Design Thinking and Project-Based Learning for Twice-Exceptional Learners
Are you having a hard time meeting your creative gifted or twice-exceptional child’s need for depth and complexity in their learning? You may have heard of Design Thinking and project-based learning and wondered if it can meet those needs; but do you need help in figuring out exactly how it all works?
Join educator, author, and coach Jade Rivera to discuss authentic learning, how to scaffold a child as they learn new skills, and how giftedness and twice-exceptionality, design thinking and project-based learning go hand in hand. Jade will share her favorite resources and techniques for meeting the educational needs of these amazing and delightful children at this fun and engaging workshop.
For over ten years, Jade Rivera has made educating gifted and twice-exceptional children her mission. She is the founder and lead educator of Sunnyside Micro-School for gifted and twice-exceptional children in Oakland, CA. She is a proud Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Ambassador and author of Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget. In 2016 she was honored by the California Association for Gifted Children for her distinguished service on behalf of gifted families.
Academics after a Traumatic Brain Injury & with Post-Concussive Syndrome
In 2011, my son was in a serious ski accident. He sustained a traumatic brain injury resulting in a severe complex concussion. Overnight everything changed, academics, activities, personality, and more. It wasn’t something we dealt with in the short-term. Because of the impact, there were long lasting effects resulting in post-concussive syndrome. I homeschooled him at the time. Whether you homeschool or not this talk is for you. Post-Concussive Syndrome is something many parents deal with. There are some very basic things I learned while facilitating my son’s education during this time. This talk offers tips for how to manage academics if your child has post-concussive syndrome.
I am the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. I homeschooled my son for 12 years. Over the past two decades, I have been involved in science education, first as a community college professor and secondly as an author of science courses. Now, I write concept-rich, hands-on science courses for secular homeschoolers, co-ops and small classrooms. These include mainstream science while presenting the accepted facts, theories, and models as would be recommended by the majority of practicing experts in each field of science.
I am a passionate advocate of innovative academics where the focus is on how subjects are best learned. Much of my understanding about this comes from my years spent in science education. Science is best learned when there is a thoughtful pairing of information followed directly with a hands-on application of that information. This philosophy is also reflected in my science courses such as, The Science of Climate Change: A Hands-On Course. In addition, I am an author for the critically acclaimed R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Series.
The idea that math…of all things…is fun, well, who would have thought it! Lilac Mohr’s self-published book, Math and Magic in Wonderland is a whimsical story where math and science are interwoven with literary prose. It is both engaging to read and at the same time, it is educational. We often talk about the journey through learning at SEA Homeschoolers and this book fits that sentiment. It is a fitting tribute to the Carroll masterpiece upon which it is styled.
Mohr’s degrees in Engineering and Computer Information Systems provide a solid basis for her educational and insightful offering while keeping the interest of students and parents alike. The educational aspects should not be overlooked simply because this book is so entertaining. The journey in the book is much like life’s journey. You learn as you go, and the only way to move forward is to solve your current problem.
The rich eloquent flow of the author’s prose will transfix readers from the first line. And don’t let the Math in the title intimidate you. The answers are included, and the process is clearly explained for all. To quote my son, “Mom, it isn’t REALLY math, it is puzzles and stuff. You know fun, not like math!” So, it is math, but not really.
If you adhere to the left vs right brain theory, you will particularly like Math and Magic in Wonderland. This book allows for creative and unique ways to develop pathways between these opposite sides of the brain. It is difficult at times to apply literature this way. By teaching different modalities and weaving subjects together and applying them in a real-life way, you create an excellent project-based learning unit that weaves math, science, and literature. The experience is further enriched by the free unit study available on the SEA Homeschoolers’ website which ties in the science component seamlessly. The unit study really brings the lessons from the book up several notches. I often find it hard to apply math to real world situations in ways that my children find engaging. With the pairing of the science unit study and Math and Magic in Wonderland, Mohr does it for her readers. My children and I are fans of this book, and we all hope she writes more of these types of books and unit studies.
This unique and clever book is a must read for all ages. It is one of those rare books to be treasured and shared within generations, not just for the intrinsic educational value of the book itself, but for the delightful story that unfolds as you are transported via Mrs. Magpie’s Magical World. I enjoyed reading and working through this with my 9 and 14-year-old children.
This review contains an affiliate link.
Check out our post on a home school dad’s service trip to Guatemala here.
The next series of posts shares part of our journey while studying politics. It is political, because we studied politics. We are using the eclectic methodology called Project-Based Learning to study politics. Here is an article I wrote, Project-Based Learning: through the Lens of Politics and Activism. This project will not be finished until November, 2016.
The planning for this week began over a year ago. Like many areas of study in a handcrafted education, the pre-planning was thoughtful and intense. The implementation and actual time spent learning, however, is free-flowing. What will happen this week, and what will we learn? I could tell you some of the big, obvious conceptual parts, but the truth is, I don’t know. I don’t want to limit our experience or learning by having preconceived ideas about how it’s going to go.
With a big project like this one, where we have studied politics in the US, it is important not to become too attached to a plan for how it is going to go and what will be learned. Doing that narrows thinking and can lead to missed opportunities. If I were to make the big decisions early on, it would also make the learning journey feel less collaborative for the primary student, in this case Sean. I try hard to keep that from happening, because one of the things I hope happens from this project is that Sean will become passionate about incorporating these profound, intellectual endeavors throughout his life. I believe one way to achieve that is by making him a collaborator in his education. Stanford calls what I am after intellectual vitality, and like Stanford I am looking for Sean to feel comfortable taking academic risks and not to be afraid of failure. There is a free-flowing, unfurling of events applied to our learning journey that feels creative and artistic to me as we open ourselves up to the universe in a very holistic approach.
3:30 a.m: I wake up in time to have coffee. We spent the night with relatives in LA so we could take a non-stop to Philadelphia. I went to bed last night, leaving Sean and Gary, Jim’s brother, who is very conservative, discussing politics. When I hear how literate Sean is about politics, I am blown away! Free-flowing and organic it might be, but at the end of it, this project has led to just what I hoped it would. Sean understands how politics works and doesn’t work. He has formed his own views and opinions. He can have an intelligent, fact-filled discussion about this very important area.
6:20 a.m. Departure: I am not the only person on the plane wearing a Bernie t-shirt. The song that keeps going through my mind is Revolution by the Beatles.
When we got to Philly there was a text from Jim. “Had I heard that WikiLeaks released the information showing the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Hillary Clinton’s colluded to keep Bernie Sanders’ from getting the nomination?” What a week to be in Philly!
Christina Keller picked us up and drove us to our VRBO. The place is lovely, absolutely lovely! We ate at a wonderful vegan restaurant, Bar Bonbon, grocery shopped, and got back early to rest. The action starts tomorrow. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? All I know is that we will learn a lot & remember much of it forever!
This Week in School, Day 2, 7/25/2016
We woke up to pouring rain, thunder and more news about WikiLeaks implicating Debbie Wassermann Schultz, and that she would have to resign because of them. I must be honest and say, I wish this year study politics was a little less over the top. Basically we learned that all the things Bernie Sanders and his supporters said occurred during the primary season, did.
The rain stopped and there was nothing for it, except to get going. We decided to start by heading over to FDR Park, the site of the Occupy DNC sit-in. There were a few tents, but not many. I am not surprised; it is really hot and humid. A chalk mural was being done filled with slogans, I added my bit.
It was pretty quiet here, so we decided to head to the convention center. While there we ran into some friends. This is one of the cool parts of doing this, because we have done a lot of volunteering, we run into friends everywhere. We went in to hear a talk about the TPP. The room was huge, and the sound was just okay. I don’t know how the delegates take it for hours. The energy and people watching was worth the security check, even though we couldn’t stay long. Bernie Sanders was coming to speak to the delegates, and without delegate credentials, we couldn’t stay.
Time to head over to Progressive Central and check it out. While there, I made a new homeschooling friend. She lives on Kauai. We were biding our time, out of the heat, until the March/Rally. Progressive Central is at a really nice LGBTQ Center. The venue and people there were warm and welcoming.
The Rally began at 3:00 p.m. There were a huge number of people there, Greens and Bernie Democrats mainly, but also some Libertarians. The speaking was good and impassioned. Then I turned my head and Cornell West was right there. He is a wonderful speaker.
Cornell West was leaving to lead the March, when Jill Stein showed up. About half of the people at the rally had already left with Cornell to march. The rest of us stayed and listened to Jill speak. It is amazing when I think of all the people and issues Sean has learned about this year.
The march, according to Sean’s phone, was over 3 miles long! The heat was intense. We were told, with the humidity, it was 108o! About halfway to our destination, there was a sit-in going on. Some streets are named after states. These streets intersect Broad Street, the street the marchers were walking on, and the blocks of Broad Street that intersected Mississippi Street had flags hanging that had the Confederate flag as a part of it. The protesters, who we joined, wanted the flags down. The sit-in had started in the morning. About 10 minutes after we got there, the flags were removed!
We were ready to get back to our VRBO at the end of the march. We were planning on watching the first night of speeches with friends. It was a good night to be surrounded by friends especially for Sean. Of course the entire thing was very disappointing and disillusioning in light of the WikiLeaks. Two years ago when I decided to have Sean study politics this year, I certainly had no idea it would be the craziest year of politics of my lifetime, and it isn’t over yet.
I won’t spend much time discussing our emotions and feelings publicly other than to say this. My mother was an alcoholic. I grew up with all the myriad issues and problems that entails. Listening to the speeches last night and the spin on the news this morning reminds me of growing up in an alcoholic family where there is a huge elephant in the room. The Democrats have an elephant in their room that is a bigger problem for them than Trump and the RNC could ever be. Bad things were done, and all the powers that be are not talking about them, including Sanders. The divisiveness is going to grow not shrink, as some Democrats refuse to acknowledge the elephant’s existence and others refuse to ignore it. Real healing cannot happen without an honest discussion, apology, and forgiveness. It makes me sorry to see us fight about how we are betraying each other instead of acknowledging the corruption and collusion that occurred as evidenced in the WikiLeaks, and then working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
This photo is from Day 3. I guess I am not the only person thinking these thoughts.
This Week in School, Day 3, 7/26/2016
It was sunny and cooler today but still hot. You might be wondering why the daily weather update. Oh my, we are outdoors at events held on paved areas every day, and it is hot with so much humidity!
The real revolution, and it feels like there is one going on, is happening outside on sidewalks, in parks, and in the streets. I do not care who you support, the quality of the speeches we have heard have been superb. It is one person, speaking without a teleprompter after another. The speakers are articulate and impassioned. Their messages are so well packaged it is hard to believe anyone can speak that eloquently for that long without any notes. I am telling you this as an educator and a public speaker. No endorsements will be made here, but what we are learning every day about politics, activism, and varying ways of looking at situations is something most people are never exposed to. It opens you up to lines of thought, issues, and perspectives that never occurred to you before.
After the rally I went back to watch the roll call with Mike Johnson. Sean was with John and Charlie watching it backstage at FDR Park. They came back to the VRBO dejected, hot, and tired. No miracles, or drama, depending on your perspective, happened.
As John and I were starting to make dinner, Charlie came in from a run and told us there was a Black Lives Matter March going up Broad Street. The VRBO is very close to the march route. I left John to make dinner, grabbed Sean, and we hurried to catch up to the marchers.
The march was huge. The final destination was FDR Park; we got there about 9 p.m. Jill Stein showed up again! We have seen her 3 times in two days. I admit to being worried for her. I got close enough to shake her hand last night. I am not big, only 5’4”. I think she is smaller than me; she seems so vulnerable out here, with no protection, trying to change the world.
The overall effect of what Stein and the Green Party are trying to do is to end the two-party system. They have a specific agenda yes, and they are working to put that forth. In order to do that, because neither the Democratic or Republican Party will adopt their agenda, they need their party to grow as to the number of states where people can vote for them and that takes more supporters in the states where she is not on the ballot. One of the speakers from the daytime rally said a group of activists representing a wide range of progressive causes was going to join the Green Party. The goal was that the Green Party would become the party of the people and would come to represent core progressive values like social justice and climate justice issues and ending childhood hunger and poverty. It is absolutely fascinating to observe and learn from this committed group of Americans about grassroots activism and how movements build. The entire situation with the Green Party is made even more fascinating, because while the Green Party is trying to build their party and bring the coalition built by Bernie Sanders into it, Bernie Sanders is trying to keep the same coalition of voters in the Democratic Party to vote for Clinton so Trump doesn’t get elected. There is a small presence from the Libertarian Party for Gary Johnson, but neither seems to engender the same type of attention from this group as Stein and the Green Party. It occurs to me constantly that this is what it must have been like directly before, during, and after the American Revolution.
It was interesting in the park at night. The crowd is younger, and the energy is different. The police are out in even greater force than they are during the day. The police have been really great by the way; everyone I have talked to has said this. There is a mix of people, of all ages and colors, trying to keep everything peaceful, and a very few people who seem to be trying to agitate. Even the agitating was low-key.
Two fascinating bits from the evening: It seems at these nighttime events, when the group gets large, plainclothes police or FBI go through the group splitting the crowd by directing the group to another location through misinformation, like telling them delegates need to get out when in fact they don’t. This splits the group because only about half of the people leave.
The other thing we witnessed was a television reporter who had told his audience that protesters were rioting and burning flags. We were there, and nothing even remotely like that went on. People were just standing and sitting around chatting. Two women overheard him tell his audience that, and they laid into him on live television, telling him he was the problem and that he was a liar (which he was). The women were about my age. The reporter was in his 20’s. The women, one black and one white, scolded him seriously like he was a kid who got caught doing something bad.
I had a conversation with a woman running for congress in Virginia. She was telling me the plan progressives have for how to get elected. They are running in this election, but most do not expect to be elected this cycle. The goal is to spend the next two years working on name recognition, running again, and then they expect to have a better chance at winning their seats.
Check out our post on What Constitutes Secular Academic Materials here.
Community Service Homeschool is the first in what I hope will be a series of articles featuring projects being done by members of our SEA homeschooling community. I’m sure our entire SEA community is as proud as I am to have such socially thoughtful and involved members. Way to go Tina!
How we translated our avocation into our children’s education
By Tina Harden
Have you ever had a pivotal moment in your life where a decision you made on the spur of the moment took you on a journey you never planned or suspected? One that would have a “huge” impact on your life in ways you never imagined? My family has had two of these moments.
The first was when my wife and I chose to homeschool our boys. The second occurred in 2014, when Bringing Food Forests to NE Florida, INC (BFFTNEF) was born. It didn’t start out as a grand idea. It grew from an opportunity to marry hands-on learning with community service when Jolinda Kohl, a fellow homeschooling mom, and I applied for and won a small grant. The two of us have a strong commitment to community service. We envisioned BFFTNEF as a way we could do something important for our community and show our children, no matter how little you have (our two families have very limited funds), there is always a way to help those who have less.
BFFTNEF’s Mission Statement reads: Bringing Food Forests to NE Florida has a mission to bring food forest gardens to publicly accessible locations wherever there is a need, and educate community members, children, and their families through the process of food forest garden creation and installation. These gardens provide free access to healthy, organic produce using sustainable permaculture techniques.
The two of us are members of Permaculture Jax, a group responsible for several private food forest initiatives in and around Jacksonville Florida. This is where we learned about permaculture. Permaculture involves 3 basic tenets that we try to incorporate into our whole life philosophy: 1. Care of the Earth, 2. Care of the People, and 3. Return of Surplus. We may not have a lot of cash, but we can grow things to help heal the earth, feed our families healthy food, and share the surplus bounty of what we grow with those in need.
With society as a whole becoming more health conscious people are making political, financial and environmental decisions based on a desire for a more natural diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. Because of this, organic food has come into great demand. In fact, the demand is so high that major retailers like Costco are actually paying farmers to become certified organic food providers to meet the exploding need. But what about those who are living on fixed and low incomes? Our research1, 2, 3 led us to discover that those most in need of healthy, nutritious foods were the ones least able to obtain any, much less organic, fresh produce. As Jolinda and I developed the mission statement for BFFTNEF, we considered carefully how to bring healthy, organic produce to people who couldn’t afford it. At the same time we made this project a real world learning opportunity in our children’s education through outreach into the community.
We covered plant identification and foraging during our botany classes, but now we had the opportunity to expand our educational experience to include budgeting, critical thinking on potential questions that may arise, and not least of all we also socialized! My children and I spent hours reviewing information on how to set up a community garden, preparing proposals and attending town hall meetings to lobby for a community food forest garden in our local food desert. They were already well versed in the science of soil chemistry as related to plant needs thanks to Permaculture Jax and Alexander Ojeda, a fellow homeschooling dad and permaculture guru par excellence.
This hands on learning led to a much greater understanding of the government and political systems as well as how to work within a timeframe and provided an insight into the importance of perseverance. After many months of research and planning, we were connected with Diena Thompson, mother of Somer Thompson, a young girl who tragically lost her life at the hands of a predator. Diena had recently been awarded the property where Somer passed and was at a loss as to what to do with it. Upon meeting with Diena, we discussed a community food forest garden that would provide healing and nourishment to the community devastated by Somer’s death. And thus our pilot project was born, Somer’s Garden.
We wanted to create a lasting memorial to Somer Thompson with Somer’s Garden, but we were concerned with the high failure rate of most community gardens. Some studies put the failure rate of community gardens after approximately five years as high as 50-70% due to heavy maintenance requirements. To ameliorate this potential issue, we chose to create our food forest gardens utilizing permaculture principles. In permaculture, food forest gardens are reaching their self-sustainability potential at five years with minimal maintenance needed thereafter. By incorporating these principles in our community food forest gardens, we have given our gardens a jump start on success.
Through permaculture, community service, and persistence, our children have developed an appreciation of the struggles of those outside their socioeconomic niche, learned how to grow healthy organic food in the difficult growing conditions found in NE Florida, and how to impact the change they want to be in the world.
Somer’s Garden is open 24/7. The community comes by on our workdays to share stories of how they stop by to supplement their weekly groceries with what is ready for harvest. We had a single mother stop to tell us they would not have had any fresh food the previous week if it wasn’t for the garden. And we know that folks are harvesting because when we stop to see, all the carrots or greens are gone, or when the previous day the blueberry bushes were full, they no longer have any ripe berries on them. We also harvest and hand out produce.
If you are interested in learning more about community food forest gardens and how permaculture can be restorative, regenerative, and educational, please visit the links below.
Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. http://bie.org/about/what_pbl
This year we used Project Based Learning, PBL, for one of the most dynamic and exciting years of all the 10 years we have been homeschooling. Several times this year, my son told me he had never been so proud of himself. Our journey through homeschooling has had highs and lows. What happened this year to make it such a high?
What happened was we embarked on an academic project that was big, powerful, and meaningful. I keep saying we, because even though we didn’t always work together, this project required a lot of hard work, brainstorming, and collaboration from both my son and me. While it was one of the more independent things my son has done academically, there were components directed completely by me. The most surprising part to all of this is how easy the academic planning was. There have been many instances this year when the line, “Yet knowing how way leads on to way,” from Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken came to mind.
Way led on to way, led on to way, until the project looked radically different from what I envisioned two years ago, when I started planning the project.
Sean’s project focused on politics and activism in the United States. This was an exciting area to focus on this year, but it doesn’t matter what area the project focuses on if you follow some key steps. I know of many people who use PBL that focuses on science, engineering, robotics, computer programming, and the arts including writing.
Step 1: Think of a project. This important first step depends on the student and the family. The project works best if it is a collaboration. I came up with the overall focus for the project and the plan for the academic subjects we incorporated into it. Sean chose the candidates, issues, marches, and causes he focused on.
Make it meaningful: Our family cares about politics. It’s only natural our son shares this value. This shared value helped make this project meaningful. My son’s feeling of pride in himself most likely stemmed from him working in an area that our family feels is important in a larger context outside of “just school”.
Think big: As a part of this project, Sean was expected to volunteer. I wasn’t sure how welcoming people would be about Sean volunteering. We learned age isn’t as important to being welcomed as the level of engagement; this is another reason to make it meaningful.
Figure out a way to roll other academics disciplines into the project: Language arts, history, computer programming, documentary film making, and speech were incorporated into the project. Sean completed a focused course of study, for example, on writing an expository essay during the first 8 weeks of 10th grade. To have the amount of time necessary to devote to the project it is essential that many core academic disciplines are incorporated into it. One of the most profound benefits of using PBL comes from the application of skills that are often learned in an abstract setting. In the case of a project like Sean’s it became clear to him why nonfiction writing is an important endeavor to work on.
Step 2: Getting Started
With PBL there are benefits to focusing in the beginning on the core academic skills that will be incorporated into the project. This maximizes the amount of time spent working on these skills. Once the project gets started, it can be hard to find a cohesive stretch of time.
Blend independent work with collaboration: Sean was 15 when this project started. He didn’t always see the big picture. I often had better insight about the direction the project should head and why. In order for him to stay engaged and committed, I had to find a balance where his ownership over the project was coupled with thoughtful and low-key direction from me.
Step 3: The Middle
Allow the project to take over your life. An academic project your child becomes immersed in is a special chapter in his or her journey through learning. It is rare for a young person to experience the joy of taking academic skills they have spent a large amount of their life learning and applying them to a real-world situation in a meaningful way.
Do not be afraid to drop everything for an opportunity. These opportunities are another reason to front-load academic skills.
“Mom, can we go to a Black Lives Matter march tomorrow?”
Document everything and collect contacts: A documented portfolio from the project is important for your child to have when applying to college, a job, or an internship. Collecting the names, addresses, and emails of people your child works with is an important part of the documentation process.
Tweak constantly: The more organic and free-flowing the project is, while still working on the application of skills, the bigger the project can become.
Seemingly ancillary endeavors can be incorporated into the project as long as your reasoning is well documented. For example, we started the year with a volunteer trip to the Lakota reservation at Pine Ridge. I consider this a part of Sean’s project. I think there are many important lessons to be learned for today and in the past looking at how US government policies have impacted Native Americans. With this explanation it becomes clear how this volunteer trip adds an important element to the entire project.
Some parts of the project are more fun than others. There are a lot of important lessons to having your child work on both the super fun part and the less than exciting part.
Step 4: There really is no end
Do not put an artificial timeline on the project. If this project is important enough to devote significant time to, it is important to see it through to the end.
This project opened your child’s world and mind, continue to make connections. Your child, and you, devoted a considerable amount of time becoming an “expert’ in the area surrounding their project, refresh those skills and make connections going forward.
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” John Wooden
Blair Lee loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series, RSO, as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at blairleeblog, Twitter, and Facebook.