November 23, 2010

Seeds in Nature

Since we have been investigating seeds in books and in our house and in our yard it is only natural that as we went hiking we saw them everywhere.

Some on the road...

Some dried and ready to fly away...

Some hidden in berries waiting to be eaten....

Some new...

Some gone away...

Some in the weeds...

Some from beautiful homes...

Some waiting to be eaten....

Some seeds we took home.

Seed Mosaic

From the parts of the seed cards that we used in our botany lapnotebooks I made an larger image of it by scanning it into the computer and printing it out on card stock that is A4 size. I found some seeds in our kitchen and we set to work to make a seed mosaic of the parts of the seed.
Brown Lentils
Orange Lentils
Pepper corns
How we will put this in our lapnotebook I don't know...perhaps a snapshot will do.

Seeds, Seeds and more seeds

We are beginning our year of botany study with seeds. It seems a likely place to begin... at the beginning, but is the seed really the beginning?....or is it the flower? Since the cycle of life is really a circle we just picked a spot and got on. We have used these resources as references and information so far:
Exploring Creation with Botany from the Young Explorer series
Seed Babies by Margaret Morley
The First book of Plants by Alice Dickson
A Tiny Seed By Eric Carle

We will be trying something new this time with our lapbooks....I am merging them with notebook pages and calling the combination a lapnotebook. Putting the notebooking pages inside our lapbooks will enable us to do more handwriting, science reports and diagaming of the plant parts, and who knows what else. I am using the Pro Click binder to put it all together.

The first thing we did was to design our lapnotebook covers. I printed off extra front pages from The First Book of Plants to use for illustrations. The boys chose which size and plants they wanted and went to coloring them and gluing them on the front cover.

Max chose the large sunflowers because they are yellow and tried to put all the other images on as well. He almost got them all on by cutting off all the extra white but in the end the lilly had to go. The pictures are really nice in that max learned that peanuts drop down from the plant and go into the soil from the top. Very cool!

T.J. chose the sunflowers too! But his were smaller. I am still impressed how much they enjoy doing projects like this. Just yesterday Zak showed his dad with pride the mini books he had made and the cover and the experiment sheets. It is so fun to see them put their best into something they really are proud of.

First thing we did was to go find some real seeds to look at and feel and compare. We talked a little about where we might find them and then out the door they flew gathering seeds. We collected some from our backyard. I was thinking they would go gather lots of each kind but instead they simply took one seed of each kind. Then we looked at them and talked about how different each one was and How God is so diverse and creative to make so many. Then we glued them into our mini book.
Next we started a  germination experiment because we read that a seed only needs three things to grow; warmth, water and air. The boys could not believe this and countered that of course they needed sunshine too! So we went about to discover if what they hypothized was true or not. We took three plastic bags, put a damp paper towel inside with some spaghetti squash seeds. Then we put one bag into the refridgerator (no warmth) and put one in the sunshine (but it was near the window and got cold) and one into a closet. (it was warmer than the window sill bag). Then I assigned a bag to each boy and we made a chart to graph our results by and every day we checked our seeds and looked to see if they sprouted or germinated. On about day six, T.J. who was monitoring the seed in the closet came running into the room so excited to see his seeds sprouting!!!! Eagerly he measured it...1/2 cm yahoo! his had been the first to germinate. Soon the seeds in the bag on the window sill germinated and out grew those in the closet so Zak who was looking after that bag was very proud to measure his sprout at 6 cm on day 12 the last day of the experiment. Max all along knew nothing would happen with his seed but he is now putting in the window sill and plans to plant them once they germinate.

While this experiment was going on (it took 12 days) we were reading seed babies and putting a few more mini books in our lapnotebooks. One day we were reading about melons and pumpkins and ended up getting curious about the amount of seeds we saw in the pumpkin....So of course we had to count them. Our pumpkin had about 613 in all. They were delicious roatsed with olive oil and salt in the oven!

On another day, we "planted" some beans in a jar with paper towels and some water to see it in real life what the new sprout will look like. We took a picture of the nicest sprout and labeled it's parts and mounted the picture on nice paper and put it into the lapnotebook.

Then a few days later, we made a mini book with these sequence cards .

I found the sequence cards at enchanted Learning and made the according fold booklet myself. Oooops! someone put their #3 sequence card upside down.

We spent a few different days learning the parts of the seed. the first day I simply showed them my seed part cards and showed them the new names for the parts. The next time we looked at them I cut off the name and asked them to tell me the name that goes with the picture. Meanwhile in other illustrations in our books we named them again. We talked about how the plumule becomes the leaves of the new plant and the radicle becomes the roots; how the testa falls off and how the young plant eats the cotyledon and once the cotyledon is eaten it uses its new leaves to make food. Then the following time we looked at the cards I gave them their own parts of the seed cards and they colored them by coping my cards and gluing  the part name on each card. We look at them periodically and later I will review the info with them by having them do a noteboking page about the seed parts.

After a few days we put together our last mini book on seed dispersal.
Inside we drew pictures of each way seeds disperse and pasted in a small text explaining each method. While they drew their pictures I read from Exploring Creation with Botany. The day before I read from All About Plants and how seeds travel.
I found these fun little images to use for a mini book about the parable and the sower. We read it one day, talked a little about it's meaning and then the following day we put this min book together. Inside is the sower and some seeds from our garden that we glued down.
About a week later we went to work doing the copy work for the parable.

And a few days later we played this game....
My game is printed with only black and white but on the web site you can choose to print in color. It would look tons better. The boys, however, enjoyed the game even though it was sort of ugly. We used seeds for place markers.

All in all it took us about one month to cover this little section of botany...... next we are looking at fruits, the houses for seeds.

November 21, 2010

Boys will be boys

We had the delight of having three other boys come over for a morning and share lessons with us. The theme was camouflage and we looked at animals and how they hide in nature. Then we became the animals....prey and predator alike growled, pawed the ground, snorted and walked with stealth through the ever growing under brush in our yard. I enjoyed watching them connecting with primal like instincts. Even the quietest ones came alive in this primitive, manly sort of drama. Boys who can understand them.....

While I watched I felt a twinge of pride. Some day those fierce boys growling like lion cubs will be men, roaring like lions and that will be a grand day. Men of Valor growling for righteousness and outwitting the enemies of goodness alight. Go on fellows growl away the darkness and dispel the evil, fight the dragon and win. Take on the enemies of goodness and kindness and all that is ungodly and make the world a safer brighter place. Be manly men, strong and good men!
I'll salute you.

November 19, 2010

The Law of Review

"Sculptors in Ancient Rome" by Lawrence Alma Tadema

“Let us suppose the ordinary process of teaching to be finished. The teacher and pupil have met and have done their work together. Language freighted with ideas and aided by illustrations has been uttered and understood. Knowledge with its treasures of truth has been thought into the mind of the learner, and it lies there in greater or less completeness, to feed thought, to guide conduct, and to form character. What more is needed? The teacher’s task seems ended. BUT no! The most delicate, if not also the most difficult, work remains to be accomplished. All that has been done lies hidden in the learner’s mind, and lies there as a potency rather than a possession. What eye shall penetrate the understanding to determine the clearness and accuracy of the pupil’s cognitions? What hand shall nurse into larger growth and into permanent force the ideas he has been led to conceive? What process shall fix into active habits the thought-potencies which have been evolved? It is for this final and finishing work that our seventh law provides.” Pg 137

“The completion, test, and confirmation of teaching must be made by reviews.”

This is the seventh and last law of teaching from The Seven laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. It is a surprisingly fun law though it may require several days, weeks or even years to be complete. I find it fun because I am an artist or designer at heart. I revel in approaching a topic or a creative idea from every angle; to revisit again the same idea in a new way; to turn a phrase with yet another form of imagery. It thrills me to make it come alive just one more time. I can be wordy in some arenas however here within this law it is perfectly legal and it is necessary to cement truth into the usable portion of your brain.

“No time in teaching is spent more profitable than that spent in reviewing. Other things being equal, he is the ablest and most successful teacher who secures from his pupils the most frequent, thorough, and INTERESTING reviews.” Pg 138

So what really then constitutes a review?
“A review is something more than a repetition. A machine can repeat a process, but only an intelligent agent can review it. The repetition done by a machine is a second movement precisely like the first; a repetition by the mind is the rethinking of a thought…..It involves fresh conceptions and new associations, and brings an increase of facility and power.” Pg 138

Explain more just why we need reviews?
“When we enter a strange house, we know not where to look for its several rooms, and the attention is drawn to a few of the more singular and conspicuous features of the furniture. We must return again, and again, and resurvey the scene with our eyes grown familiar to the place and to the light, before the whole plan of the building and the uses of all the rooms with their furniture will stand clearly revealed. So one must return again and again to a lesson if he would see all there is to see in it, and come to true and vivid understanding of its meaning.” Pg 139-140

To begin our year investigating botany I began with the concept of seeds. Knowing that my boys are young and need to become familiar with several new ideas I hunted for resources in the books I had on seeds, activities online, coloring sheets, mini books, experiments. I needed to look at seeds mainly the new names of the parts of the seed; testa, cotyledon, plumule, radicle, and embryo in many different ways to be sure they would get it with out losing their attention. We began by looking at seeds. Then we went hunting for seeds in our yard and on our nature hikes. Then we soaked some and opened them up. Then we began reading from a book called seed babies which describes some of the things we had been touching and seeing. We learned a simple song about seeds and how they grow. I played a montesorri matching game with the parts of the seeds, matching the new names with the picture of the seed part. They then made their own seed parts cards, coloring in and naming each part. We read about seed babies and what they need to grow, so we did an experiment to see if that was true. We put spaghetti squash seeds inside a plastic bag with a wet paper towel and place one bag in the sunlight, one in a closet and one in the fridge and looked at then for 12 days and marked our results. We opened all kinds of seeds and looked for the parts we knew. We counted how many seeds different fruits have. We noted all the different testas (outer shell of the seed)….the list goes on. I knew we were done with this lesson when a friend was over for dinner and the boys all explained their seed mosaic of the parts of the seed using the new Latin terms we had been reviewing.

“But the repetitions of a review are not made the same hour. They are spread over days and weeks, and hence they bring a new element into play. The lapse of time changes the point of view. At every review lesson we survey the lesson from a new standpoint. Its facts rise in a new order and are seen in new relations. Truths that stood in the shadow in first study come forth into the light.” pg 142

Ideas… to put reviews into practice. (paraphrased from pg 148-150)
*Always look for oppertunities to review. If there is a spare moment have a short lesson or question or new project to introduce that will fill the time with cementing already taught material.

*Set times into your day or lesson for review. Mr. Gregory mentions that one third of a lesson should be spent in review. I read about how Christine Miller would keep 3X5 cards of new facts her children were learning color coded for each subject and drill then for five minutes at the opening of her lessons. Use the end of a lesson to summarize or play a short game which reviews ideas of the lesson.

*Always link new lessons to old lessons. This is a simple way to review while at the same time introducing new knowledge using formerly acquired knowledge.

*Review frequently….and at intervals. So you may review within a lesson, review the next day as well, wait a few days and review it again and so forth until it is clear the student has got the material. Then why not review it again if a new idea comes along…don’t waste an oppertunity.

*When reviewing search for new questions to raise, new illustrations to explain it, new projects that will make use of it, new proofs that it is true, let the students ask their questions….a new a fresh approach or application will send the student thinking again.

*Forget not the value of a pencil and paper when doing a review.

I hope these laws will shed more light on the possibilities we have to teach our children well. But more importantly, that these laws will never add burden or weight to your already heavy and important load. May you prayerfully consider and tackle that which seems most interesting and inspiring and applicable to your family. May you love and enjoy the short time you have with your children and be free for the son has come to set us free! God bless you richly!

All quotes are from the Seven laws of teaching by John Milton Gregory.

November 14, 2010

The Law of the Learning Process

" Un Homme des armeset son cheval" by Jean-Louis meissonier

The Learner must reproduce in his own mind the truth to be acquired.

“It is to form in his own mind, by the use of his own powers, a complete and truthful conception or notion of the facts and truths in the lesson, in all their parts, relations, proofs, and applications.” Pg 124

This is law six of The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. If the Law of the Teaching process emphasized that the teacher must activate the pupil’s self-activities to learn the truth being taught, then this law is about what the student must do and what the teacher must emphasize and enforce for the learning process to be successful. In this portion of the book the old adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can not make him drink it, is proved. For the impetus for learning is not on the teacher as many have assumed, but on the learner.
His (the student’s) constant aim should be to rise from being a learner at other men’s feet, to become an independent searcher of truth for himself. Both discoverer and learner must alike be truth seekers. Both must aim to gain clear and distinct conceptions of it. Both must needs employ in their work the truths already familiar to them, and both must put their learning to use, to find its full power and value. It is indispensable that the learner shall become an investigator.” Pg 125

How do I then teach my young students to be investigator’s? I returned to the 5th law the Law of the teaching process for some clues. Here is what I found:
Make sure that the lesson is adapted for his age and interests then…...

*Listen to them talk about what they know about the topic. Show respect for their mind and how it works. I really enjoy this.

*Ask questions to spark his curiosity, ask questions that are open ended, ask questions that invite him to think outside of the box, ask questions that lead him down a path to discover more about the lesson, ask questions that invite his opinions, ask questions that bring up more questions, ask question more then give answers. When you give an answer give it in such a way as to invite more questions. Questions stimulate the mind to think and allows the student discover any given topic.

*Never be in a hurry to move on if your student is struggling to articulate his answers. Be patient and wait for him to speak everything in his mind. When he is speaking he is paying attention. When he is paying attention learning is happening.

*Invite the students to ask questions but be careful not to do all the talking, but skillfully turn his answer into another question. Get him talking.

*Also, it is all right to say I don’t know let’s go look it up. Show your students how to seek out truth by your example.

*Use lots of concrete hands on type objects for them to use all their senses in discovery. Pictures and objects are worth a thousand words.

Mr. Gregory spends most of this chapter discussing the five stages that a learner must go through before a new truth can be fully understood. Again the impetus is on the learner but the job of the teacher is to enforce this and emphasize it. It is a daunting five item list when you think of all the lessons we prepare and give each day homeschooling. I thought, “How will I ever incorporate all those phases into one lesson?”, but after I was all tired out reading about it he gave me the truth I needed to continue on…..The reality of the five stages is this:
It is true that not many lessons are learned with this comprehensive thoroughness, and it may be that only the briefest and simplest lessons can be mastered at a single sitting; but this does not change the fact that no lesson can be counted fully learned till so mastered and understood.” Pg 129

I also realized that some lessons may be learned over time. At one time I the learner may learn something from stage one, then later I find more information about it and I go on to stage three. Then I meet someone and talk more about what I know and hear what he knows and then I am on stage four etc. The goal is not to get our students through each stage in one lesson or one sitting, but to recognize what stage they are in and lead them forward at their pace and interest. We are sympathetic and knowledgeable guides, not slave drivers with whips.

So without further ado here are the five Stages: (from page 128)

1. What does the lesson say word for word.
“A pupil may be said to have learned his lesson when he has committed it to memory, and can recite it word for word….education would be cheap if such learning could be made to stay; but it passes away like the images from a mirror, unless by almost endless repetitions.” Pg 125-126

2. Exactly what does it mean?
‘It is an evident advance over the memorizing of words when the pupil adds clear understanding of thought.” Pg 126

3. How can I express this meaning in my own language?
“It is a higher stage in study when the thought is so mastered and measured, as it were, that the pupil can translate it accurately into other words with no loss of meaning. He who can do this has advanced beyond the mere work of learning and has begun the work of discovering. The wise teacher will recognize this and will pardon the crudeness in expression, while he encourages the pupil to more accurate thinking as a means to more correct language.” Pg 126

4. Is the Lesson true? In what sense and why?
“The learner shows higher work still when he begins to seek the evidences of the statements which he studies. He who can give a reason for the faith which is in him is a much better learner, as well as stronger believer, than the man who believes, and he knows not why.” Pg 127

5. What is the good of it-how can I apply and use the knowledge it gives?
“But there is a still higher and more fruitful stage in learning. It is found in the study of the uses and applications of knowledge. No lesson is learned to its full and rich ending till it is traced to its connections with the great working machinery of nature and life…..the practical relations of truth, and the forces which lie hid behind all facts are never really understood until we apply our knowledge to some of the practical purposes of life. ” Pg 127 -128

“It is worth more to be possessed of but few of the lessons of wisdom, but to apply these diligently, than to know many but not to have them at hand.” Seneca tutor of Nero

All quotes from the Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

November 8, 2010

The Law of the Teaching Process

"Carnation lily lily Rose" by John Singer Sargent
“Excite and direct the self-activities of the learner, and tell him nothing that he can learn himself.”

This is the fifth law of teaching from John Milton Gregory’s book, The Seven Laws of Teaching. It is the law of the teacher and the language and the law of the lesson all rolled into one law which looks at each part in flow. It is what teaching in action would look like when it is most successful. It is a two part law with one thing to do and one thing to avoid doing. As teachers we must excite the minds of our students and get them thinking, but we must be aware of the pitfall of teaching what the student can learn on his own. Mr. Gregory says this about the latter:
“Leave the pupils to discover truth for himself-make him a truth finder.” Pg 101

“We can learn without a teacher.” Pg 101

“In the greater part of our acquisitions we are self-taught, and it is generally conceded that the knowledge is most permanent and best in use which is dug out by unaided research.” Pg 102

“The difference between the self acting pupil and the pupil who only acts when he is acted on is too obvious to need description. The one acts as a living and free agent; the other resembles a machine. The former is attracted by his work, and prompted by his own inborn interest, he works on till he meets some overcoming difficulty or reaches the end of his task. The latter moves only as he is moved upon. He sees what is shown him, hears what is told, advances when the teacher leads, and stops just where and when the teaching stops. The one moves by self-activities, the other by a borrowed impulse. The former is a mountain stream fed by living springs, the latter a ditch filled from a pump worked by another’s hand.” Pg 106

“Into the sealed workshop of the soul no spectator enters. What the occupant does there no one but him self can tell. Working by his light on materials furnished by his own senses and gathered by his own intelligence, it is his to mould, shape, combine, and construct as he will…..the mental faculties must do their own work, without external aid, building as they can opinions, beliefs, purposes, faiths, and all forms of intelligence and character.” Pg 112-113

If the Law of the teacher says that the teacher must know that which he teaches, then why know it all if you are not to tell it to the student? What is the benefit to teaching with a full mind in light of this new idea that we should allow the student to do the work for himself?

“Only through his (the teacher’s) own full knowledge of the subject can he understand the difficulties met by the pupil, or be able to determine if the pupil has mastered the lesson, and to follow it with thorough drills and reviews. As well insist that a general need know nothing of a battle field because he is not to do the actual fighting, as that a teacher may get on with slight knowledge because his pupils must do the studying. "Pg 114

So…why do we teach our children if they can learn what they need to know on their own?

Behind and beyond all telling, explaining, and lesson-giving, there lies as the essential aim of it all, and of all that the teacher does, the awakening and setting in action the learner’s mind, the arousing of his self-activities, as they have been called-those faculties of cognition, imagination, and reasoning whose action must always be voluntary and self-impelled.” Pg 100
“ The teacher is a sympathizing guide whose familiarity with the subjects to be learned enables him to direct the learner’s efforts, to save him from the waste of time and strength, or needless or insuperable difficulties, and to keep him from mistaking truth from error.” Pg 103

“The sooner the teacher abandons the false notion that he can make his pupils intelligent by hard work on their passive receptivity, the sooner he may attain the true teacher’s art.” Pg 103

“The true teacher does but stir the ground and sow the seed. It is the work of the soil through its own forces to develop the growth and ripen the grain.” Pg 106

“It is the teacher’s mission to stand at the impassable gateways of young souls, a wiser and stronger soul than they, serving as a herald of science, a guide through nature, to summon the faculties within to their work, to place before them the facts to be observed, and to guide them to the paths to be trodden. It is by sympathy, by example, and by every means of influence-by objects for the senses, by facts for the intelligence, by pictures for the imagination, by stories for the fancy, and the heart to excite the mind, stir the curiosity, stimulate the thoughts, and send them forth as warriors, armed and eager for the conflict. Pg 113-114

How can I best excite the mind of my students?

The true stimulant of the mind is a question, and the object or event that does not raise any question will stir no thought. Questioning is not, therefore, merely one of the modes of teaching, it is the whole of teaching; it is the excitation of the self-activities to their work of discovering truth, learning facts, knowing the unknown.” Pg 115

Now that we can see the role clearly for the teacher and that of the student, what are the aims of our education?

“The two great aims of education are to acquire knowledge (teach) and to develop power (train). The pupils must know for him self, or his knowledge will be knowledge only in form. The very effort required in the act of thus learning and knowing gives both vividness to the knowledge learned and increases the power to learn. Mental toil gives the mind both appetite and digestive power, and he who is taught without study, like him who is fed without exercise, will lose both appetite and strength.” Pg 104

This has by far been the most instructional chapter yet in the book for me. I have long been attracted to two seemingly opposite methods of education; unschooling and classical education. I have read extensively the books written by John Holt (an advocate of unschooling) and have resonated with his observations. I, myself, love the freedom to explore subjects as I am interested in and in the ways I am most accustomed to according to by my God given nature. I love the respect for the child as a person. However I also have read extensively from Doug Wilson and Harvey Bluedorn (advocates of classical education) who are opposed to such freedom for students in the primary grades especially. Though there is a definite respect for children and lots of great adaptations of difficult materials for the child at each stage of mental development. The content and high bar of expectation is great! So here in this law I can see the role I have as a teacher and how it actually weaves together these two opposites by defining where structure and high expectations are useful and protective and where freedom is a must to ensure the mind of the student is doing the work necessary to acquire knowledge and develope the mind needed to acquire more knowledge.

All quotes are taken from The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory.

November 4, 2010

The Law of the Lesson

"The Stay at Homes" by Norman Rockwell

“The truth to be taught must be learned through truth already known.”

“We go at once to the obvious fact that our pupils learn new truths by the aid of those that are old and familiar. The new and unknown can be explained only by the Familiar and the known.” Pg 84

This is the fourth law of the Seven Laws of Teaching written by John Milton Gregory. Once again, it is straight and simple to understand and yet full of practical applications and subtle insight on how to enhance our days of lessons and learning. Let us jump right into the practical side of things and see some ideas for us teachers that if taken up and applied to our lessons will reap us a great harvest of learning for our kids.

Ideas paraphrased from pg 94-95

1. Discover what your student knows of the subject you want to teach…this is his/her starting point not the text book or lesson.
“Knowledge is truth discovered and understood.” Pg 85

2. Make the most of the student’s knowledge. Let him feel the extent and value as a means of learning more.

3. Have your student tell all he knows about the subject in a clear statement or two. This will bring him to the border of the unknown.
“All teaching must begin at some point of the subject or lesson. Where can it begin but at that which is seen or known by the learner? If the subject is wholly new, or the fact to be taught is entirely strange, then a known point must be sought or made by showing some likeness of the new and the known to something known and familiar.” Pg 85-86

4. Begin with facts which lie next to the border of what your student already knows, and which can be reached by a single step.
“All learning must proceed by some steps. By what steps can it advance except by those which link one fact or truth to another, as simple facts lead to more general facts, premises conduct to conclusions, and phenomena come at last to the explaining laws and reasons? In all true learning, each new fact mastered becomes a part of the known, and serves as a new starting point for a fresh advance. It adds its own light to the knowledge that preceded it, and throws increased illumination forward for the next discovery. BUT each step must be fully mastered before taking the next, else at the second step the pupil will be moving from the unknown to the unknown, and thus violate the law.” Pg 87

5. Connect each lesson with the lessons before and with the students knowledge and experience.
“If a friend tells us an experience or an adventure, we interpret his story by a running comparison of it with whatever has been most like it in our own experience; and if he states facts utterly without likeness to all we have known, we stop him to ask explanations or illustrations which may bring the strange facts into connection with our knowledge of things. Tell a child something utterly novel and differing entirely from all his former experience and knowledge, and he will struggle in vain to understand you…..the whole system of figures of speech-topes, metaphors, similes, comparisons, parables and illustrative stories- has sprung out of this law.” Pg 89-90

6. Review the steps to be taken in the lesson and be sure they lead naturally and easily from the known to the unknown.
“The known, to each individual, is that truth which he has mastered and made his own; all else is to him the unknown. Much which is to the teacher knowledge is to the child the unknown, and it is to this unknown that our law especially applies. The path of learning to this must be constructed through the pupil’s knowledge.” Pg 85

7. Adjust the steps to the age of the student, and be sure he fully understands the new truth before moving on to the next one. Do not discourage younger children with lessons that are too long, and bore older students with lessons that are too easy or too short.
“Young teachers, urged on by the constant exhortations to thoroughness given them by older educators, and not reflecting that a child’s knowledge is necessarily less than that of grown men, attempt to hold their little pupils to each lesson studied till they know it with the same fullness as the teacher himself.” Pg 93
“All teaching must advance in some direction. Whitherward shall it march but to that which is to the pupil new and unknown? To teach again what is already known and understood is to mock the pupils desire for knowledge.” Pg 86
“No more fatal blow can be dealt to a child’s native love of learning than to confine its studies too long to familiar ground under the fallacious plea of thoroughness. Old mines may be reworked if you can find ore at deeper levels.” Pg 86

8. Use illustrations that are familiar to your students. Use common objects and things they know.
“The mind uses by preference only its clearest and most familiar knowledge in the interpretation of new facts. Each man borrows his illustrations from his calling: the soldier from the camps and marches, the sailor from the ships and the sea, the merchant from the market, and the artisan from his craft…..This bent of preference is one of the elements of prejudice which shuts the eyes to some truths and opens them to others.” Pg 91-92

“The difficulty so often in answering the questions of little children lies not so much in the hardness of the questions themselves, as in the child’s lack of the knowledge required in the explanation.” Pg 90

All quotes taken from The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory.

November 3, 2010

The Law of the Language

"The Conoiseur" by Norman Rockwell

“The language used in teaching must be common to teacher and learner.”
“In other words, it must be a true language to each-to him that hears as well as to him that speaks-with the same meaning to both, clear in sense and clearly understood.” Pg 68

The Law of Language is the third law of teaching from John Milton Gregory’s book entitled The Seven Laws of teaching. It is a simple, straight forward law. He presents us with many little ideas to ponder and put into practice or identify where our teaching has been right on the mark and say yeeeeha!

Mr. Gregory says about the law of the language:
“No one has more language than he has learned, and the acquisition of a large vocabulary is the work of a lifetime. A teacher may know ten thousand words; the child will scarcely know as many hundreds, but these few hundreds of words represent the child’s ideas, and within this narrow circuit of signs and thoughts the teacher must come if he would be understood. Outside of theses the teacher’s language is as unmeaning to the child as if it were mere drum-taps.” Pg 69

“Not what the speaker expresses from his own mind, but what the hearer understands and reproduces in his mind, measures the exact communicating power of the language used.” Pg 70

“It is evident that he will teach most and best whose well-chosen words raise the most and clearest images, and excite the highest action, in the minds of his pupils.” Pg 71-72

It is clear from the third law of teaching, that as teachers we have the most success in teaching when we learn to use words that our students understand. But, we must also give them new words and increase their powers to understand more of the world around us. How do we teach them new words so that we can increase their vocabulary and thus give them more tools for leaning?

Mr. Gregory says the following:
“New words must be learned when new objects are to be named or new ideas are to be symbolized; but if care is taken that the idea shall go before the word, and that the word is mastered as a symbol before it is used in speech, it will illumine and guide where other wise it would but darken and delude.” Pg 75

Ahhhh! The idea of the word must come first….through pictures, actions or objects. Sometimes a new word can be explained by use of words the student already knows. Sometimes an object or shown or an illustration in addition to words coveys the idea. But without the idea the word is meaningless.

“More than half the work of teaching is that of helping the child gain a full and clear expression of what it already knows imperfectly. It is to him to lift up into full sight, and to round out into plain and adequate sentences, the dim and fragmentary ideas and perceptions of childhood. No teaching is complete that does not issue plain and intelligent expression of the truth taught; but it is the most miserable of mockeries when, in place of leading the child to perfect and into its own simple speech its own simple conceptions of truth, we impose upon it the ready-made definitions of some learned master or teacher, dressed, for the most part, in words it never heard before, better David’s simple sling that Saul’s kingly armor for the young warrior seeking the mastery over some science.” Pg 72-73

Are there ways I can make sure my students are understanding a new word?

Mr. Gregory comments on that here:
“Ideas become concrete in words.” Pg 72
“We master truth by expressing it.” Pg 73
“But to make talking thinking it must be original, not mere parrot-like repetition of other people’s words.” Pg 74
“It is the pupil who must talk.” Pg 74

I am beginning to understand from this law that when my students do the talking, perhaps by retelling or narrating a new idea they are making this idea and these new words their own. What are some more practical ideas for putting this into practice?

Ideas paraphrased from pg 78-79
1. Know the language that your students use. Know what the words they use mean to them.
2. Allow your student time to tell you all he or she knows about a subject. Listen to learn both his/her ideas and his/her language in expressing the idea of the subject and help him/her correct it if needed.
3. Teach your lesson as much as possible within the student’s own words. Correct any misuse of words by saying them correctly as you teach the subject.
4. Use the simplest and the fewest words possible. Unnecessary words add to the students work and increase the possibility of misunderstanding.
5. Use short sentences and simple constructions. Long sentences tire the attention, while short ones both stimulate and rest the mind.
6. If your student does not understand repeat it and if possible with greater simplicity.
7. Use pictures and natural objects to convey meaning when at all possible.
8. When teaching a new word, give the idea before the word.
9. Increase the student’s stock of words by means of reading aloud to them, and letting the students do much talking on the topic being taught. The teacher is succeeding best when the students talk most freely about the lesson.
10. Go on slowly so that each new word has become familiar before more new words are introduced.

“Too talkative a teacher is rarely a good teacher.” Pg 76

The Law of the Learner

"94 degrees in the shade" by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

The Learner must attend with interest to the fact or the truth to be learned.

This second Law of teaching, from the Seven Laws of Teaching , I find an interesting one because it seems to have nothing really to do with me, the teacher. I have often thought that I have little control or influence over the attention of my kids other than providing materials I know they would like. However, as I read through this list of violations to the law I began to gain some hope that I do have some things I can do and that will in the end strengthen the attention of my inquisitive student.

Violations (paraphrased from Pg 64-65):

1. Lessons are begun before the attention of the class is gained, and continued after the attention has ceased to be given. You can not pour water into a jug while the stopper is still in place.

2. Students are urged to listen and learn after their limited power of attention is exhausted and when weariness has sealed their minds against any further impressions.

3. Little or no effort is made to discover the tastes of the student or to create a real interest in the subject studied.

4. Not a few teachers kill the power of attention in their students by droning on and on without a single fresh inquiry or startling and interesting statement.

If the student is not paying attention it is impossible for him to learn. I must know his interests and link new information to things he already is familiar with and likes. I must know his ability and not tax or stress the limit of his attention. For younger kids that is short lessons of 15-20 minutes. As their capacity increases I should lengthen it with interesting questions and startling new ways of looking at things. Fun to know there is so much I can do that only takes observing my boys and having keen interest myself in the subject enough to inspire them.

Attention is:
“A man who standing idle, vacant stare, gazing at nothing, is suddenly aroused by some sight or sound. At once a light comes into the eye, the look becomes alert, and the mind is put into conscious action…..This aroused activity of the mind-this awakened attitude of mental power, poised and eager for its work-we call ATTENTION.” Pg 48-49

There are two kinds of attention that when seen side by side really helps to see what not to do to gain the attention of my boys. One kind of attention is compelled attention the other is attracted attention.

“Compelled attention is short lived and easily exhausted. Its very painfulness wearies the posers of body and mind. If urged too far, its tension breaks, and the child yawns and even sleeps with exhaustion, or cries with pain and anger.” Pg 49

“Attracted attention on the other hand is full of power and endurance. Its felt interest calls dormant energies into play, and the pleasure given by its efforts seems to refresh rather than weary the mind.” Pg 50

“The boy forced to study what he does not like feels thoroughly tired in half an hour. Give him now a story which he enjoys, and he will read without a sign of weariness for two or three hours longer, till the tired body rebels, and will not sit any longer.” Pg 50

So the question in my mind is…..How do I attract the attention of my boys instead of compelling them to pay attention, so that this kind of healthy rigor of interest and refreshment is part of our lessons day by day?

Ideas (paraphrased from pg 62-63)

1. Never begin without it (attention) and pause when it is lost…regain it again or stop the lesson.

2. Never go past the attention span of your student. Stop when you see signs of weariness.

3. Make sure the lesson is within the attention span of your student. 15-20 minutes for younger students.

4. Vary the method, the place, the approach, the whatever to give new life to the lesson.

5. Fit the lesson to the age and the interests of the student.

6. Keep distractions away. (could mean sugar or competing stimuli like T.V. or videos which impede the minds’ activities)

7. Be ready with fresh questions to stir the minds of your students.

8. Present the lesson with as many of the senses involved as possible.

9. You be the most interested person in the lesson. If you are bored with it they will be too!

10. Use your voice hands and eyes to engage your students in the lesson. Maybe a puppet or have a  guest speaker in to liven things up.

This is ideal; to have naturally interested students, however there will be times because our students are undisciplined and have a natural inclination towards the easy road. Mr. Gregory addresses this issue here:

“At times at the outset of a lesson or of a subject, there may seem a need of securing the attention of the class or of some members of it by a gentle compulsion, an appeal to the sense of duty, or by other like means; but the effort in such case should be made to transform this compelled attention into that which is fuller of spontaneity and power. We may be obliged to lift a sleepy child to his feet by main strength, but unless we can awaken him soon to walk by himself, his progress will be slow and small.” Pg 50.

With this I leave you with a few quotes and the reminder to relax and enjoy being with your kids. We will be the best teachers when we know them and have spent time with them. They will pay attention more to someone who they know knows them well and has genuine interest in them.

“The difference between me and ordinary men lies in my ability to maintain my attention-to keep on plodding.” Archimedes

“It is folly to attempt to gain attention to a lesson in which the pupil can not be led to feel any genuine interest.” Pg 59

All quotes are from The Seven Laws of Teaching.

November 2, 2010

The Law of the Teacher

"A reading from Homer" By Lawerence Alma Tadema

“The teacher must know of that which he would teach”

To know is the central part of this first Law of teaching. Mr. Gregory points out that there are four different levels of knowing:

1) We May know a fact as merely to recognize it when another tells it.
2) We may know it in such degree as to be able to recall it for ourselves; or to describe it in a general way.
3) Better still, we may so know it that we can readily explain, prove, and illustrate it;
4) Mounting to the highest grade of knowledge, we may so know and vividly see a truth in itsdeeper significance and wider relations that its importance, grandeur, or beauty impresses and inspires us.
Pg 35

As teachers we want to aim to know something vividly, to see a truth in such a way as to be inspired by it so we can communicate that to our students (#4). In this way we are teaching with a "full mind". The full mind is capable of allowing the student freedom because we already know the territory of the subject. We can encourage questions and guide exploration because we know where we are where we can go. We are a trusted and knowledgble guide to the student.

Mr. Gregory says this:
“While knowledge thus thoroughly and familiarly known rouses into higher action all the powers of the teacher, it also gives him the unfettered command and use of those powers. Instead of the hurry and worry of one who has to glean from the textbook each moment the answers to the questions he has asked, he who knows his lesson as he ought is at home, on familiar ground, and can watch at ease the efforts of his class and direct with certainty the current of their thoughts. He is ready to recognize and interpret their first faint glimpses of the truth, to remove the obstacles from their path, and to aide and encourage their struggling search by the skillful hint which flashes a half-revealing light into the too thick darkness…..A teacher’s ready and evident knowledge helps to give the pupil needed confidence. We follow with eager expectation and delight the guide who shows thorough knowledge of the field we wish to explore, but we drag reluctantly and without interest after an ignorant and incompetent leader.” Pg 39-40

Ok, so this is where I am really getting sweaty palms. I know what it is like to be taught by a fumbling unconfident and unprepared teacher, or worse yet one who is unprepared but blows out high sounding words or tells me answers I know are not true, it is awful. I surely do not want to be a teacher my kids don’t trust or don’t respect. But this is a tall order considering the other things I have to get done today….how will I fulfill this law?

Tom Spencer says this in the accompanying teacher’s guide to this little book:
“As you go through this workbook, you will notice that I have presented lessons in a different order from Mr. Gregory. I have arranged the lessons with a mind towards importance and ease of application….I’ve purposely left the law of the teacher to the very end of this workbook. The difficulty with this law is that one may quickly discern the importance and necessity of the law but it may take several years to comply with it. Once you begin teaching you can not remedy this situation over night. If you find yourself knowing less than you ought to…get to work. However be both patient and realistic. Remember that Gregory said that it was an ideal;

“This chapter discusses the splendid ideal which no except the great teacher ever fully realized, but which every true teacher must more or less nearly approach.”

So resolve that you will know more the next year.”

It is nice to know that it may take a while to get my life around this little nugget and that the most important thing is to simply make more progress in having a fuller mind and little by little I may find myself being ahead.

Here are some ideas for getting more prepared to teach with a full mind: (paraphrased from pg 42-44)

1) Prepare each lesson with fresh study and far enough ahead of time you have time to mull it over and find props and organize activities to enhance your lesson.

2) Look for analogies and likeness in the lesson that can be linked to familiar ideas.

3) Study the lesson until its thoughts take shape in familiar language. The final proof and product of clear thought is clear speech….can you retell it in your own words?

4) Find the natural order and connection of the facts and truths. Go from the simplest idea to the more complex idea. Draw diagrams to map it out.

5) Make it practical for the student….how does it apply to their life, how does it apply to yours and share it with them.

6) Learn the lesson so that it is crystal clear in your own mind.

7) Look at the lesson from many angles, but master at least one. Better to know one thing well than many which are still unclear.

8) Set aside time in the day for preparation of the lesson. If possible well in advance for the mind keeps working on it.

9) Get the help of books, online resources, and experts to set your mind a working.

10) Buy books a year ahead of time so you can be reading books ahead. Or buy books at your reading level and read along with your kids.

11) Talk your lesson over with an intelligent friend or write it all out in a notebook.

“The nib of the pen digs deep into the mines of truth. Expressing thought often clears it of its dross and obscurities.” Pg 44

Remember to take your time learning this. The best gift you give your kids each day is YOU! So let’s grow slowly and with grace trusting God for his wisdom each day. (and the time for new things)

All quotes are from The Seven Laws of Teaching By John Milton Gregory a free online version of this book can be found here.

November 1, 2010

Questions for Mr. Gregory

At the end of last school year I read through The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. I wrote a post about it here. I read the book, did a few essays in an accompanying workbook written by Tom Spencer the high school principal for Logos School in Idaho. Then, I simply put all the ideas and thoughts on hold and went traveling this summer and basically forgot about all the rich nuggets of truth I had found. But I did not really forget them I was letting them settle, simmer on the back burner to see if what I was reading and learning was really going to be helpful and practical for us this next year. If the ideas were good they would look good again in three months. They proved to be, for now I am compelled to write about many for the ideas which captured my mind, gave me new insights and have reassured me in areas where I can see we are staying with the natural laws of the mind and seeing success.

The book caught my attention because I really am a free spirit and the idea of being under more laws just did not sound appealing. But I do like a book that makes me think, so I thought if these guys over there in Idaho have found this little book so helpful that all their teachers read it and do the essay work, I want to see what there is in it. I was amazed! I was not turned off by the laws and found so many cool little nuggets of truth in it, that it may take a few years before they all sink in.

For starters let’s ask Mr. Gregory some questions:

What is teaching?
“Teaching in its simplest sense, is the communication of knowledge…. It is painting in another’s mind the mental picture in one’s own - the shaping of a pupil’s thought and understanding to the comprehension of some truth which the teacher knows and wishes to communicate.” Pg 20-21

What is meant by Communication?
“…helping another to reproduce the same knowledge, and thus make it common to the two.”
Pg 21

What!Teaching has laws?
“Teaching has its natural laws as fixed as the laws of circling planets or of growing organisms. Teaching is a process, in which definite forces are employed to produce definite effects, and these effects follow their causes as regularly and certainly as the day follows the sun… the mind has its laws of thought, feeling, and volition, and these laws are none the less fixed that they are spiritual rather than material.”
Pg 21

Why should I know these laws?
“To discover the laws of any process, whether mental or material, makes it possible to bring that process under control of him who knows the law and can command the conditions… So he that masters the laws of teaching may send knowledge into the depths of the soul, and may impress upon the mind the images of truth. He who would gain harvests must obey nature’s laws for growing corn; and he who would teach a child successfully must follow the laws of teaching which are also laws of the mental nature.”
Pg 22

What are the laws of the mental nature? (paraphrased from pg 23-24)
1. The teacher must be one who knows the lesson or truth to be taught.

2. A learner is one who attends with interest to the lesson given.

3. The language used as a medium between teacher and learner must be common to both.

4. The lesson to be learned must be explicable in the terms of truth already known by the learner. The unknown must be explained by the known.

5. Teaching is arousing and using the pupil’s mind to form in it a desired conception or thought.

6. Learning is thinking into one’s own understanding a new idea or truth.

7. The test and proof of teaching done-the finishing and fastening process-must be re-viewing re-thinking re-knowing, and re-producing of the knowledge taught.
These laws seem pretty simple and a bit obvious… why write a whole book about them?
“Like all great laws of nature, these laws of teaching will seem at first simple facts, so obvious as scarcely to require such formal statement, and so plain that no explanation can make clearer their meaning, But, like all fundamental truths, their simplicity is more apparent than real. Each law varies in applications and effects with varying minds and persons, though remaining constant to itself; and each stands related to other laws and facts, in long and wide successions, till it reaches the outermost limits of the science of teaching…..the discussion in the following chapters will reach every valuable principle in education, and every practical rule which can be of use in the teacher’s work.”
Pg 25

Why do some people seem to already know how to teach well and they do not know any of these laws?
“Doubtless there are many successful teachers who never heard of these laws, and who do not consciously follow them just as there are people who walk safely without any theoretical knowledge of gravitation, and talk intelligently without studying grammar. Like the musician who plays by ear, and without knowledge of notes, these “natural teachers” as they are called, have learned the laws of teaching from practice, and obey them from habit. It is nonetheless true that their success comes from obeying law and not in spite of laws. They catch by intuition the secret of success, and do by sort of instinct what others do by rule and reflection.”
Pg 26

I am not a “natural teacher,” but I am afraid if I simply obey laws I will become a cold mechanical sort of teacher.
“Let no one fear that a study of the laws of teaching will tend to substitute a cold, mechanical sort of work for the warm-hearted, enthusiastic teaching so often admired and praised. True skill kindles and keeps alive enthusiasm by giving it success where it would have otherwise be discouraged by defeat. The true worker’s love for his work grows with his ability to do it well. Even enthusiasm will accomplish more when guided by intelligence and armed with skill…” Pg 27

All quotes are form The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

I will be posting much more from this book in the coming days and weeks, may they inspire us and make us enthusiastic and skillful painters of ideas in our children’s minds!