Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Budding Filmmaker's Self Education

Shannon is a 2013 graduate in Santa Monica, California USA who spent his elementary years at a Waldorf school, then did 9th grade in a public school, then chose to self educate through West River Academy. He used internet resources that may be helpful to others. Enjoy his story!

"After ninth grade, I moved to a different city to live with my Dad, who is a film director. It seemed logical to pursue a home-based education, which would allow me to follow my passion of filmmaking with my father. I researched online and found West River Academy, and it is a perfect fit. Now that I don’t have to conform to typical school hours, it allows me to split my time between school and filmmaking. I don’t think there could be a better way to learn about
filmmaking than actually working on real films, which is what living with my Dad allows me to do. At public school, each day of the week is tightly scheduled in a pattern that is repeated in exactly the same way every week. Now that I homeschool, every day is completely unique, so there is never a dull or boring moment. Schools that follow traditional schedules take three-month-long breaks in the summer, and due to budget cuts some schools are only open four days a week. Since I actually enjoy teaching things to myself, I don’t take any summer breaks, and instead I manage my time so that my work, study and play are in balance. That allows me to learn more in a year than I ever had before. I research all of my school subjects online. There are so many great ways to teach yourself anything online, whether it’s with Khan Academy,
Encyclopedia Britannica, or even YouTube. When I teach things to myself, I can learn things faster and more efficiently. I read hundreds of RSS feeds and thousands of tweets every day. I follow real people that are experts in the subjects I care about, like technology, science and more, and learn from their thoughts and what they link to. There is so much information available online, and there are so many ways to ingest it. I have recently been using a app called
ReadQuick, that only shows one word of a book or article at a time. You can control how fast it flashes the words, and as you use it, you are able to read faster and faster. I am up to four hundred and twenty five words per minute, and it saves me a considerable amount of time. I am also learning more things than typical high school subjects, things that are actually practical skills to have in the real world. I work with a small group of coworkers/friends, and I am one of
the people in the group who has developed an understanding for the technical details involved in producing feature-length media. Because of that, I am constantly being asked questions on a variety of detailed subjects, which has greatly improved my problem solving skills. Sometimes, I get questions that I can’t answer, so I have also learned to effectively research online and quickly
comprehend any knowledge that I need to retain.

"I recently watched an inspiring TED Talk by Sugata Mitra, who said “The education system is designed to produce identical clerks to run an empire that does not exist and a manufacturing industry that has gone away.” While trying to figure out how to improve education, Sugata did a test where in a foreign country he placed a computer in a hole in a wall. Kids with no access to education ran up to the computer, and started teaching themselves how to use it. Sugata came back after a few months and they had already taught themselves English, and they were learning about the complexities of DNA. With no help and only a computer, they gave themselves their own education. Sugata is now on a mission to build an online school in the cloud, where the students are also the teachers. One of the most important things I have learned during my
homeschooling is that I can start teaching myself almost anything immediately, using the power of the internet. Since I am working on films with hard deadlines, I have also learned the importance of finishing what I start. Missing the delivery date for a film is not an option. I have had to learn how to manage my time efficiently to make sure everything gets finished on time. In the past three years, in addition to learning about the main high school subjects, I have started my career as a filmmaker, and I have developed practical skills that I can use as a adult. Of all of the different schooling methods I have experienced, I believe I have learned the most by teaching things to myself during these past three years."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lifelong Homeschooler Describes Learning Challenges

Lauren, from Morrison, Colorado USA writes aboutlearning challenges that she has faced head on and dealt with in a most inspiring way. I hope her educational biography will encourage others who are struggling.

March 14, 2013

Dear Peggy,

My name is Lauren Smith and I am 18 years old. I have been homeschooled all my life and I am glad that I have had the opportunity of having a unique way of learning that does not involve the same system as regular schools. Mostly, I'm thankful that homeschooling gives me the freedom to learn at my own pace. I don't think I would be doing nearly as well as I am now if it were otherwise.

In my family, we have a disposition toward what many consider learning disabilities. My father, three of my brothers and I all face challenges concerning information integration, memory, and output; for me it is mostly output. We all have varying degrees of these challenges and they occur in different ways depending on the subject matter. Some things we are perfectly fine with while other things just don't stick easily. With integration, information comes in but our brains don't necessarily have a place to put it, which leads to difficulty with memory; if it's not stored, it's not retained. Output issues involve knowing the information is stored, but not being able to retrieve it and/or communicate it. As you can imagine, this can be very challenging and frustrating at times! 

My education as a whole has involved a great deal of repetition and patience as I am not always able to learn at the pace that I wish. However, I have learned that everyone is unique in every way, including the ways we learn, so it is better to persevere than to despair in the lie that we aren't as good as everyone else. Everyone has different strengths as well as challenges to overcome, and although my brain doesn't fit as well into a traditional educational structure as some, there is nothing wrong with it; everyone's brain is unique. Some people are wonderful at traditional academic subjects while others are wonderful with a more hands-on approach; either way the world needs both to thrive and each is very beautiful in its own way. It has taken me a long time to understand this and every once in a while I forget it, but I always come back to this realization.

When I was little, I remember school was a fun thing to do. I don't really remember why, but it's most likely because at the time it involved a great deal of art. I have always been fascinated with art, and although I wasn't very good at it when I was younger, in these recent years I have pushed myself to learn more of it. I used a variety of crayons, markers, and paints back then, and whether I was learning my A-B-C's or 1-2-3's it was usually very colorful and more fun than work. This lasted until I started learning how to read. I don't remember the details, but I do remember it was a big struggle. It was then when I first started having difficulties with learning, and suddenly learning wasn't quite so fun anymore. My mother has told me that my brain had a hard time associating letters with sounds, but all I remember is the frustration and tears. After reading finally clicked for my brain, I discovered the joy of the fictional worlds that books contain, and my nose has been in books ever since.

I also have had similar difficulties with math. Adding and subtracting were a fun game, especially when I was able to practice it with M&M's. However, once multiplication and division were added to the mix the numbers would not compute. I have had difficulty with math ever since because it has involved a great deal of almost never-ending frustration, hammering away at a subject that has at times seemed nearly impossible. Along the way I would find hope and encouragement as my brain would finally get it and it all fell into place, then I would move onto the next part and start the process all over again. These days I do fairly well with my Algebra 2, getting mostly A's and B's while I now tackle Geometry. The biggest lesson I have learned from math is to choose a positive attitude in discouraging times. I may not be able to choose all of my challenges, but I can choose my frame of mind while overcoming them.

Thankfully, not everything has been as difficult as reading and math!

Once I became a little older we started focusing on science and hands on activities. I loved learning about plants, insects, and the little creatures that the ecosystem needs in order to thrive. It was fascinating to plant beans and corn as well as other plants and watch their sprouts grow bigger each day. Once they got big enough we moved them from their little peat pellets to the garden and eventually ate the delicious food that they produced. One of my favorite places to go was to the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. Sometimes in the spring we would get up early and spend the whole day out there looking at all the different plants, bugs, and occasional wildlife. If there is anything that instills more wonder and beauty in my eyes than art, it's nature and life itself.

Another thing I enjoy doing is art. Growing up we always had water color paint, markers, crayons and colored pencils lying around. Every now and then, my siblings and I would sit down together and attempt to paint things that we liked, or something from outside, or whatever we could think of. Although I loved art when I was little, I wasn't necessarily good at it. It wasn't until about four years ago that I decided to apply myself, learning how to draw and learning digital coloring with a photo manipulation program called GIMP. I have come a long way since then, and although I haven't found the time to do much digital coloring this past year, my drawings have greatly improved and I am also looking to explore different kinds of traditional artwork besides pencils.

I am currently working on completing the courses I need to graduate. I have to admit that I do not enjoy subjects such as English, Civics, and Geometry as much as I enjoy History and elective courses such as International Cooking and Art; in other words, my favorite courses have subject matter I can experience while learning. My most favorite subject in my education has to be PE. I have found that physical activity, whether shooting, Tae Kwon Do or riding horses, tends to come more easily to me than bookwork.

I started riding horses five years ago, cleaning out barns and working on general tasks around the stable. After a year or of that, I enrolled in a precision mounted western drill team youth organization called Westernaires. Horses have taught me so much and helped make me into the person I am today. While riding horses, riders need to learn to stand up for themselves otherwise horses won't listen. I learned how to be firm and yet kind, to be calm even in the face of danger, to have confidence in myself, and to trust my equine and human partners. Drill riding also has taught me a great deal. While riding in teams in Westernaires, sometimes riding with fifty or more girls on a team, I have learned to speak up, to pay attention to detail, to have spatial awareness, how to work as a team, how to better myself in order to reach a goal, how to be a leader, and so much more! Horses have given me so much experience in life, and have helped me to grow so much more than I would have ever hoped. 

In thinking of what to do for my future I thought about getting a job and going to college as well as moving out. I realized that in order to do those things I would likely have to take out a loan in order to pay for it all and I don't want to have to worry about working off a debt. So, I expanded my career options to the military because of the many benefits it offers such as traveling, having a well paying job, a place to stay, food, education, insurance, and financial aid to complete a degree if I so wish. On top of all that, I am able to serve my country.

In looking at possible military options there was a great deal to consider. I’m not interested in combat, so I decided that the Army or the Marine Corps probably weren't the best fit for me. I was more focusing on either the Navy or the Air Force because they offer the opportunity to travel, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time. Ships and the vast open waters of the ocean are wonderful; however, that's not really my interest. The Air Force seems to be a better fit. That branch of the military involves incredible airplanes and interesting intelligence jobs, hopefully out of harm's way, with the opportunity to travel so I decided to choose the Air Force. 

After I graduate high school, I will begin preparing for the ASVAB test. To prepare for it I'll be filling in gaps of knowledge in: electronics, such as the basics of electricity, electric circuits, and electric devices and systems; auto information, such as automobile components and systems; shop, and general mechanics. My goal is to achieve an ASVAB score in the high 90’s like my brothers, for two reasons: it offers more job opportunities and, honestly, I really want to beat my brothers’ scores.

I know that when I join the military I’m not guaranteed the career that interests me the most, however I can put myself in a position to better my chances at obtaining the job I would most like to do by learning a language that they would likely end up teaching me if I did get the job. For instance, I would like to be an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist. According to the airforce.com website, an Airborne Cryptologic Linguist's primary job is to receive, record, translate, evaluate and report on foreign communications and intelligence using a variety of locations, both foreign and domestic. To help me achieve my goal I am studying the Persian language, also known as Farsi. I am learning Farsi now so I can have a head start in case I start having difficulties with it. So far, the speaking and listening have been sticking quite well. The reading and writing is harder to remember because of the Arabic alphabet, but I am also making progress in that. 

As of this moment, I am not certain of what I will be doing after I complete my service in the Air Force, but I plan on using the life and educational experiences that I learn to help guide me to find something that I will greatly enjoy doing.

My education to this date has taught me many lessons, mostly about myself. I have learned that being unique is something to be celebrated, not discouraged. I have learned that with perseverance and a positive attitude I can overcome most challenges that come my way. I have learned to be patient with myself and most of all, not all lessons are in the classroom. Life itself is an education if I choose it to be, and I choose never to stop learning and never to stop growing. I am grateful for the education I have had thus far and look forward to continuing it in the future.