Heartwood Self-Directed Learning Time

With students working all around me on their own learning projects, I wandered around from room to room and outside to observe.

Students were outside playing Gaga Ball. One of the young men taught me how to play in the “snake pit” (the students in this intentional community have named several places around the building including the Gaga Ball pit, special names become part of the school culture).

I was surprised to find Gaga ball is a real game. I thought it was made up by the kids. The students do have variations on the game and one aspect of self-directed learning is to learn to change the rules to suit the situation. Knowing that rules are flexible and how to work together to transition them is an important element in effective personal and business adult life. Students learn to try new ideas and keep the ones that work well, while discarding the ones that don’t work. This can be applied simply to gaga ball and it’s rules, kind of like poker or monopoly may have different house rules.

Going inside I noticed a student sitting all by himself with a device. I asked him if I could talk to him for a few minutes. He said I could. I asked what he was working on, and he told me, “art.” I asked if I could see his work and he showed me what he was working on and previous pieces he had. We talked about his use of colors, but he didn’t seem interested in the conversation, so I left him alone to work.

He went right back to work on his art, and a little while later when kids came in to get the pillows off the bunk he was working on, it didn’t faze him one bit. I’m still amazed at how much work these kids can get done with everything going on around them. Truly, when students want to learn, the concentration is there.

On to another room and another set of students working on a science project. I had heard them asking Anthony about a project they had done with him before, and now they wanted to do it again. He told them they needed corn starch, and they went to look for some. When I came back around, I guess there wasn’t any corn starch, but they had found some items and after what I’m assuming was several trial and error attempts, they were very excited to have made their goo. All I could do was smile. It’s exciting when students are interested in science!

Students have arts and craft supplies available to them as well. When I asked these two what they were working on as they were getting out supplies, they said, “crafts.”

I just realized these simple one word answers may seem rude to some because each time, the child answered quickly without really looking at me or engaging with me. I didn’t feel it was rude at all though, because I could tell they were engrossed in the projects they were working on, which is the whole point. Self-direction in action is beautiful. The students are really engaged and not concerned about being judged or hindered, but just enjoying learning.

Students can spend as much or as little time on an activity as they choose.

I didn’t get any pictures, but at one point several students went out front to roll down the hill in bubble balls. If that isn’t a hands on lesson in physics, I don’t know what is. The kids blew up the bubble balls, and proceeded to take turns rolling down the hill, making adjustments as needed. It was amazing to see them exploring and learning about their physical world.

Several of the pictures I took that day didn’t show up on my phone. I’m not technology inclined and didn’t check the pictures, my last phone was so good to me and took great pictures, this one seems a little more picky so several of the shots I thought I had gotten, I hadn’t. Probably a problem between the phone and the chair. At any rate, I enjoyed spending time watching the children learn in the ways they chose.

Geometry, chemistry, physics, math, reading, creativity and soft skills like consideration, team work, group think and respect for others were observed throughout the day. These are the goals of every school and Heartwood is hitting the nail on the head!

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