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More blogging, less Facebook

In the last hours of 2015 the story on how Social networks are turning the internet into television by Hossein Derakhshan came to me, via Facebook, of course. He writes about striking contrast between internet as a web with its hyperlinked currency before and the television model that it’s becoming now:

Even before I went to jail, though, the power of hyperlinks was being curbed. Its biggest enemy was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated, values of our times: newness and popularity. (Isn’t this embodied these days by the real-world dominance of young celebrities?) That philosophy is the stream. The stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex and secretive algorithms.

It came just around the time where I realised how my own thinking, learning and doing are disrupted by the stream model, in particularly the one of Facebook. Thinking last few month on what I’d like to do, blogging came at a critical path of everything with an online part to it.

So, more blogging and less Facebook is definitely on the agenda now.

More blogging requires updating and fixing weblog tech and reestablishing my blog reading routine. The first one feels like a big task as I have to dig into technical issues and there is a learning curve and a chunk of time needed for that. Getting back to blog reading has its challenges as well, but tackling those is well aligned with my personal goals for this year.

Reducing Facebook’s share of attention will be a challenge as well. In a last couple of years it has become a communication tool, providing a photo backchannel with family and friends and an instrument for practically all communication around homeschooling, from networking and staying updated, to scheduling appointments and handling other logistics. And, as Johnnie Moore puts it, Facebook is “like junk food: addictive, satisfying in a quick-hit way but not very nutritious” – it’s just a way easier to add something there and to get a response (nobody reads blogs anymore, right?).

Which all comes down to a theme that I’m dealing with all these post-burnout years – how to stay focused when you can’t switch off distractions, disruptions and addictions around you. Sometimes I wish I had mindfulness training when I was 15, but then I probably wouldn’t be where I am now 🙂

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From 2015 to 2016

Those three days were a lot of fun. Improv, playing on stage and on the floor, making fire, old and new songs, Turner in Rijksmuseum Twente, skating, walking, laughing, cooking, sharing thoughts and food with friends, big and small. And knipertjes that came as an unexpected gift, just in time to celebrate the year about to end.

And then inwards, family-oriented change of the year. Tossing unnecessary, quiet and cosy followed by getting our boots seriously dirty in the mud while crossing boundaries.

In a sense that summarises 2015 for me. It was about probing, experimenting, trying, across situations and contexts, to facilitate, grow and build the world as I’d like to see it. It was also very much about discovering more of myself and starting to build resources that I’ll need further down the road.

Things that marked last year:

  • New vegetable garden and then another one. Hugelkultuur, three sisters guild, seems-to-be-infinite potato harvest, replanting mature asparagus and just those hours of grounding and enjoying the fruits of it. Applestroop, courgette taart and tomatillo salsa.
  • Unschooling. Community! Pulse of meetings. Campings and logeerfeesten. Dutch and homeschooling politics. Rhythm, embedded housework and logging experiments. Learning circle, beelddenkers and willpower. Seeds for things I’d like to grow locally.
  • Travel. Snow, space and family in Moscow. Art therapy in Berlin. Easter in Aachen. Tulip fields in spring. Two weeks of learning in Delft. Canoing and singing in Salland. Nature, archeology and family in Russia. Riding the storm and bellydancing in Flevoland. Sailing in Friesland. Lots of Zwolle in between (and enjoying the tunnel that finally got open 🙂
  • Personal. Learning watercolors. Focus instead of breadth. Getting my body back for myself after 9 years of pregnancies and breastfeeding. Building habits: mindfulness, regular yoga and natural haircare. Learning party and merging parts into a whole. Learning to slow down after premature expansion.

And what’s about the new year? I have a direction to go and lots of seeds that need to grow. And between all those two explicit targets: get balance energy-wise and get back into blogging. Because those I need the most 🙂

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Unschooling structures: shape and focus

One of the things that is on my thinking radar now is what I call ‘unschooling structure’ – the things that help to shape and focus learning. In particularly I’m wondering about providing kids with an exposure to and participation in practices of the society (thinking in terms of Lave&Wenger here). For me those have an immediate connection with two challenges that I see:

Shape. Letting go predefined curriculum and learning goals kind of assumes that kids are exposed to practices essential for living in a society. However, this exposure doesn’t come by itself. That’s worth a separate post, but so far I’d like to point that strewing as an unschooling practice is pretty artificial, especially in contrast to learning of kids in hunter-gatherer societies as Peter Grey describes when talking about free learning (the book, review and discussion that touch on what I have in mind). Here I bump into the same thing that I encountered when Alexander was a few months old: a lot of our current practices are conceptual, technology-mediated and are difficult to observe for a child, also because “adults work” and “kids learn” are two different worlds.

Focus. Here I come from my personal challenge to keep focused on boring/routine/difficult parts of an interesting and dear to my hart project. There is a lot to dig out there, but one of my assumptions is that the energy (and developing a skill) for being able to persist working on your goal through real difficulties comes from observing and experiencing practices where things just ‘have to be done’, because it’s a cultural norm or matter of survival. (Here I should include a link to not written yet post about kids’ household tasks; project-based homeschooling also fits here). The other part is nested in my mind under mindfullness umbrella: doing what has to be done because of choosing it is different from pushing yourself hard through the work (which I think might lead to burnout next to getting work done 🙂

The whole thing above might look like I forgot about freedom, choice and motivation of a child in the picture – those are the ‘defaults’ in some sense, so I don’t address them here. It might be also worth noting that all attempts of theory-building here comes from practical challenges of figuring out what sort of learning environment our kids need to thrive and how to help them go through difficult patches on their paths.

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On (failure to write) well-thought posts

While my writing was derailed by Anna’s finger getting trapped in a door (almost healed by now) and the busyness of the holiday season (and here Christmas is nothing compared to the suspense of Sinterklaas), the thinking continues. Ideally, I’d like to write a well-research posts full of references to relevant material, but every time I attempt to do so, I see how my daily work – giving attention to the kids’ learning and the household – starts falling into pieces.

In a sense it’s good to realise that: as far as my own projects appear as a dotted line, I’m not ready to go back to work (which, of course, I’d like to combine with the whole unschooling endeavour). And, while the gardening season is practically closed after the heavy work of replanting mature asparagus plants last week, writing still has to compete with the sewing projects waiting for me on the attic.

So, I guess I just have to give up my own writing standards and all those “to blog about” things in my head, and just write something. And, yes, I have no idea when I’ll get to fixing the invisible comments.

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What unschooling and unconferences have in common?

When talking with people about our choice to educate our kids outside of a school, there is a moment when I mention unschooling as the basis of our approach. And then it’s a real challenge to explain what is actually about. When I say that there is no curricula that we follow to the letter, no list of things to be done for a day of month, and that we follow the interests of our children, it looks like a chaos, where achieving anything is a challenge.

The easiest for me then is to draw on the parallels between unschooling and unconferences. With the usual idea of a conference is a structured content, unconferences might look chaotic until you experience a good one. With unconferences it’s not the content that gives structure, but shaping the environment (who, where, when) and the process (how). In this way ‘the content’ can follow where the energy is, often in ways that are difficult to predict in advance.

In a sense, unschooling is the same: we shape learning environment and processes there in a way that can follow where the energy is.

However, things are not that simple. The first thing is that I can’t easily articulate how exactly do we do that. There are good books, experienced others and even bits of research to learn from, but it’s hard to make generalisations to follow. It is still a very private ‘business’ that  has to adapt to the kids and parents in a family and to their broader context (e.g. legal regulations for homeschooling in a specific area could make a lot of differences).

The second one is that with school-age kids we deal with a shifting responsibility and a growing degree of independence. Younger kids need more structure to feel safe and nurtured and giving them choices without boundaries is often counterproductive (see also recent FB discussion). But giving ‘too much’ or ‘wrong’ structure is also counterproductive. And there are different subject areas that need different degrees of structure on a particular moment in time. In my mind I see the whole thing shifting constantly between different Cynefin domains with me juggling different management facilitation strategies simultaneously.

By now I am in the point where I have a need to articulate and to structure my experiences and thoughts on this whole thing, so I expect more will follow. Hopefully I can fix the comments that do not show up soon. If you can’t wait you can see them via http://blog.mathemagenic.com/comments/feed/ (thanks, Matthias, for the tip).

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Right brain to do list

In a long and winding way I’ve got to reading stuff on ‘right brain’. A lot of it is still fussy and I’m stuck with sources in three languages this time, but I need a placeholder for the things to dig further:

  • visual-spatial learning – links and how-to
  • visual and spatial as two different things
  • aha learning <-> willpower for difficult stuff <-> imagining stuff more difficult than it is
  • parallels between right brain, visual thinking, informal learning and operating in the complex domain
  • learning strategies/styles/forms mapped to Cynefin
  • need for structure vs. complex thinking
  • how would you ‘teach’ right brain learners outside of the system? how far/when/how to go outside of the Complex to Complicated and Obvious?

Some people like to make things complex. Instead of just following a manual to deal with a practical challenge they start to work on a theory 🙂

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It comes back

A few days ago we talked about polar night and day, and watched videos on relationships between changing seasons, length of the day and position of the Earth in relation to the Sun. Today Anna played with animation software on iPad and came up with a little winter movie. When she came to show it to me, she pointed out that she had made the night longer than the day.

Always nice to see how it comes back 🙂

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One game with three kids

Playing a 6+ board game with 8, 5 and 3 years old kids is a patience-testing endeavour. We managed for quite a while, but now they have to spend their energy outside of the house (and very conveniently there enough leaves to be cleaned in front of it).

This is what I wrote on Facebook. Yes, it’s tough to balance between their needs, but it’s also lots of fun to see what everyone takes out of the game (Hoeveel zakgeld heb jij?*, which is about earning, spending and investing pocket money).

  • Alexander likes the idea of making money. He never buys anything in the game and tries to max on bank savings, because those make the best returns at the end. Next to being a player, he is also ‘the bank’ – he has to do calculations to check everyone’s investments and to give change when buying. On the math side for him the game is about fluency and moving from ‘hands on’ money counting to calculating on the fly – he is not there yet, but the game makes practicing more fun.
  • For Anna the game is about focusing attention (she is easily distracted) and counting money, which she tries to avoid because Alexander does it so eagerly. She wants to win, but buying new things is very exciting, so she often spends money on that without thinking of long-term implications.
  • For Emily the game was about turn-taking, following the rules and counting dots on the dice (she not confident and needs help when it comes to 4+). She finds fun to ‘eat and drink’ those little snacks that you have to buy in the game. But I guess the biggest thing for her is to be allowed to play ‘as a big one’ (this is actually the first time she played as a separate player and not together with one of the adults).

*I really like the design and educational value of the game. I got it in a second-hand shop mainly for realistic-looking money to pretend play shopping, but the game is really fun to play, so we keep it as a whole. Btw, while inside are euros, the background image on the packaging shows roubles 🙂

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Playing Lego

Alexander was very sad, almost crying as he came down for breakfast. As I found out, it was Lego that didn’t want to cooperate. He couldn’t work out the the plane that he had in mind.

We had breakfast, then played math games for quite a while and then he went back to his Lego, in much better mood. Later he came back again telling about missing details and I gave my suggestions where to look for them. Eventually he called me: the plane was ready.

Lego cargo plane with a lonely suitcaseWhen I saw it, I realised why he was so frustrated. He wanted to make something that functions the same as a Lego cargo plane from a set that was on his “wanted” list a few months ago – all that, without having the set. And he made it. May be not so sleek looking, but good enough to open and play, something that a reviewer on Youtube emphasized as an important feature of the set. That’s why he needed those small suitcases he couldn’t find – he really needed something next to the big container full of gold to load into the plane.

This is something I love in a way he deals with Lego – he takes marketing catalogues and Youtube videos as a starting point for making his own version of it. Ambulances, firefighter stations, boats and trucks, space shuttles, rockets and moon explorers, underwater research stations…

However, it doesn’t stop at that. At the moment Lego is his tool of choice and a gateway to the world. It’s a mean to process experiences, to experiment, to document learning; a reason to read and write, to learn searching, programming, making photos, videos and animations. It’s a social tool as well – something that requires negotiations, making things for two sisters or learning to stay hands off when they are learning how to make something very obvious, sorting out through emotions when guests want to play their own way or even break something. It’s the reason to clean his room properly, because getting those small pieces back from the vacuum cleaner is a pretty dirty job (which requires even more negotiations with his mother than the cleaning itself :).

The only thing I am sad about is that I didn’t manage to make a photo of a sewing machine needle mechanism from Lego Technic before it got disassembled in order to make something else. But Alexander promised to make a better version of it eventually.

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A learning party and what’s next

Just a few days ago I celebrated 40, with a nice mix of guests at something that I called a learning party.

A learning party is something a bit more than just a party and a bit less than an unconference birthday (thanks, Ton and Elmine for the inspiration!). It’s a party with fun, food and workshops where everyone can learn something new from other guests.

It worked well and was a fun experience. I think for me that was a time-and-place-bound prototype of something that I want to build in my life. I have no idea what exactly that would be, but looking back at the party I can see a few ingredients of it:

  • Crossing boundaries (well, some traits you never lose 🙂 – fields, languages, ages. The age one is an important one – creating a learning environment for adults and kids together, where everyone can get something, despite of different needs and capabilities.
  • Pulse, bringing focus and relaxation together, acting in a relaxed manner. Structure and routines, and, at the same time being in the moment, flexibility and improvisation.
  • Holistic, not focusing primarily on a cognitive domain, but doing things with body and emotions as well.
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