Tag: Project-Based Learning

Unschooling in Action



One of the greatest advantages of unschooling is the freedom to explore, and to develop ideas and skills.

Since our daughter started homeschooling a couple of years ago, she has burrowed down several rabbit holes, including interests in astronomy and physics. Generally, after she has learned about a topic, she moves on to new interests. However, throughout the entire time, she has exhibited an enduring passion for drawing, and also animating.

Previously, she had been attending art classes, so already had an interest in drawing. She had also been reading The Warriors series, by Erin Hunter. She began to draw Warriors characters on her computer, and I eventually got her a digital drawing pad.

Interestingly, she learned most of her digital drawing (and animating) skills online, mostly from YouTube videos. She created her own YouTube channel, and a video which shows how she developed the Flametail picture (above):

In this video, she uses a time-lapse recording, which is referred to as a “speedpaint”.

She then continued to develop her interest by creating animations:

She is part of an artist’s community which collaborates on drawings (often short art contests), and animations. These animation collaboration projects are called “MAPs” – Multi-Animator Projects. One artists hosts the MAP and determines, the theme, characters, music, etc. Other artists offer to complete scenes. Usually, the MAP lasts about 30 seconds, but some can last several minutes.

The artists are located worldwide. The other evening, they were comparing their timezones, and it turns out they had participants from Europe, East and West Coast USA/Canada, and Australia.

The next step is to tackle 3-D animation. She has been studying videos about the Blender animation program, and started creating some rudimentary figures.

While it is possible for students at traditional schools to develop interests outside the regular curriculum, for unschoolers this is actually the norm. Our daughter has pursued numerous unusual interests, and I look forward to seeing her participate in many more.


What is the best homeschooling program in America for a child who is behind in math and writing?


Written Mar 31

I’ve had to face similar dilemmas, and my usual response is to survey the research. So, here’s what I have observed that I believe is pertinent to your question.


In 1984, Benjamin Bloom wrote a paper which explored methods of group instruction, to find which method compared most favorably to one-to-one tutoring.

While most people focus on Bloom’s “Mastery Learning” as the best method for class learning, it is easy to lose sight that tutoring is the most effective teaching method for achieving the highest achievement scores.

Mastery learning maintains that students must achieve a level of mastery (e.g., 90% on a knowledge test) in prerequisite knowledge before moving forward to learn subsequent information. If a student does not achieve mastery on the test, they are given additional support in learning and reviewing the information and then tested again. This cycle continues until the learner accomplishes mastery, and they may then move on to the next stage.[1]

Mastery learning (which Bloom proposed in 1968) is the next best alternative to one-to-one tutoring. Bloom demonstrated an 84th percentile equivalent on achievement scores for Mastery Learning (compared to a 98th percentile equivalent from one-to-one tutoring).

Incidentally, one-to-one tutoring is assumed to integrate the methods of Mastery Learning. Also, it is interesting to note that Khan Academy math (and some other online math programs) also incorporate mastery learning principles, by requiring the student to demonstrate mastery before proceeding to the next level.

Beyond mastery learning and one-to-one tutoring, there is research indicating that teaming can be very effective. Project-Based Learning (PBL) is one of the strategies to utilize this approach. The work of Jo Boaler emphasizes PBL in the approach to teaching math.

Psychological Imprisonment or Intellectual Freedom? A Longitudinal Study of Contrasting School Mathematics Approaches and Their Impact on Adults’ Lives

In summary, the best approaches, for learning math (in any learning environment) appear to be:

  • One-to-one tutoring
  • Mastery Learning
  • Active team learning


[1] Mastery learning | Wikiwand

Are homeschooled students better at not being “sheep” (or copying ideas of others in order to determine what’s right)?

Updated Feb 13 

Magic Castle And Princess With Prince

Once upon a time, a prince and princess lived in a land far away.

The prince was destined for great things. His father, in addition to being a king, was also a great wizard, wise in the knowledge of wondrous, magical machines (that you are probably carrying in your pocket).

The princess was revered, not only for her beauty, but for being wise beyond her years. Her father, king in another nearby country, was renowned as a great warrior and philosopher.

The prince was chosen to follow in his father’s footsteps. His father decided that his son would be taught in the finest schools, by the greatest scholars.

The princess’ father decided to let her follow her dreams and passions.

As the years passed, the citizens of each country began to notice strange and wondrous events.

One year, the prince participated in a mighty contest, where students came from near and far to conduct a battle of wills. The prince awed the gathered crowds by demonstrating his wonderful knowledge of the names of the Roman emperors, and the dates of their great victories. And there was great rejoicing.

Meanwhile, the princess was troubled. She had journeyed far, far away to walk in the footsteps of the emperors. She studied their language, and read the books of the great philosophers. She approached her father: “Father, I am troubled. I read how Julius Caesar consolidated his power, and established himself as a supreme ruler, and how the Roman people suffered. And yet, I see the same thing happening today. What should I do?”

On another occasion, the prince’s teachers charged him with a mighty task – spread the word throughout the kingdom of your knowledge of the wonders of “Iron”! So the prince toiled for many minutes to create a Facebook page to demonstrate the wonders of Iron. When the princess saw his beautiful efforts, she remarked, “Your Facebook page is so pretty, and Iron is so interesting. Will you share the miracle of the Iron Age, and how it changed the destiny of humanity?” The prince replied, “Little one, do not trouble yourself with such trivial things. My teachers only desire that I show my people three pictures of iron, with explanations. Besides, I have too many other important tasks to occupy my mind.”

The princess returned to her castle. She pondered the night sky, amazed by its complexity. “Father, I am fascinated by the beauty and wonder of the night sky, but I do not understand what I see.” Her father summoned a great scholar, who appeared as if by magic, floating in front of her eyes, and instructed her on the wonders of the universe. “Father, I have learned so many wonderful things about the night sky, but I want to learn more.” Her father prepared a magic spell, and summoned a mighty telescope, which was delivered from afar. The princess and her father spent many evenings gazing at the wondrous night sky. “Father, this is amazing. I want to learn more.” So her father sent her to the far-off land of Arizona, to study the night sky with great wizards, who controlled fearsome huge telescopes.

The prince’s father was happy. His son had demonstrated to the world his readiness to study with the high priests in the most famous cathedrals of learning in the land. His son would be ready to assume the mantle of leadership.

The princess approached her father. “Father, there are so many wonderful things for me to learn. I wish to travel to a small monastery, on an isolated island. There, a group of monks have dedicated their lives to teaching the mysteries of life to a small group of acolytes.” Her father replied, “Daughter, you are indeed wise beyond your years. Go with my blessing.”

The prince was proud to live in the great cathedral. Once in a great while, he glimpsed the revered teachers far away in their ivory research towers. The novitiates who taught him assured him that, if he continued to follow the rules of learning, one day he may join them in the ivory tower. He, and the other sheep, nodded.

The story of the princess is lost in the mists of time. Fables persisted. Some people believed that she had become an artist; others that she had become a great healer; yet others maintained that she explores the limits of the universe. No one knows her future.

So, at least in my opinion, it is easier for a homeschooled student to avoid being a sheep.

Also, since there is far less emphasis on grades and competition in the homeschool environment, there is less incentive to copy the ideas of others, and a correspondingly greater incentive to dive more deeply into areas of interest.

What is the best way to teach history to homeschooled middle and high school students?

Written Jan 3

Actually, the best methods apply to all students … not just homeschoolers … and to many different topics.


The gold star method for learning is tutoring. (Of course, the tutor needs to have a good grasp of the topic, and an effective plan for what should be taught). I also believe project-based learning is a fabulous way to proceed.

For example, our family watched a program on YouTube for fun (Mary Beard’s Meet the Romans). Our (10 year old homeschooled) daughter enjoyed this, so I followed up by working through Mary Beard’s book, SPQR. We have also visited Rome, so our daughter was already somewhat familiar with ideas of Roman history. Our discussions that arose from reading the book led us to consider archaeology, history, geography, nation-building, and politics (we made comparisons to the US and to current events in Turkey). Ultimately, she decided to study Latin, and has completed a Skype course (3–4 students with a tutor). She will continue studying Latin this year.

The key to studying history (or many topics), is to focus on areas of interest, and allow the student to proceed by “disappearing down the rabbit hole”. This benefits the student by maintaining interest, and also promotes self-initiated research. The teacher/mentor/tutor can gently nudge the student along suitable paths for exploration and research.

How should the US education system best prepare students to engage in the democratic process?

It’s already being done:

SudburyThe Sudbury Valley school was founded in 1968 by Daniel Greenberg. There are now over 60 schools worldwide which operate on the Sudbury Valley model.

A Sudbury school is completely democratic. Everybody in the school has a vote in establishing school procedures and policies, both adults (coordinators) and children. Parents have no vote or voice in administration of the school. Staff are employed on a one-year renewable contract. The staff and students vote each year at a school meeting, and decide which staff contracts will be renewed.

There are no formal classes. Classes form only when students request them, and last only as long as needed, or are desired.

In his book Free to Learn, and in numerous other papers and articles, Dr. Peter Gray discusses the Sudbury Valley model at length. He (and other researchers) have documented the overwhelming success in fostering engaged learners who go on to great success in various fields. One study indicated that 42% of Sudbury school students went on to become self-employed or are involved in entrepreneurial situations, and 87% pursued further education.

For those of us (like my family) who do not have access to a Sudbury model school, the next best choice is to reproduce the democratic environment in the home.

Unschooling is inspired by the writings of John HoltAlfie Kohn, and Peter Gray. Unschooling shares a similar philosophy to that of the Sudbury school method, in that education should be inspired and guided by the child’s curiosity and desire to learn about specific topics. In this manner, unschooling encourages deep dives into particular topics.

In a series of articles in Psychology Today, Dr Gray discusses the outcomes of unschooling. I find it interesting that 53% of the unschoolers in the studies pursued entrepreneurial careers.

Personal Experience

We have been homeschooling our daughter for over a year now. I have to admit that the first couple of months made me very nervous, as she obsessively became a “Minecraft Ninja”.

However, since that episode, it has been fascinating to observe unschooling in action – for example:

  • We watched a YouTube series on Ancient Rome. Since our daughter was interested, we followed up by reading Mary Beard’s SPQR. This led to discussions of history, geography, politics, nation-building, archeology, etc. She is currently studying Latin online (via Skype).
  • Our daughter was reading a series of fantasy books. She started drawing the series characters (digital art). This led her to become involved with an online community of artists, and she eventually participated in collaborative drawing and animation projects. She also wrote a couple of fan fiction novels (based on the same series), which she published online.
  • She expressed an interest in Astronomy. We have visited a local observatory, attended a conference of the American Astronomical Society (fortunate that it was held in our area), and completed an Astronomy course on Coursera. She has asked to attend Astronomy camp at the University of Arizona this coming summer.

The key to preparing students to engage in the democratic process … is to engage them directly in the democratic process. Treat them as responsible, and equal. Allow them to make decisions about their education, and about the environment and society in which they live.

They will naturally become engaged in the larger democratic dialog and processes of our society.

Should all high-schoolers have to take computer science?

Just curious what opinions are since my school is considering making it a graduation requirement. For reference, my high school’s in silicon valley.

Written Oct 30


This is really a much bigger question.

Should all high-schoolers have to take ANY “subject”?

What is the purpose of schooling? If it is to stuff facts into your brain like “What is the capital of Kansas?” then, by all means, let’s have teaching of subjects. While we are at it, why don’t we have kids memorize the dictionary, or an encyclopedia.

But if the purpose of high school is to teach kids how to learn, then we need a completely different approach.

In real life, we generally don’t need to learn “subjects”. (There are situations where it is necessary, but often this is “training”, rather than “learning”). The teaching of subjects, and the standardized tests that accompany them, are an important reason why our schools are ineffective, and why our children hate school.

Let’s redefine the problem

The purpose of education is to learn how to learn. In order to do this, we have to be able to define a problem, consider the structure and mechanics of the problem, consider alternate approaches to the problem, attempt solutions, iterate several times if necessary, and select the optimal solution.

The purpose of education is not to memorize the capital of Kansas. That is a completely different purpose. That is part of the process of providing a common set of principles and knowledge that a committee of curricular specialists have decided is necessary to survive in today’s society – and it may (or may not) be a completely wrong or irrelevant set of facts and principles for the classroom.

Let’s propose a solution


The primary mission of an education is to learn how to learn. In my opinion, this best way to do this is by the use of project-based learning. Using this method, a teacher (or students?) uses a project to initially approach a topic, and as the project is explored, the project blossoms (explodes?) into any number of adjacent areas. Students follow the problem wherever it leads them, learning about stuff along the way and, more importantly, learning how to question and explore, and then communicate their findings. The outcome may be in any number of formats; report, documentary, presentation, song, etc.

A secondary mission of an education is to train students a set of skills to prepare them for life during and after high school. (Aha! We may soon be able to answer the question about computer science).

So, which topics should be “trained” in high school? Who decides which topics should be “taught”?

In my view, this is a question that should be addressed by the “community” that needs the answers. In my view, this question should be addressed at the lowest possible level – by students, teachers, and parents.

For example – in an Amish community, it may be deemed important to learn about the economics of farming and food distribution (computer science may not be a priority). In your community, computer science may be deemed essential – whereas other communities may decide it is optional.

Therefore, in this example, the school becomes a place which has two purposes:

  • teaching how to learn (also called critical thinking)
    • one approach is project-based learning (there are others)
  • training of skills
    • determined by the community

Examples of project-based learning

A Better List Of Ideas For Project-Based Learning

Pick a Project | PBLU.org | Making Projects Click

Is a degree in animation valuable?

The one I’m looking at is computer animation with 2D and 3D animation as well as art history and an art core


My daughter spends a lot of her time doing digital graphics and animation. I offered to get her a tutor, or to enroll her in courses at Full Sail University (which has an excellent reputation in this field, and offers a degree in animation). She turned me down on both offers – said she would rather just learn online from other animators.

I looked through a number of job descriptions on Monster for animator. Only one stated that they required formal training in animation. The vast majority had experience requirements for animation.

Therefore, you need to do more research to determine whether a degree in animation is valuable to you. It certainly does not appear to be a requirement for getting a job in animation, but it may provide you with skills in different software packages, animating techniques, etc.

If you already have experience animating, or can provide a portfolio of your work, I suggest you go ahead and apply for a position. (One way to highlight your skills would be to develop your own website, and use it to showcase your work. You can then reference this on your resume). This would allow you to gain experience while getting paid. Then, if you want to pursue a degree, you can do it while you work.