flyers fans. They know hockey history extending back before they were born and are familiar with the good, the bad and the ugly sides of coaching. They know that there are what are called “players’ coaches,” the guys that the players will go to war for, because that coach has proven that he cares about his players. They also know that there are coaches that get players to go to war for them under threat of extreme punishment and making life completely miserable. So, I got down on one knee and looked my son eye to eye and asked him why he was upset. I then told him I wanted to tell him a hockey story and that I needed him to really pay attention to me.

This is the story that I told him:

Me: Do you remember when the Flyers were in the playoffs and they had lost the first three games of the best of seven series, only to battle back and win the next three?

Son: Yeah… then they gave up the first three goals in the first period of game seven…

Me: Yes! And then the head coach called a time out. Do you know what the microphones caught him saying to his team in the timeout?

Son: No… What?

Me: He said, “One goal at a time. You can’t go out there and score three goals at once. You go get the first one, then we’ll start thinking about the second one.” If you’re focused on all that you have to, on scoring three goals, or on doing twenty math problems, it’s completely overwhelming and you never get started. You just end up sitting there; paralyzed by your own anxiety and stress. So, don’t think about anything except the question that you are on now. Then, go to the next one. There is only ever what you are working on right now. Deal with what comes next when the time comes.

The perspective seemed to have helped tremendously. Will it always? No. Sometimes, you will have to calmly say, “listen, I understand that you’re frustrated. I understand that you are overwhelmed. I get overwhelmed sometimes. That’s just a part of life. But, when we can’t find a way to push through that, there are consequences: people lose their homes, their jobs, their spot on the team; or, in your case, if you can’t push through this, you’re going to miss [event or fun thing] so that you can get this done.” Then, if they don’t get it together, you have to follow through. But, there will still have been a value in taking the time to approach it this way. You may need to have the say conversation with them 1000 times before it all clicks – after all, think about how many times you still need to hear things for them to click for you! If it never clicks, at least you will know that you did everything that you could and that you didn’t leave them to figure it out alone – because you were too busy being frustrated/annoyed/proving you were the boss – you pick.

Yelling. Ohhhhhh… I almost forgot about yelling. I don’t think that yelling at someone out of anger or frustration ever accomplishes anything good. Even if it resolves your issue, because the person does what you want just to get you to shut up – it still isn’t productive in the long run, and you are modeling behavior for your kids. If you yell at them and then discipline them when they yell at you or each other, you escalated to modeling hypocrisy – do as I say, not as I do. However, sometimes, you just need to scream or yell and let it out. I’d recommend just embracing the fact that you’ve gone off the rails and just yell. Not at anyone, but, just you know, let it out. Then, once your kids know to expect this, you can all have a good snicker about it, and it will likely alert them to the fact that you’re a touch edgy today, and it might be best to try to get you extra grace and try to be a bit more cooperative. My parting thought: I’m telling myself, as much as I am telling you. We all need to work at this. It doesn’t come naturally.

Would You Have Solved This Social Media Mystery? So Far, I Was The Only One.

“do you really want to know?” I responded, truthfully, “No one’s ever asked me that before! The answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.”

Don’t be a sucker…

candy-1961539_640

The other day, I saw an amazing quote on a friend’s social media page by an ancient Greek philosopher. Whenever I see a quote that I either love, or hate, I do what everyone does – I check to see if it’s legit. You totally do that, too, right? Never mind, back to my story… So, I start looking for quotes from this ancient Greek philosopher and, not only can I not find any quotes from him, I can’t find him, anywhere. Now the guy that shared this quote is very smart and has written his fair share of research papers. I deeply doubted that he would be unaware of the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) most of the quotes strewn across the internet are completely unrelated to the person to whom they are attributed. On the other hand, that left me with only two possibilities: 1) He shared this quote from his cell phone and it autocorrected to some truly bizarre word that rendered finding the actual author of the quote completely impossible; or, 2) GASSSSPPPP – he’s the ancient Greek Philosopher! I sent him a message later that day, out of a desperate need to know the answer, because, that’s who you’re dealing with here, folks. I couldn’t let it go. I needed to know the truth! “Hey, buddy!” I said, casually… “I was just wondering about the origin of that awesome quote you shared earlier. I couldn’t find the author anywhere.” I see the typing bubbles… He asks, “do you really want to know?” I responded, truthfully, “No one’s ever asked me that before! The answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.” Before he could respond, I hammered out the words required to indicate that I believed it was him. He confirmed my suspicions. He theorized that people would become more engaged in a cool quote written by someone famous – or famous sounding, then they would in a great quote by himself, so, he created someone famous sounding. In fact, over roughly two years, he’d used the ancient pen name more than half a dozen times, to increased engagement, without anyone ever calling him on it. No one knows that this ancient philosopher, whose quotes they are sharing isn’t real – or at least isn’t ancient. Or Greek… No one, that is, except for me.

I want to make an important point here: I fact checked my friend’s quote, even though I believe him to be the type of guy who is unlikely to quote something that was not verified; the type of guy that doesn’t share news stories which are easily debunked. Why? Because I fact check everyone. I fact check my own writing, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, or lean too heavily on something lacking the appropriate amount of credible support. I don’t place blind trust in anyone, because everyone makes mistakes.

I didn’t always do this. Actually, I started when I was looking to see where one of my favorite quotes came from, only to find that it didn’t exactly come from anywhere. Do you want to know which quote I was looking for? Brace yourself. You’re not going to like this. What if I told you that Einstein never said the “fish quote?” You know, the one where the fish spends its whole life feeling stupid if you tell it that it has to climb a tree, or whatever… I’m not going to bother quoting it perfectly – because Einstein never said it! Someone did say something like it, though. That guy actually wrote a great piece on education and Einstein gets the credit – c’mon people! Didn’t Einstein get enough credit for things that he actually did?! Do we really need to give him some other guy’s credit, too?

Once I discovered that Einstein was reaching out from beyond the grave to use the internet to steal credit for other people’s quotes, I became suspicious of other quotes. It turns out they’re all fake. FAKE. Ok, maybe not all. But, your favorite internet quote? FAKE. If not fake, then, misattributed, which is even more messed up, in some ways (because if the person that actually said it can be identified, shouldn’t they get the credit?).

Okay, but really, who cares that they are fake?

Why does it matter? For so many reasons. First, because we give more weight of credibility to the words of well-respected people. It means more to us if we have Einstein, Plato, Jesus, Michael Jordan, or Mr. Rogers on our side of an argument – subject to the topic, of course; I’m going to Jordan for basketball pointers, not Plato – but, I digress. More importantly, it reveals how bad we are at identifying what is real and what is a fraud. It runs the gamut, from the brief quote, to the social and political articles that proliferate social media.

I suppose it makes sense. The basis of K-12 education is, “I teach you the answer, you reproduce the answer on the exam.” There isn’t much critical analysis, there (note: that isn’t a dig on teachers. They are handcuffed by the system – any decent teacher will readily tell you how frustrating that is). You can tell me that it isn’t really like that, however, I went to law school – I sat in a room full of highly educated people as they struggled desperately to grasp the concept that there wasn’t necessarily a “correct answer.” There were different possibilities; different potential outcomes. They had spent seventeen years of schooling getting straight A’s, because they learned how to remember and reproduce an answer. So, when we leave the classroom, we have been trained to listen to an answer and accept it as truth – at face value. This doesn’t work – in the classroom or in the real world. If we don’t learn how to question, and fact check, we will always play the role of the useful idiot; the tool that someone uses to get a vote or sell a product (or news channel – you pick, Fox, CNN, MSNBC… they’re all selling you the opinion they think you want to hear).

I’m trying to protect your credibility, here. If you can’t at least sort the real from the easily refutable, then you will lack credibility with anyone alert enough to distinguish between the two. Even worse, is when someone – like one of your kids, places a great deal of faith in your words, and believes them, almost, blindly. This person may be devastated when they discover that too much of what they learned from you was based on urban legends, and misinformation.

This whole thing should make you ask yourself how many things you’ve read and just chosen to accept as true. It presents some major issues when we consider our ideological, political, philosophical, and theological beliefs. In the end, it all comes back to my friends question: “do you really want to know?” For me, the answer is yes; always, and unequivocally, yes.

Jeffrey Hoffmann is the founder of RealSchooling.com, Real Schooling.blog, and is a practicing attorney.

Why Are You Teaching What You’re Teaching?

By: RealSchooling.com

albert-einstein-1933340_640

Albert Einstein was once presented with questions from the questionnaire to which Edison subjected prospective employees. When asked, “what is the speed of sound?” He responded, “I don’t know. I don’t burden my memory with such facts that I can easily find in any textbook.”

I recently saw a discussion about good ways to help students memorize the periodic table of elements. Why? There is so much to learn – so much worth learning.

As you contemplate the rest of this year, this summer, and next year, I encourage you to re-thi your approach to education. Of course, we have to focus on science and math. However, instead of committing energy to memorizing “facts that [we] can easily find in any textbook,” or database, shift that energy to critical thinking skills. We live in a world of shoddy information. Developing the skills to be able to identify the legitimate from the nonsense, or the signal from the noise, is of far greater value to a person than the ability to recall myriad facts.

If you are looking for some other great topics on which to focus, perhaps consider some of the following:

  • Logic & Reasoning
  • Decision Making
  • Cognitive Science (the study of thought, learning, and mental organization, which draws on aspects of psychology, linguistics, philosophy, and computer modeling.)

Whether you attend a RealSchooling.com course on any of these topics, or pursue them on your own, our genuine hope is that your family has an amazing homeschooling experience, and that you all get everything out of it that is possible!

Best,

Jeffrey D. Hoffmann, Founder – RealSchooling.com, RealSchooling.blog

Communication Skills: (Defining)Words Matter(s).

dictionary-1619740_640

Okay, I know that you may already know this, but, it needs to be said: words matter. I don’t mean in the sense that “words can hurt our feelings,” or in terms of the inherent power of the spoken, or written, word – although, those are true statements. I’m talking about the meaning of the word that you’ve chosen to use – and the significance of making sure that the person with whom you are communicating understands the meaning of the word that you’re using – as you are defining it.

If that entire concept sounds like semantics, that’s because it is. The word semantics is defined as “the meaning of a word.” We’ve been very misguided in our dismissal of the significance of this task – and recently, a great example presented itself. You may have heard, recently, that scientists discovered a new organ! For now, I’ll ignore the fact that we still understand so very little of our bodies, earth, solar system, universe, etc., that there was an “organ,” that is so pervasive that it exists in a significant portion of the human body (a post for another day, I suppose). Let’s just focus on the fact that it might not actually be an organ (hence the quotation marks around the word organ, above).  You see, the thing is, “no two anatomists will agree on a list of organs in the body,” according to Paul Neumann, a professor of medicine at Dalhousie University in Canada and member of the  Federative International Programme for Anatomical Terminology. If you’re anything like me, you respond to that statement with incredulity and a solid, “beg your pardon,” or even a disbelieving, “come again. now?” How is it possible that anatomists cannot agree on how many organs are in the human body – a number which is debatably as high as 79 or 80 (yes, you read that right – they contend that there are as many as 79 or 80 organs in the human body)? Well, the answer to that is the easiest part of this story to explain. They can’t agree on the number of organs, because there is no agreed upon definition for the word “organ,” except in terms of the musical instrument.

The real kicker is that it doesn’t actually matter whether you call it an organ or not. Are your organs the most important part of your body? That depends on who you ask as well. To the person that has failing organs, I suppose they’d answer, “yes.” However, to the person battling an autoimmune disease that causes their white blood cells to attack their platelets (a condition called “I.T.P.”), the fact that neither the white blood cells, nor the platelets are defined as “organs,” is of no consequence at all. Therefore, the new discovery of some aspect of our human anatomy is significant, irrespective of the label given to that discovery.

You might think, well, that’s all great, but, I don’t discover organs, so why are you bothering me? You’re obviously right: you don’t discover organs. On the other hand, your work is significantly more important than discovering organs. You’re educating someone that has the chance to be taught the lessons that are completely missed in the traditional educational setting. Someone who will soon go out into the world – and, by virtue of the fact that you educated them, and are the type of person that is still reading this blog post, they will likely be the sort of person that succeeds and has a significant impact on the world around them.  Someone that has the ability to be the voice of reason in a society that has forgotten – or in some cases, never learned, how to reason. Our social and political divisions come down to a handful of ideological differences. However, the chasm that most of society has come to believe exist between ourselves and those that possess opinions which differ from our own, is related to an even smaller number of root causes. Among them, the failure to define our words, and the failure to define the meaning of someone else’s words.

Aside from being able to communicate better with everyone around us, the decision to carefully and deliberately define our words has the potential to determine whether our kids end up learning the lessons that we are trying to teach them, or, end up heeding the advice that they mistakenly believe that we were trying to give them, only to end up way off the mark, and incredibly frustrated.

Jeffrey Hoffmann, Esq., Founder – RealSchooling.com & RealSchooling.blog

Welcome To RealSchooling.blog!

There is one piece of common ground that nearly all homeschooling families occupy…

RealSchooling.blog is the official blog-site for  RealSchooling.com. I founded RealSchooling.com with some very specific goals in mind. I wanted to give homeschoolers the chance to have the best education possible – not because homeschoolers lack something that students in traditional schools possess. It is because they have something that students in traditional schools lack: freedom! Homeschoolers (in most states) have the freedom to pursue their interests, the ability to redefine every aspect of their approach to education and the ability to greatly exceed any student in a traditional school setting – if they are given the right tools. That statement isn’t meant to be an attack on the traditional schools, though. It is just the practical reality of a student’s ability to hide amongst the other students, combined with the practical limitations placed on any teacher with more than a few students. For instance, if little Johnny is scoring 80% on his math tests, he doesn’t understand some portion of the material. However, the entire class cannot wait for Johnny to grasp the concept – they must move on to the next topic, because the needs of the group exceed the interests of the individual student.

boy-small-1296150_640

Sorry, Johnny.

So, why did you choose to home school? There are certainly many unique situations and specific factors, but, I’d argue that there was only one legitimate reason that unites all of us. Whatever the specifics were, you chose to home school because it is what you thought was best for your kids. You believed so strongly that it was the best thing for them, that you were willing to defy convention and social norms; you were willing to face criticism and interrogation from every corner. That takes true bravery and speaks volumes about how far you will go to give your kids the best opportunities that you can.

WWII_Sallie poster.png

However, as homeschooling parents, we wage wars on every front. From the outside, we defend our decisions. Many of us struggle to maintain a balance between trying to prove something to the outside world and focusing on giving our kids what they need. Inside the fortress of our homeschool, we battle with our kids to get them to stay on task, do the work that needs to be done, lesson plan, and maintain our sanity. Then there’s that war that we wage internally –  the one where we wonder if we are measuring up… with public school, or with our kid’s potential, or with someone’s expectations.

Often, lost in the chaos of actually homeschooling are all the cool things that made you want to homeschool in the first place. The chance to dive deep into a topic; to take the classroom to a battlefield, laboratory, or museum; to get to enjoy time with your kids while they learn. RealSchooling.com was created to give parents the opportunity to homeschool the way that they always wanted to homeschool. The name Real Schooling came from the idea that we have the chance, as homeschoolers, to turn school into what it should have always been; into what real education – real schooling, actually is. Even if you don’t take any of our classes, I thank you for taking the time to check out our blog and invite you to make the most out of our blog and podcast, because I genuinely believe you will find something of value here. It may be encouragement, insight, or direction, but there will unquestionably be something of value.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Hoffmann, Founder of RealSchooling.com and RealSchooling.blog