How to Learn the Most

I ran across this article from Brainpickings about letters that Albert Einstein wrote to his own children. He writes to his 11 year old son,

“That is the way to learn the most…when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

-Einstein, in a letter to his son

I got to thinking about the kind of learning that Einstein describes – the sense of losing time because you are so present and engaged in something you are interested in.  I love that Einstein also tells his son in the letter to play more piano and do carpentry, and that it is “even more important than school.”  (YES!)

It made me wonder, what would Einstein think of the virtual learning we are planning for students to endure this year? How many students in school regularly experience that same sensation of total engagement, of losing time while engaged in learning?    It may happen occasionally, but I doubt that most students miss normal school instruction.

How engaged will students be in online lessons this year?  What would Einstein think of 6 and 7 year olds learning how to read, write, and count by way of screens? What would he think of high schoolers logging in for a minimum of 180 minutes everyday without face-to-face interaction with their peers? Extending virtual instruction for students indefinitely everywhere as a mainstay form of schooling will have long and short term consequences on individual and collective levels.   There are so many issues to this, it can be difficult to grasp.  But I hope I can stir a points here.

First, when we are totally engaged and losing track of time as Einstein described, this is about relevance, interest, self-motivation and choice. Schools typically provide very little choice in learning.  Einstein knew, the best way to learn is not necessarily in school.  Yet, we can learn some things in school, and we can also learn some things on computers. Technology has its place, but a screen does nothing to engage us with the same completeness that real-life tasks do.   What if we embraced this challenge of school closure due to pandemic as an opportunity to learn through real tasks with verve and interest?   Things like playing music and doing practical tasks like carpentry have a real place in daily life for healthy people with curious minds.  Too much external, academic programming makes us lose touch with that sense of agency and autonomy to do purposeful activities with our hands.

Second, there is the idea that when schools are at their healthiest and best, they can provide a sense of community.  When schools are at their worst they provide a sense of alienation,  perpetuating societal indoctrination, propaganda, and racism.  Sometimes schools can be very sick places.

Due to the COVID-19 healthcare crisis, we have already been away from our schools for more than six months.   What have students missed the most?   Friends and the social contact with their community?  Playing at recess, or going to gym class, sports, or other activities?  For older kids, being captain of the team their senior year? Graduations, proms and other major events?  Students might also feel the loss of regularity and routine, the predictable structure that the school day provides.  Maybe the children also miss the independence, the ability to leave their homes, taking a step into the broader community away from their family?  Occasionally, students might miss being with an inspired teacher who can foster within a student a love for a subject, or the self-confidence to overcome obstacles.  The loss of interpersonal opportunities like these can’t really be measured. There may be many other things I failed to list about what students missed, but I doubt high quality instruction would make the top of their list because most never get to experience it.    I mean no disrespect to my teaching colleagues in this, but most instruction is not engaging.  Also, some children might be relieved they are NOT in school, More students may be relieved to NOT have to worry they will be shot while eating their lunch in the cafeteria.  The incidence of school shooting are down for the first time in a long while. Children today face extreme anxieties that adults today never had to worry about.   Sometimes our schools are very dangerous places.

Why did humans develop schools?  A school was meant to be a place where we provide a well-rounded offering of activities with the intent to enrich human experience, but that is definitely not always achieved. What opportunities, advantages and disadvantages does virtual learning offer us? How can we meet our needs for community? What good schools provide, virtual learning cannot easily provide the same way.  On the flip side, perhaps the hidden opportunity of not being in a school building is that we have more time to heal from the ills of our own society.  We have more time to reflect on what we want, and more time for the kind of learning Einstein talks about, if we are able to take advantage of it.   We will need to control our time better, however, and not be mindlessly controlled by our screens.   One need only recall the movie Wall-E to imagine how life in the future might be if we allow ourselves to be controlled by our screens and materialism.

We need to keep a distinction between “school” and “learning” and be more mindful of the potential negative effects of so much screen time on childhood.  Learning does not necessarily take place in schools, though it can.  Children are  not widgets or robots.   Requiring massive amounts of screen time as a vehicle for learning will have long term consequences which have yet to be fully understood, but there will be steep consequences on a societal level, as well as on mental and physical health levels. A bigger question might be, with the onset of Artificial Intelligence, at what point are we irreversibly putting computers above human beings as decision makers?

Some people are upset because they so desperately want kids back in a school building.  What is that really about?  Economics of childcare? Convenience for parents? Government control? The comfort of routine?  FOMO?

It is not the building that makes learning happen.    Learning can happen in a lot of ways.  The school building is just a shared space for community.  A community of people can be a sick community or it can be a vibrant community or something in between.  It can be online community or in person community or something in between.   We don’t have to be in a particular place to learn, but whether we are in a school building or on a screen, its of vital importance that we keep striving to make what happens in schools REAL, relevant, ACTIVE, ENGAGING and above all… HUMAN for students.

vir·tu·al
/ˈvərCH(o͞o)əl/

adjective

  • 1.almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition:“the virtual absence of border controls”

learn·ing

/ˈlərniNG/

noun

  • 1.the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught:“these children experienced difficulties in learningsynonymsstudystudyingeducationschoolingtuition… more

What Teachers Need the Most in 2020

While I respect brain research and acknowledge its immense value, teachers need to  apply what we already know.

A human being is more than just a brain.

Humans develop in multiple ways: emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively, and artistically.    Students are more than their test scores. SEL (Social Emotional Learning) and mental health, which includes emotional + physical health, cannot be ignored.

We deserve to develop all sides of ourselves and teachers really help their students when they deliver instruction in a variety of ways,  not just one single mode.

Then there is the reality of 2020.

K-12 teachers are entering the virtual teaching sphere en masse.  In just a few more weeks this gets real.  Young children will be learning solely through a glowing screen when the new school year begins.

How well can we teach through multiple intelligences using a virtual platform?

From an Edutopia article on Gardener’s Theory of Multiple Intelligence:

Practices Supported by Research

Having an understanding of different teaching approaches from which we all can learn, as well as a toolbox with a variety of ways to present content to students, is valuable for increasing the accessibility of learning experiences for all students. To develop this toolbox, it is especially important to gather ongoing information about student strengths and challenges as well as their developing interests and activities they dislike. Providing different contexts for students and engaging a variety of their senses — for example, learning about fractions through musical notes, flower petals, and poetic meter — is supported by research. Specifically:

  • Providing students with multiple ways to access content improves learning (Hattie, 2011).
  • Providing students with multiple ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills increases engagement and learning, and provides teachers with more accurate understanding of students’ knowledge and skills (Darling-Hammond, 2010).
  • Instruction should be informed as much as possible by detailed knowledge about students’ specific strengths, needs, and areas for growth (Tomlinson, 2014).

As our insatiable curiosity about the learning process persists and studies continue to evolve, scientific research may emerge that further elaborates on multiple intelligences, learning styles, or perhaps another theory. To learn more about the scientific research on student learning, visit our Brain-Based Learning topic page.

Link to full article

In how many ways can we present our lesson material that touch on multiple intelligences while coming through a screen to first graders? How will I make the material come alive for a six to seven year old? How will I build the human relationships with my very young students in the virtual?

These are questions I am faced with as a first grade online teacher. Perhaps for a high school or college professor, it looks somewhat different.  But as a teacher of primary grades, I have deep concerns about the long-term impacts of what is unfolding as we shift away from live teachers sharing stories orally and through books to Youtube videos streaming into students’ homes.

More than ever, we need ways to protect the youngest students from too much screen time and connect with them on a real, emotional, human level. Last night I watched the video of a grieving father explain how his 12 year-old son committed suicide two days before when he broke his computer monitor for a second time.    I can’t help but feel we are sacrificing the lambs without knowing the potential consequences.

In 2050 this generation of first grade students will be hitting their prime working years.  They might be the first generation of children who will have learned how to read and write on a computer, with many hours less of touching a real pencil to paper or holding real books in their hands from the school library.

I want to explain that I am no luddite.  As a ten year old girl, I loved computers.  Later, as a first year teacher in the 1990’s I sponsored an “Internet Club” for my 6th graders and I was among the first in my district to publish a teacher webpage on the internet.  At the time my principal could not correctly pronounce the word, “internet.”  I have a keen interest in the potential of technology in education.

I want to see a healthy use of computers that respects the needs of human development of young children.  I just honestly think we as a society do not yet know what “healthy computer use” looks like for young people as evidenced by the expectations of the general public and decision-makers and devastating impacts like that of the father who lost his son to suicide.

The forced virtual schooling that is upon us may not be something we have control over and I am all in favor of focusing on the things we DO have control over.  Forced online schooling happened too quickly to manage well in the middle of a health crisis this spring.  What will be different this fall about forced virtual schooling now that the new school year is here?

What teachers do have control over is how we teach and how we build relationships with students and parents.    We can also advocate for our students’ needs when situations call for it.   I for one, will be trying as many innovative ways as I can to connect on a personal, human level, and to look for ways as many ways as possible to make my lessons physically active, imaginative,  and multi-sensory for my students.  At the same time that we are forced to embrace online teaching, we need to embrace what makes us human.  I will continue to reach for any reasonable tools that I find to connect with my students and I will share what I find with others in the field.  It’s back to school season, 2020-style.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rose Cross

rose crossWithout specifically planning it, and all at once, I found myself reading three different books relating to the Rose Cross meditation.

Our study group took up reading The Rose Cross Meditation by Rudolf Steiner.  It is a meditation practiced by Rosicrucians which uses the symbols of the cross and a crown of seven roses.    I first heard about this meditation during my Waldorf teacher training, and though it sounded interesting and mysterious, I didn’t go very deeply into at the time.

9780875420189Not long before this, I had recently read Sacred Sounds, a book about the healing power of Music and Story.  It related Music and Astrology in a way I had not seen before and I became very interested in learning more about the relationship between music and astrology.  One of the sources recommended by Andrews was Max Heindel, a Rosicrucian writer.   I was a little daunted to find that Heindel had many volumes of texts, most which averaged around 500 pages each.  I found I was swept right into it nonetheless and could not stop reading.  So, there I was, reading about the Rose Cross Meditation, from not one book, but TWO different books at the same time and the funniest part is, I had not really intended this topic in the first place. 

rccencvrTo my surprise, I finished the Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception in mere weeks and found Heindel’s book fascinating and enlightening. It covered many of the same foundational concepts from my Waldorf training but in my opinion,  more directly and clearly explained.

A third text I just began as part of my membership with a different study group by mail called GEMS.  The GEMS  acronym stands for Geographically-Engaged Members of the Society and is organized out of Los Angeles.  This group has undertaken a year-long study with the book, The Silent Stream, also dealing with Rosicrucianism.  No doubt I will be learning more about the Rose Cross in this third book, though again this was not directly of my choosing.  Perhaps when I complete the study I can elaborate something more specific.  Until then I can only share some preliminary impressions.

My first take with all of this is the purity and holiness of the plant world.  It made more clear to me the importance of a pure diet of plant foods.  It is not only what, but also how we prepare the foods that we consume that is important if we wish to keep our bodily vehicle in the best possible condition.

I also find I am putting  greater thought, time and interest into our garden, and in communing with the natural world as well as putting more thought and preparation into the food I eat.

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As I write this during the month of May,  outside the steps of my front porch, the plant and animal world is exploding with life.   Roses and other flowers are verdantly blooming on the bushes, our cucumber plants are fat with fruits, and friends are bringing fresh picked berries to the first social gatherings we have been able to do in person since the start of Coronavirus quarantines back in March.   Our squashes are really coming along now and  even the lizards in our garden are busy communing.  A friend and I watched a male lizard parading his beautiful throat, fanning it out as he scurried back and forth across our porch in the broad light of the summery day, advertising himself.   He was quite amusing, flashy, dramatic, pausing with his flare.  Later that afternoon, when my friend had gone, I spotted him on the fence post again.  He had found himself a mate and was fully entwined with her,  looking very self-satisfied, bobbing his head up and down, still fanning out his orange throat.   I felt such joy for the abundance of nature in all these manifest forms and for these pictures of fertility.   It was a fitting image for the readings I had just done.

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Last winter, we started a small garden bed in our backyard, my husband and I.  It is now bursting with life too.  Though we would both like to take credit for being the gardener as the fruits of it are evident, the truth is we did it together.

It is mentioned in the Rosicrucian Cosmo Conception that we shall overcome the need for the separate sexes in a far distant future, but in the intervening time,  we must work together on everything; whether as brothers and sisters, lovers, procreating mates, neighbors, fellow gardeners, or friends.   The importance of transforming selfish energy, wishes, wants and desires into something worthy and higher probably can’t be overstated.    Base desires could be simply the bodily comforts of a home, or the pleasure-seeking in the outer world.  Each human being undergoes emotional surges of fear, jealousy, aggression, pride, or self-aggrandizement, especially in an age where we are prone to things like hoarding toilet paper, and now we are swept into tides of racial strife.   In reality, though there is no “my,” or “mine,” only “ours.”  There is no shortage of these lower desires, really.  Our work is cut out for us here in this plane of existence, for each and every human being.

Ideas about the constitution of man’s physical and spiritual body, how the two sexes came to be, how humanity will continue to evolve, these are not usual, everyday things to think about, I realize.  But this seems a transitional time in history and with this transition into summer it also gives us a space to reflect more on who and what we really are and where we are going.

img_6294TWINS is the Gemini symbol for this month of June. In Tarot, the symbol is the LOVERS, male and female.  The symbol on the opposite end of Gemini is ARCHER/Sagittarius, or the Centaur who shoots his arrow far into the future.  (Think of the Spacex rocket -a giant human arrow) With Sagittarius one part is the animal and one part is human.  This represents the overcoming of a lower, animal nature to attain a higher more evolved state.  This is the 3rd House/9th House axis in astrology.  The Gemini-Sagittarius axis also relates to lower mind versus higher mind.  Gemini is the structure of facts and words, Sagittarius is whole language system and deeper meaning it conveys.

Our thoughts produce fruit just as a plant’s sexual organs produce fruit in this most abundant season of summer.    Thoughts and words create whole worlds.   Thoughts produce both material and immaterial things.    It is the other half of our generative function.   One part is physical, the other part is manifest but not yet physical, and so thinking is yet another act of fertility.

In addition to raising our children with care,  we can endeavor to do no harm to ourselves or others with our misdirected thoughts.  All of our thoughts bear fruit and wisely directed arrows of thoughts bear nourishing and long lasting fruit for an infinite amount of time, just as children carry our seeds into the future infinitely. 

Perhaps there has never been a time more important than right now in human history to take great care to weed the garden of our thoughts very carefully.  Whatever we put out into the future whether a garden of vegetables or a garden of thoughts, whatever we put out into the world will have very long lasting consequences.  As we see violence growing, as misinformation abounds, as our connectivity with technology grows exponentially,  we have our own work to do to transform the gardens of our minds.    

I may start by rewording many of my pronouns from “my” to “our” as often as I can and stay open to the wisdom from my fellow gardeners and continue to seek for the good because in truth there is little that can be said to be “mine.”  Everything is “ours.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Curriculum of Quarantine and the Start of Something New

Many people are getting the feeling that this quarantine has unique and potent curriculum for all of us.   Aside from forcing us to learn to live with a great deal of uncertainty, I am hearing more people talk about taking up new forms of exercise or meditation, or those who are dusting off their former hobbies, or new ones they are now finally exploring or discovering.  I am certainly in this category and I am a little embarrassed to admit that the teacher and introvert in me was sort of giddy at first.

A few months ago, after listening to some podcasts, I got curious to learn more about the Tarot. When I used to think of tarot I imagined the gypsy woman in a tent with crystal ball, laying out cards on a table and while dramatically telling people their futures to take their money.  I never thought of the tarot as something helpful, or particularly enlightened, nor had I ever considered its extensive history.  I could even say it reminded me of  the old toy eight-ball fortuneteller I had as a kid.   But I’ve known about the connection between Astrology and the Tarot for a while, I had simply never rolled up my sleeves and gotten down into it. I knew I was getting overdue for a primer.

Perhaps I was intuitively guided,  because several weeks before this whole virus thing even got started  I made a stop at Body, Mind, Soul Bookstore in Houston on my way home from an event on President’s Day in February.  BMS is one of the better tarot deck boxmetaphysical bookstores in Houston with beautiful crystals in a nicely arranged, trendy shop.  It is fun to explore and meander, so my daughter and I dropped in to do a little browsing.  While I was there, I purchased a Rider-Waitte Tarot deck.   When we were finished, we sat down to lunch at the taco joint next door, which by the way had amazing shrimp tacos, and I opened up the deck and unfolded the tiny instruction booklet.   I was shocked to see how many cards the deck contained and really had no clue what to do with it.  I realized, perhaps a little daunted, that this would  be a bit of a research project.  I put the cards back in the little, yellow metal box. I finished my shrimp taco and lemonade and drove home.  My normal daily responsibilities and routines resumed.  The deck of cards sat untouched on the shelf for a couple of weeks, though I knew one day I might be able to delve more into it.  “Perhaps, in the summer,” I thought to myself.  I didn’t worry about it.  But then it just so happened my research project would not have to wait very long.

Fast forward two weeks into March.  We discovered we would be at home from our schools and our jobs for quite an extended period of time for Coronavirus quarantine and the light bulb went off in me.  “Well, now I have some extra time to read, study and learn the Tarot!”

I decided to approach this study by making myself a handmade reference book with my own hand-drawn images of the Major Arcana deck to incorporate another hobby that has sat neglected, drawing with colored pencil.    It had been about two years since I had really used my colored pencils.  I got excited as I sat down with a beautiful, turquoise journal book that I had been saving.  The cover of it had a botanical imprint  and it had a bamboo spine.

journal tarot

 

Someone who knows I love to write gave it to me as a gift.  I really decided to relish this whole process as artistically as I could and steep myself in the symbols and the study.

 

high preistessIt turns out that what intrigues me the most about the tarot is the symbols, and that is what I love about astrology also. I love astrology for all of its clean mathematical relationships, the wonders of astronomy, and precision of the planetary cycles.  But the symbols themselves contain the essence of their wisdom in picture form.  The tarot combines that same mathematical quality with the power of symbols and the archetypes of story.  Now as I reflect on my research project of studying the tarot, it is rather like, “Where have you been all my life?”

So this is the start of something new, like taking French lessons or learning to cook Indian food and perhaps in my next segment about this I will give a little book report on the tarot.  I hope that you are faring well in the quarantine, and perhaps if are reading this, you too have unearthed some special hobbies or lessons for yourself in the hidden curriculum of quarantine.