Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



Real Want to Learn

After the great success with his presentation about whales, my 3rd grade son has decided that he is going to prepare a presentation about our solar system next. “Astronomy interests me” he announced.

While he is embarking on a new self teaching project I am thinking about his learning abilities and process. I feel that any kid can do it given the chance, and I ache for all those kids who are not given this chance.

My son’s chance? I work from home, and this year have decided to let him spend one day a week “homeschooling”. I don’t think I am the traditional homeschooling mom, in that I am not spending every minute of the day with him. Can’t afford to – have a startup to manage. So most of my contribution is by helping him choose his plan for the day during breakfast and being there if he has questions or need specific help.

Had an interesting conversation with my 11th grade daughter about her young brother’s joy of learning. She said to me: “His joy is clear to me. We, human beings, love to learn like we love to eat and breath. When a baby is born the first thing he does is breath, then eat, then learn. How else would we get to sit, stand, walk and talk??”. Then she went on to explain that schools actually kill this natural instinct by creating limits and frames and rules that disrupt the natural evolvement of learning abilities and skills.

My daughter thinks one of the reasons she survived 11 years of school and still loves to learn is because she has created, in her mind, a total separation between “learning” and “schooling”. And I think what I do with my young son might help him create this separation too.

I only started this homeschooling-day experiment because he expressed distress and frustration when going to school. On this particular day his class studies English (ESL) but he has advanced by himself way beyond his class and the teacher said he didn’t have anything for my son to do. Then there’s a music lesson – terribly boring according to my little violin player. And an arts class – where there’s no room for imagination nor learning of techniques, but rather draw what the teacher tells you to draw. Exactly. I could sympathize with his feeling of suffocation.

So, where are we today? Learning about the planets, choosing which the most important facts to present are and improving the models of the planets created at home.


Education Re-Form, For the Sake of the Future

After a couple of years of intense and on-going research into education world wide, trends, fashions, innovation, methods, approaches, doctrines, special education, unique education, religious education, private education, public education, with technology, without technology, with money or without – I need to put in writing just a few of my observations and conclusions, to date.

The future of education lies with the recognition of each student as a unique individual.

The acceptance of uniqueness and diversity is the key to a better future for all and greater success in education achievements.

Old news: Some kids are good in Math and lousy in literature. Some are great in Lit and lousy and Math. One kid can excel in Math and Lit, but he sucks in Physics and Art. There are kids who suck at all topics, but are social stars. There are those who excel at everything, but are still unhappy. Oh, there are so many types of kids, and yet there are no types – because every child is his own special one and an only package of can-do and can’t-do, of wants and non’s. Still the teachers get a classroom filled with many different kids. Usually the things that bind those kids together in one classroom is their age and sometimes where they live or the financial background of their families. That’s a very artificial binder. Look around your adulthood friends and make your own deductions.

So this classroom, turns into a class, a group of kids, now has to study fractions. Great. But while some kids get it in a blink, others may find it difficult, or maybe not difficult, but simply boring, so boring they can’t concentrate or get what the teacher is talking about. And at the end of the day they have homework or exams and behold, some kids get less then a perfect score. Fractioning this group titled a classroom into mini groups….

Greg Whitby, the Executive Director leading a system of approximately 80 Catholic schools in greater Western Sydney Australia, talks about uniformity Vs. diversity here:

One of my own eye openers is my youngest son. A second grader he told me that he loves to learn, but only when he chooses and what he chooses. While the professional educators around him criticize his independent thinking and work constantly to turn him into a uniformed student in his classroom, who does everything the same as the rest of the class, I am observing and here are my findings:

He hates his Arithmetic class and homework. It drives him nuts. Yet, when his father went abroad he produced an amazing shopping list – listing the prices of the toys, after he converted them from US dollars to Israeli Shekels. He can also Arithmetic percentage of time, to know exactly when his eggplants will be ready for harvesting on FarmVille.

How important is it, for a kid like that, to go through a methodical, framed, graded system of teaching him Arithmetic? To be honest – there is no simple answer. As we are in an education system – the education is systematic, automatic, and cannot be adjusted to individual persons. Or can it?

In an education system that is based solely on the transference of knowledge or information from a single teacher to a class of kids – there is indeed no room for recognition of the individual.

So, what’s the purpose of the education? Have we forgotten about it?

I think if a child knows how to calculate foreign exchange rates and percentage (on time!) – he is well beyond simple Arithmetic. So what’s the point of insisting on teaching him one booklet after the other of things he is way passed? Is the purpose of the education here is to transfer the specific books into the child, or is the purpose is that the student actually gets a knowledge in the particular subject and knows how to use it?

Well, neither is enough. The major declared goal of education has always been about preparing the young students to their adult life, to acquiring professions and making a living. Arithmetic was important to learn, and very methodically, in a time where trades men managed their own little businesses and they didn’t have computers or even calculators.

But what does today’s education system do to prepare today’s students to tomorrow’s professions? Those professions which have not yet been born? What did yesterday’s education system did to turn me into an internet communications specialist? Or a multi player online game designer? Or my neighbor to a genome researcher or my friend to a researcher of the structure and function of the ribosome? Answer: nothing. Those are individuals who are born with an important quality or two: curiosity and the ability to ask and to teach themselves.

Self teaching is indeed a quality some lucky people are born with, but eventually, all people are in need of this quality. The amounts of information are growing constantly. It is not possible to transfer all this knowledge to any individual. The diversity of occupation is increasing, allowing people to develop expertise in what really interests them. Turning some knowledge they acquired in school irrelevant.

Those who are afraid of the individualism of education often talk about the importance of wide education. But is it really necessary for a physicist to study how to analyze a poem? Or is it enough to assign reading assignments, to those who do not read enough on their own? And while you assign those books to read, how about some classic films? Classical music? Classical rock bands? Tours in various museums world wide and in archaeological sites around the world? If we are talking about expanding horizons let’s do it with pleasure – and not with pressure. Not every subject in school requires grading and marks.

And as individuals are encouraged to learn and expand their horizons let’s allow for one more thing to change in the classroom: let the kids express and teach – teach other kids, teach the teacher. Because only when the teacher becomes a learner, then he can become a learning enabler. A real 21st century educator.

Here Greg Whitby talks about the 21st century new teaching DNA:

School Sweat

3 kids at school. A new and promising school year. Some thoughts to start with.

Kid #1 will spend 38 hours at school, 5 days a week, an average of 7.6 hours per day, of those 8 breaks adding up to one hour recess time. She will be studying, if I am not mistaken, 12 or 13 topics. She goes on to study math in an afternoon program for additional 3.5 hours. She is 15 years old.

Kid #2 will spend 40 hours at school, spread on 6 days, of it an average of less than one hour per day recess time. He will be studying about 13 topics. He is 11 years old.

Kid #3 will spend 24 hours at school, spread on 6 days, with an average of 40 minutes recess time per day. He will study 8-9 topics. He is 7 years old.

Coming home from school they are pretty exhausted. So they eat, and rest, watch TV or play. They hope to squeeze in their afternoon time their choice of class – sports or arts, meeting with friends and playground time.

But they also have homework to prepare.

Kid #3 spends an average of 10-20 minutes, depending on how angry he is for the fact that he has to open his books at home.

The older kids spend anything between 20 minutes and 2 hours on their homework on a daily average.

Work Laws In Israel

In Israel the workers unions are very strong. There are very clear work laws, who relate to number of working hours per day and per week. Also specific rules exist for employing kids (ages 15 and up).

And the law specifies:

A work day will not be longer than 8 hours in a 45 hour working week (6 days) or more than 9 hours per day in a 43 hours working week (5 days). Kids can never be employed for more than 40 hours per week, and never longer than 9 hours per day. Kids under 16 can not be employed later than 20:00 unless with a special permission. In a 6 hour working day a teen is entitled to 45 minutes break, at least one break is of 30 minutes minimum.

School time is our kids’ working day. It’s what they do. Their occupation. If  I look at their week in light of the employment laws I can’t help wondering how much more can they bear.

My 15 year old spends 41 hours in the classroom and is required to spend an average of 10-20 additional hours on homework.

The 11 year old spends 40 hours in school, and I can understand his frustration when he is required to spend even 5 additional minutes on homework. He is only 11.

The 7 year old, a second grader, only 15 months ago spent most of his time playing at the nursery school. He is still shocked by the fact that most of his daytime is spent in a classroom, sitting at a desk. No need to describe what he feels about homework.

Last January a fifth grader from New York wrote an essay claiming homework is illegal slavery. His essay was published here and he got immense publicity such as this.

Still, homework seems here to stay in the crazy race to the top. Top of the class, best school, highest grades…

There are more topics taught today, so more class time is needed. Instead of using the growth of new topics to allow better personalization of learning by the students, there is less choice and schools are actually competing on giving more and more. Enrichment is a key word in the marketing of schools and if it’s not enough that we are drowning in a sea of information we are doing the same to the next generation, who find themselves skipping, skimming and unable to perform real research and exploration during their school years. We don’t use the accessibility of information to help fine-tune school experience and teach the kids to reach relevant information. We simply flood.

It’s a tough choice, really. Looking at my daughter’s list of school topics I see perhaps 3 or 4 she could do without. She wants to major in Physics, Chemistry  and biotechnology – so why does she need to do a final exam in literature or bible or grammar?

Obviously the repeated answer is that kids who graduate from school need to demonstrate a level of general knowledge and fine culture. But hey, how about leaving them some free time, so they can watch movies and read books and develop their taste and personal observation of culture, while actually enjoying it?

New year, new hopes and wishes

The Hebrew year 5769 has just begun. With it began a new and a crucial year in the life of the kids4kids venture I am leading.
Kids4kids is the temporary name I had given to the network I established on ning. Its purpose is to connect kids from all over the world to help each other complete their homework assignments in a fun way, a networking way.

So what are my wishes for the New Year?
That it will be a year of networking happiness and knowledge. It will be a year for growth and achievements. This will be a year for new global friendships.

Kids 4 Kids Networking Homework is off the ground

I am exploring a vision of kids helping kids complete their homework assignments. A believer in social learning, I think a community of kids helping each other can be the best enhancement for toady’s learning process.

Still doing my very early stages on the way to achieving this dream I have created a network at:

Of course, as web goes, this network is subject to changes. You can say it’s an ALFA stage. I am seeking feedback from teachers, parents and of course, the most important – students. At the moment the interface is in English, though submitting content can be done in many languages.

I am using this opportunity to invite you and all kids that you may know to join in and start helping.

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