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What to do with an Edison?

In my previous blog post, ‘Do you have an Edison in the house?‘, I looked at the characteristics of an Edison kid. If you could relate to the post, then you may be asking, “What do I do now?”.

Yes, you love their spirit but if your child unscrews the bedroom door from the hinges again to see what will happen you might scream. (To answer your question, yes that did happen and I have the video to prove it.)

There is hope!

We can start by taking a look at how an ‘addled’ little boy, that was not welcomed at school, became one of the greatest inventors and innovators to ever live.

The key to Edison’s success was Nancy Edison, his mother. He famously said of her, “My mother was the making of me. She understood me; she let me follow my bent [interests]”. Mrs. Edison is a great example of how to cultivate the mind of an Edison. We need to adopt the same mindset, that she developed towards her son, that allowed him to excel.

Edison Muckers described the four simple principles, that Nancy Edison taught her son to live his life by:

  • Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying.
  • Learn with both your head and hands.
  • Not everything of value in life comes from books – experience the world.
  • Never stop learning. Read the entire panorama of literature.

I have adapted Nancy’s approach to create the Four STEM Training Principals. This is the core of everything we do and believe education show be.

  1. KEEP TRYING!
  2. Hands-On Learning
  3. Experience the world!
  4. NEVER STOP LEARNING!

KEEP TRYING!

I tell my boys all the time “A MISTAKE IS ONLY A MISTAKE IF YOU DON’T LEARN FROM IT!” I love the attitude that Nancy instilled in her son, to not let failure discourage you. His famous quote is,

Without an attitude like this, we would never have seen the incandescent light bulb in our homes. Persistence is a lost art.

It’s very easy, as parents, to try to ‘soften the blow’ with our kids. We don’t want them to struggle, we don’t want them to fail and we don’t want them to be disappointed. We want everyone to have a trophy and feel special and valued. Sadly, we have sacrificed the development of the character qualities that learning from our mistakes instills in us.

Allowing our kids time to experiment and FAIL, yes I said that horrible 4 letter word, are important. So give them opportunities to do it. Turn them loose with the robotics kit or the science experiment. Step back from the kitchen table and watch. Failure IS an option, as long as we can get back up and try again!

We need to develop PERSEVERANCE in our kids. It’s okay to set a standard a little higher than they can achieve sometimes and then encourage them to keep going if they don’t achieve it. Don’t just aim for the stars, but to aim for the entire universe. That way if you don’t reach your goal, you’ll catch a star on the way down.

Hands-On Learning!

Nancy Edison was a pioneer and ahead of her time when it came to her hands-on learning approach.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.

Ben Franklin

Oh, the words of Mr. Franklin are so true. I recently met a college graduate and she told me that as a Chemistry major, she had only personally conducted 3 experiments in her whole educational career. All the learning that culminated in that diploma was theoretical. We have taken such an emphasis away from hands-on learning in favor of lectures. Sit still and listen to me tell you about this subject or that subject. Abstract should be left to the art world, not applied to learning and education.

When we involve children in a holistic manner they will grasp the concepts. Nancy Edison gave Thomas a science book, then she turned him loose to experiment. Edison kids need to be hands-on, it’s how their brains process information.  This means we need to give them the stuff and step back. Yes, it’s going to be messy, and that is okay. Yes, it’s going to go wrong, and that is okay. That’s how they learn to problem-solve and yes FAIL.

Books are wonderful, don’t get wrong, I am a book lover. When Nancy gave Thomas,  A School Compendium of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, she would have done him a great injustice if she hadn’t also let him conduct the experiments within the book. Edison spent hours locked in his bedroom experimenting.

Don’t misread this, Nancy was not the Patron Saint of Home Education Mess, there was only so many times she could handle the acid and chemical burns on the rugs in his room. She banished his home education lab to the basement and prayed that he would not blow the house up.

Edison, himself, had big plans for the use of his motion pictures in the education system. He wanted to start a revolution by replacing textbooks with short motion pictures on every subject. He believed that textbooks taught in abstract and that if students could see the whole process, from start to finish, they would be able to understand the world around them.

“The child who takes this course is going to know processes. And we’ll show all the pictures so the subject will impress itself on the child’s mind. When he goes out to walk, I can tell you, he’ll see a million things in the grass and streets, and earth and sky and air, that he never dreamed of before.”

T. Edison November 30th, 1921

I do believe this needs to progress further, to hands-on learning. The visual demonstration of processes from the very start to the end product is definitely a way to open up the mind of a child like never before.

Experience the World!

It isn’t always going to be practical to ‘experience the world’. However, I do believe that wherever possible, we need to make the opportunity of experience available. I switched my middle son to a Lego math program to help him SEE the math as he was having some trouble understanding some of the concepts. All of a sudden it brought the world of mathematics alive to him. I know sometimes when I do mental arithmetic I visualize the numbers in my head.

One key thing that Nancy Edison didn’t do was replicate the school environment at home. It’s so tempting as a home educator to make our home look like school. We set up a classroom in our house and we set a schedule similar to the school day. We work our school days around the school district’s calendar. I know a few Mamas that have even got a little bell to ring.

Mrs. Edison didn’t do this and I would encourage you to resist that desire to replicate school. Home Education is a learning lifestyle. We don’t restrict ourselves to learning within the school calendar or timetable, we learn year round, taking the last week of the month off. School schedules are set up with educating the masses in mind. Following the school, template limits our freedom as home educators.

When I got my first shiny box curriculum, the thing that hit me first was the schedule. We were following the 5-day schedule and there was no room for flexibility. We added a co-op that I hadn’t planned when I ordered the curriculum and quickly learned that after a day of co-op trying to do school work at home was too much. Then if we had a field trip as well, now I’m trying to squeeze a 5-day schedule into 3. I know families that will do school at the weekend to keep up and to be blunt, stop this doesn’t work.

Research is showing that playtime is so important during those first 7 or 8 years of life. Sending kids outside to play unlocks something in their brain that leads to greater creativity later in life. If we have their schedules so tightly controlled, where is the room for imaginary play? A kid will learn more from spending the afternoon watching an ant colony they unearthed as they were digging a hole in the yard, than if you sit and read a book to them about ants.

Finland has one of the best education systems in the world and they don’t start formal education of any kind until 7 years old. It’s a topic I’ll discuss at another time, but we have to take a look at why our system isn’t working and theirs is.

Never Stop Learning!

I think the saddest thing in the world is that we think once a person receives a piece of paper then their learning journey is over. Maybe that’s the real paradigm shift that is needed in education. If we view learning as a life long activity we wouldn’t be in such a rush to cram all our learning into the first 2 decades of our lives. Yes, our brains are ‘optimized’ to learn during those years, but we should never stop learning.

This is actually a motto for our family and my personal favorite of the Principals.

Reading is the foundation block of learning. Reading aloud to our kids, no matter their age is a way to instill more knowledge. There are some wonderful resources out there to utilize and honestly, this is how our family add history and geography to our home education. Living history books and biographies bring to life history. A well-written book can achieve the same outcome that Edison hoped for by adding the motion pictures. Reading the biography of Thomas Edison brought his life and the world he lived in alive to us. It’s one thing to explain what the Telegraph form of communication was for but it’s another when you hear about how it affected the lives of the people at the time. To me, history can only be successfully taught through living history and not a textbook of timelines and facts.

Nancy Edison had one arrangement with Thomas, when he took a job on the train to Detroit, that he spend the six-hour layover in Detroit reading books in the library. Edison complied and quickly read his way through the library, although he did ask if he could forgo the books that were on less exciting topics.

When he, eventually, ran out of books to read, he set up a lab on the train so he would spend the 6 hours conducting experiments. This went well until he split some acids and burnt a hole in the floor of the Conductor’s carriage. Did I mention Edisons are messy kids?

Nancy’s approach to education laid a foundation that not only created a love for learning in Thomas but lit the fire inside him that spurred him on to become an innovator and inventor.

I wonder where our kids would go if we stepped away from traditional education and took a more child-centered, hands-on approach?

Do you have an Edison in the house?

Is there an Edison in your house?

First, let me start by saying, I am not a scientist, doctor, nor do I have a wall of diplomas and certificates. What I know, I’ve learned from over a decade of having an Edison living with me. Plus, I have had the privilege of spending one day a week, over the last few years, with a bunch of families that also have at least one Edison in their house. So, this is what I’ve learned and am learning about Edisons.

So, who is an Edison?

Well, you might have an Edison in your house, if your kid is high energy, non-stop, constantly in motion and there is no in between.

They are either asleep or full force awake. I realized this when my oldest was a baby when he didn’t like naps and fought bedtime. He was so afraid to miss something. When we finally did get him to sleep, he would sleep through the night, no problem. He was my easiest baby in that way. When he was about 4 or 5 he told us, one night, he couldn’t sleep because “I can’t get his brain to shut off”. He’s also a night owl and would sleep until lunch if we let him. He just bypassed little kid stage and went straight to teenager there.

Sitting still is a form of torture to him, something must be in motion. He’s a kinesthetic learner.  The Wikipedia definition is “a learning style in which learning takes place by the students carrying out physical activities, rather than listening to a lecture or watching demonstrations.”

I started to notice this trend when we weren’t welcome at Toddler Story Time at the library. It said it was for toddlers that were walking. I assumed that they understood what that meant.  His new-found skill, at 9 months old, meant all he wanted to do was walk around and explore. Sadly, they wanted sweet little quiet, non-moving toddlers to sit and listen to the story.

When I finally started investigating the concept of Kinesthetic learning, I found that making him sit on an exercise ball while listening to a story or even practicing his handwriting, solved a lot of problems. His handwriting actually improved as he bounced up and down.

You see Edisons aren’t necessarily bad kids that don’t listen, it’s simply a case of it’s almost impossible for them to function sitting still. I know, I’m the same. I’d be standing in a line with my mother and swaying side to side. “Lesley stop swaying!” I would stop swaying, but then start rocking because I had to be in motion. Finally, at 12 years old, someone told me to get a smooth rock, or Worry Stone as it’s called in Ireland, and rub it. When I tell you I can’t function sometimes without it now, is an understatement. I have a hard time focusing when I am reading if I don’t have it.

You might have an Edison in your house, if your kid comes up with well thought out, crazy ideas.

If you look at Edison’s life, he had big dreams. When he died, Edison left over 3000 notebooks full of ideas, data, and comments on experiments, as well as 1093 patents.

They are entrepreneurs. Always dreaming of new schemes. They build a Lego set, then take it apart to make it do something more or something better. They think outside of the box. In fact, they probably turned the box into some sort of fort. My middle son gets excited when I get an Amazon delivery; before the box is opened, he has already asked if he can use it.

You might have an Edison in your house, if your kid is taking apart stuff to figure out how it works.

My youngest was doing this at a year old. I joke this one little finger is going to get him into trouble. He will sit there and touch something and feel it and poke it and examine it! The whole time he is in another world, all of his own! I can’t tell you how many times my other two kids have taken apart their toys and mutated them. My solution was to get it in Lego form, because then at least it’s meant to be taken apart. I should have shares in superglue and duct tape by now, as well as running my own toy repair company.

They also want to know about everything. Why does this do that? What makes it do this? Now yes, every kid is inquisitive but Edisons are amplified. They HAVE TO KNOW. They will risk punishment to find the ‘why’ or ‘how’ or ‘what’. They will weigh the cost and do it anyway.

Thomas Edison, himself, was inclined this way. He famously set fire to the family barn, to investigate what the color of a really hot flame. The same fire spread to the neighbors’ properties. His punishment was a public flogging in the town center.

It’s why these kids are sometimes seen as reckless. The need to know is so great it overrides common sense and a sense of danger.

You may have an Edison in the house, if you have a strong-willed kid.

Strong-willed is not to be confused with undisciplined. I’ve seen some of the most well behaved, disciplined kids, undergo a complete personality change. Simply triggered when something does not play out the way they see it in their head. This ties back into the other characteristics, like the need to be inquisitive or their obsessive side.

You might have an Edison in the house, if your child is obsessive about things.

My boys can tell you every make and model of construction equipment ever. Give them an equipment resale catalog and they are happy for hours. Don’t make the mistake of calling a front-end loader a digger around them, you will end up getting a lesson as to what the difference is. This is just one example, but with Edisons, they get their teeth into something with vice-like reflexes.

Thomas Edison’s obsessiveness lead to many of his major breakthroughs. It was not unheard of for him to lock the laboratory door and tell his team, no one would be leaving until a solution was found. I think later in life, he realized not everyone had the same level of passion or commitment. This is a particularly hard issue for Edisons to live with.

You might have an Edison in your house, if you have a kid that just has a raw talent that almost makes you sick.

Some things just come easily to them. They develop fine motor skills fast, they sit down at a piano and it just flows, they teach themselves to read, they see the way things work instantly.

Now don’t get me wrong, you can have a kid that has amazing talent in one area but in another, they struggle. No human is perfect at everything. When Edisons find their ‘thing’, they thrive.

So why do I call them Edisons?

My boys struggle with reading, which seems to be more common than you realize. It makes me wonder if it’s not that some kids develop at different levels. The ‘have to read by Kindergarten’ standards are not beneficial to kids. The research is starting to prove this. I would love to see what would happen if instead of remedial reading classes, Maker Labs were introduced for struggling readers. It would be interesting to see, how much over a year or two, that would affect, not only a child’s ability to read but also their self-esteem.

In my research on their reading challenges, I read a book entitled Dreamers, Discoverers, and Dynamos by Lucy Jo Palladino. She had originally called it the Edison Trait. That was when I first learned about Edison’s learning difficulties. Dr. Palladino presents such an encouraging view of these kids.

On my home-education journey, especially as I have adopted a STEM approach, the life of Thomas Edison came across my path again. I find the man fascinating. He was probably one of the most influential innovators and inventors to live. As I read his biography to my boys, we learned a lot from his life and my boys found him ‘heroic’ to look up to.

He was labeled ‘addled’ by his headmaster, or ADHD in modern terms. His mother never accepted this label. I know some of you, home educating parents, reading this can probably relate and you home educate for the same reason Nancy Edison did. As I read about his early years, I realized, he was the original STEM kid. Nancy created an environment, similar to the one that I am trying to create for my boys. Well, we can see that what she did, worked.

So, after all this, Mr. Edison, the misunderstood little boy that was ‘labelled’ and, had his mother not had the wisdom to pull him from school and let him study through child-directed learning, we may have waited many more decades, if not centuries, for the invention of things that evolved to make our modern lives possible.

I often wonder how many Edisons sit in classrooms, labeled incorrectly. Forced to conform to an education system that is not geared to how they learn. Do they ever reach their full potential? Or by 18 years old, when they graduate, are they so used to being ‘labeled’ that they have accepted they are never going to excel?

I live with Edisons, each different in their level of qualities, but then each child is unique. What I am learning is the world is a lot less stressful and frustrating when I turn the focus of their education to their needs and interests.

Mr. Edison said of his mother, “My mother was the making of me. She understood me; she let me follow my bent [interests].” I hope, when my days as a home educator are over, my boys will say the same of me and they will step into their careers with all the tools they need.

STEM Training is my forum for sharing with you ways to equip these kids. The best decision I made was to open the world of learning to my kids in a way that they needed, not the way that an education system dictates.

Welcome

Hello! Welcome to our new blog.

So what is STEM Training? Well, it’s a website about adding STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to a home education program.

So who am I?

I’m the home educating mother of 3 boys, who are currently 11, 8 and 3 years old. When I meet my husband he convinced me home education was the way for our family. After spending much time with other home educators and their amazing kids I was convinced. So I guess you could say we have home educated from day 1, which honestly we all do anyhow.

What has been a surprise to me is that I have ended up a STEM Mom. It was not a deliberate move at first, I tried using the traditional boxed curriculum but pretty quickly it became clear we were not one of those families. Then around 2 years ago we finally realized that our very active boys were not going to fall into the traditional mode of education.

So I started to research alternative options. That’s when I found the word STEM and STEAM coming up a lot and started to explore the concept more. Little did I know, I had already stepped onto this pathway, mainly because my son had lead me there. When he was sitting at 2 years old in his diaper with a cordless drill (don’t freak out he was supervised) unscrewing the screws on the door hinges to my bedroom door, I should have had a clue then.

So we put the shiny box curriculum away and started doing hands-on learning and projects. We still kept working with the reading and math but with a more hands-on approach.

So what is STEM?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It’s not a curriculum or program but an educational philosophy. It is believed that teaching these subjects in some combined form leads to a more well-rounded education and equips kids with a more practical education for their future careers. After all, in most jobs, you really don’t just deal with one subject or aspect.

You will sometimes hear me talk about STEAM. It’s basically STEM but with the addition of A for Art. STEM subjects are processed in the left ‘logical’ side of the brain only so by adding art in, which is a right ‘creative’ side activity you have whole brain engagement and therefore a more well-rounded learning experience. It has been proven that students retain more information and understand the concept better. I don’t actively promote STEAM any more as the Art definition is very vague and has been misinterpreted to add in subjects that don’t embody the STEM philosophy.

Our family has also adopted a project-based learning model where we present them with a problem and work with them to discover a solution. We give them the basic guidance and tools and then let them explore. After all, we have gained some of our modern day conveniences, like the light bulb, from experimentation and exploration. Like the great Edison said “I haven’t failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” It’s sort of like my home education journey, they weren’t failures just ways that didn’t work and we had to adjust.

So the purpose of the blog is to help home educators to incorporate STEM into their program.

We would like to invite you to join our educational journey.

I touch the future

I originally wrote this blog post for my old page. In honor of the 33rd anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, I wanted to share it here today. Christa has become a hero to me. She wasn’t afraid to do the impossible to inspire her students. The loss of the Challenger crew was so tragic but 33 years later she is still touching the future and inspiring teachers and students.

We went to Kennedy Space Center on a field trip with our home education support group two years ago and had the pleasure of returning this past August for the FIRST LEGO League Into Orbit Florida Season Kickoff. Our first trip we had scheduled it to coincide with a rocket launch but it got delayed. Even without it, we weren’t disappointed. The Kickoff was also supposed to have a launch that night but sadly it got scrubbed too. This is an account of our first trip.

As much as we can sit at home and read books about the Space Program, there is a lot to be said about seeing it all up close.

We headed to the Atlantis exhibit first and we never managed to leave, there was so much to do. It’s fascinating to see the process of designing the Shuttle. It was a very magical moment when they finish the video and draw up the screen to reveal Atlantis in all her glory.

Probably the highlight was the simulator, where you get to feel what it would be like to experience a launch. I’ll admit, as someone that doesn’t do rides, there were a few moments where my stomach was questioning my decision to experience it. However, watching my 7-year old’s excitement made it worth it.

My hope with the field trip was to inspire the kids in our homeschool group. To spark an interest in engineering and space. I didn’t realize how much of a profound effect the trip would have on me. But then, God has always used home education for my personal education too.

While everyone had gone on the simulator for the first time, I had strolled around with my 1-year-old because he was too little to ride. I went into the exhibit that commemorated the Shuttle disasters, Challenger and Columbia. I was 7 years old when Challenger exploded, and remember seeing it on the news. I always found it so sad that Christa McAuliffe, the teacher on board, had died as her students watched live.

As I walked around the exhibit I came to her memorial. As I stood there reading, the quote they had by her made me cry.

Kennedy Space Center, Florida

I touch the future. I teach.

S. Christa McAuliffe

It was one of those moments when suddenly you realize what you are doing. So often we can see our role as a mother as insignificant. Let’s face it, we don’t have a glamorous job. Our kitchen will never have a Michelin Star Rating. We will never be named Time Magazine’s Person of the year, or be listed on the Forbes Top Earners list, or be on the cover of Vogue. That doesn’t mean we won’t have a profound effect on the future.

Christa seized an opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream but also she knew that it was an opportunity to inspire children. Her hope was that her example would be an inspiration to get students interested in science and the space program.

As I stood there my reality hit me. I had never wanted to be a teacher, the thought of being stuck in a room with kids all day sounded like torture. I always thought I would do something in law or business. Isn’t it funny how God’s path for our lives is different than the one we think?

I wondered what Christa would think of our homeschool group and the mission that is on my heart to help make STEAM education more accessible. I teach, so I am touching the future. I will never do great things but I can equip a generation that will. Just like Nancy Edison, I can watch my children flourish and in some small way be part of the future.

Your greatest accomplishment as a mom may not be something you do but, SOMEONE YOU RAISE.

Heidi St. John – Becoming Mom Strong

As we took the tour of the Heroes and Legends exhibit at Kennedy Space Center, it became clear that all these amazing astronauts and engineers and scientists had had a spark lit in them by someone. Someone had inspired them. Someone had touched their future. Many said their parents, some said teachers and a few said movie stars. They all had a champion, that cheered them on.

Whether you are a homeschool mom to one child, or a homeschool co-op teacher, or a teacher in a school, or if you touch the lives of children in any way you are touching the future. Don’t underestimate how powerful that is or how much of a responsibility it is either.

When we were at the First Lego League Jr Expo at Legoland the MC was a rocket scientist from NASA. He told us that they are working on the Mars Project right now and that in the 2030s the first human will set foot on Mars. He said that person is between the age of 7 and 17 years old right now. Even if your child isn’t that person, the engineers, the control room and all the other moving parts that will put that project together will be manned by that generation too.

If we have contact with that generation, then we are touching the future, we are touching Mars and all the other amazing things this extra special generation of children will do.