Friday, September 7, 2012

Back from the edge of the Cliff of Doom

    I wonder if other educators experience the vertigo I feel during back to school season.  It's like standing on the precipice of the cliff of doom, where I contemplate an unending fall into the void, or scaling the crumbling rock face millimeter by millimeter.

It's difficult to have perspective when you're learning to teach via the bootstrap method.  I do have some practical field experience and accredited theoretical training on the process of how people learn how to learn.  This means that my method of teaching is to recognize a particular project or problem, then guide the learner to construct their own knowledge through the assignment, then to reflect on the experience.  One example of this is Elliot's Ninja Art to help homeless citizens.  Through the construction of his business, he actively participates in his own learning and is afforded real world experiences.  He's learning things that textbooks and government standards cannot teach.

Yet we cannot ignore that there are government standards and daily drudgery.

Spelling and writing are one of our biggest areas of need.  I have been researching packaged curriculum and decided that the Barton Reading and Spelling Program might be our best option.  Unfortunately this program is beyond my budget at the moment and so I have to wait.  In the meantime,  I've been working on creating a spelling game.

I want to have fun on this journey.  Although there are times of sweat and tears, I want those times to be few.  I not only want learning to be fun, but I want to help Elliot find humor and play while exploring the realm of written language.  Math was never funny.  Maybe that's why I never learned to compute large formulas.

Language, on the other hand, has the power to take one on emotional journeys.

So, while I'm waiting to earn enough to purchase the Barton system, I'm taking matters into my own hands and constructing my first spelling game.  Two working titles are "Literate Cave Folk" and "Teach a Cave Man to Spell."

Before you assume that I'm suggesting that my son spells like a cave man and I'm reinforcing a negative stigma, please read on.

In the game, the learner chooses a Cave Folk character and takes him on a journey, through situations where he must build words to help his character cooperate, work, play, survive danger, satisfy basic needs, have adventures and celebrate.  The game will be driven by situation cards that move the character all over the board.  When in the middle of a situation, the learner must help their character build words using phonograms.  The learner/player who has the longest list of words at the end of the game is declared the winner.

The first example of how to use a phonogram to build words is

                                                "things that make you go OO"

Like when you're a cave folk and the sun goes down and there's no such thing as controlled fire, flashlights or LED night lights.  There's only eyes peeping through the brush and rustling noises.  Then, all of a sudden, a round orb of white light rises.


Or when there's an unexplainable pain in your stomach and you discover that the berries growing on the bush are edible.


Or when you are struggling to make a shelter and you discover that a sharp rock can help cut the vines.


Or when after working on the shelter, your tummy starts to rumble from the berries.


But then another situation arises in which the cave folk must take those experiences and explain them to the other cave folk back at the cave.  The whole explanation would be a series of "oo! oo! oo!" and no one would understand.

            So the challenge is to give the cave folk character different phonograms in combination to build words and thus add meaning.

     The learner can then make a list of the first four words, "moon," "food," "tool" and "poop."  (My son is eight, and this game is supposed to make him laugh.  Language is funny.)

Although the game is in it's beginning phase of development, I see a lot of potential for humor.  And while Elliot already knows how to spell some of the basic beginning words, building confidence through using what he knows to build new words is the goal.  The opportunity for building huge lists of words during the course of the game, which can be played over several weeks, is why I am excited.  New situations can arise for the cave folk, every single day.

Knowing that I learn to solve problems in a constructivist sort of way, making things up as I go along, helps me to relax.  The idea for the game is keeping me focused on positive solutions, rather than negative fear.

Aren't we all still cave folk trying to explain our experiences to one another that have meaning?

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