How to use fireworks for inquiry-based learning experiences in all the school subjects
It has been said that worksheets don't grow dendrites. In case you don't know, dendrites are physical connections in the brain that are created when learning happens. The more dendrites you have, the smarter you are. Dendrites remain as long as they are used, but are lost when not in use. This is when forgetting happens.
Worksheets are a simplistic and static way to learn. They honestly don't challenge the thinker enough to sufficiently stimulate the learning process. They may satisfy a school check-off list, but they do not satisfy the learner. Remember, children love to learn. When your child gives you push-back about his schoolwork, it is because he is not getting the learning experiences he yearns for. He's getting drivel.
I encourage you to step outside the comfort and convenience of worksheets in order to allow your child to do what she really wants to do: get down to the business of really learning!
Once a child's interest in a topic has been sparked, it's time to fan the flames into a blazing fire – a burning desire to know more. You will start to hear your child say things like, “Let me try!” “Can I do it?” “Show me!” “Tell me about...” “Let ME do it!” “Can you buy these books for me?” “Can we go to the hardware store?” Learning becomes fun and memorable. This is when you know your child is really learning. These are the most effective learning experiences.
To help fan the flames of learning, we use fireworks. Fireworks are a like homework, but they are better at lighting the fires of learning. These are organic learning experiences that complement your child's natural curiosities. With fireworks, I see children who choose to read for hours a day, others who choose to write for days on end, others who build things, others who work on their physical abilities, others who... you get the idea. They do it well and they do it a lot.
Questions: A Workout for the Brain
If you've spent much time with children, you know they are inquisitive. They want to know who, what, when, where, how and why. They want to learn. Asking questions and solving problems is like an aerobic workout for the brain.
In the same way that physical activity increases physical ability, increased brain activity increases the brain's ability to learn. So if you want to help develop a learning brain, it is important that the learning brain is sufficiently challenged.
Most school situations seek to simply fill a student's head with a litany of facts. The tactic is a lecture or reading assignment, followed by some type of assessment in the form of questions on a worksheet or test. Unfortunately, this approach is backward. It doesn't allow for much opportunity to question or solve.
A better approach is to give the students the questions first. Give them the opportunity to seek out the answers on their own. By working to find the answers and to solve problems, the brain is more fully activated. More than just learning the information itself, they are learning how to learn. They are more fully activating their brains, which increases their brain power and ability to learn. Given these challenges, their brains are physically changed as their brains grow more dendrites to store what is learned. Students become smarter and better prepared to learn even faster.
To push the learning potential ever farther, allow the students to come up with their own questions. When a child takes an interest in a subject, he is likely to drive himself to learn. He will ask you for help finding answers and resources. He will spend extra hours in learning mode. He will create things that impress you.
What's great is that children really like being in the driver's seat. Most students would prefer to go on an information-seeking adventure than to have the information spoon-fed to them. Why? Because dynamic learning feels good. In this way, healthy learning patterns are created and students can be better prepared to be information-finders and problem solvers as adults.
For this reason, fireworks are designed to spark inquiry. Neither the questions nor the answers are provided to the students. The fireworks are for them to mold and create as they are inspired to do.
Motivation and Choice
It's important for you to give your child choices in her education. When you take away her choices, you dampen her passion and zest for learning.
When you force your child to do schoolwork, chances are he's not learning the lessons you intended him to learn. Instead, he learns to do just the bare minimum to get by. He learns how to please authority figures. He learns that learning and study are not fun. He learns that his opinion doesn't matter. He learns that his abilities don't matter – whether he's ahead or behind. He learns that the school busiwork is more important than knowledge and may resort to cheating.
Does this sound familiar?
Unfortunately, most parents and teachers still prefer force. They like the ability to just give out assignments and mete out consequences. We have been conditioned to believe that this is what education is and that anything else must be less valuable or less effective. This just isn't true. The most difficult kind of learning is that which is imposed on us by someone else.
There is a better way, and choices are an important part of it. We give the students lots of activities to choose from. Like spreading a smorgasbord of options in front of them. We let them graze and to pick and choose the most delicious learning experiences.
When a child has the opportunity to choose what to learn, he will choose things that inspire him to want to know more. He automatically chooses activities that are within his own learning style. He chooses to learn about interesting things. He will want to go on field trips. He will work on projects. He will read interesting books.
Why does she choose these great ways to learn? It's because the brain is naturally motivated. The brain loves to learn. We just need to stop insisting things be done our way and we need to provide the opportunities they crave and we can offer help.
When children are allowed to learn when they want to, what they want to, as long as they want to, and in the way they want to, there are some great advantages. They gain increased confidence and self esteem. They come to LOVE to learn. They have increased brain power.
Some parents don't want to give children choices because they feel like it's important for children to know how to take and follow instructions. If this is you, please know that schoolwork is not the only way to give assignments. You can give them more chores! Let them hate cleaning – not learning!!
Dr. Glen Doman said, "What is placed in a child's brain during the first six years of life is probably there to stay. If you put misinformation into his brain during this period, it is extremely hard to erase it."
While a lot of Dr. Glenn Doman's work was with babies and young children, the principle has bearing on all of us.
I once had a student with an unique name sign up for one of my classes. Having never heard his name pronounced, I pronounced it the way that made the most sense to me. When the class started a couple weeks later, I met this boy and learned the correct pronunciation of his name, and it was not how I had assumed it would be. Now I had “learned” the correct pronunciation, but I had a hard time remembering to say it correctly. Even though I knew the correct pronunciation, it proved difficult remember to say it right, since the incorrect pronunciation has a firmer grasp on my mind.
Because of how difficult it is to relearn information, it is important that our children have the correct information the first time. Then, rather than wasting time re-teaching, learning time can be spent learning all-new information.
When a child does homework after school, it is turned in to the teacher the following day. The teacher corrects the work that night and then returns the homework to the child a full two days after it was completed. By then, if she got anything wrong, nobody really cares and the wrong information is likely there to stay.
Children who are homeschooled have a great advantage in this area. I don't know any homeschool mom that would wait two days to tell her child when he gets something wrong. Instead, she would tell him right away. This one-on-one interaction is more powerful than a child learning from a credentialed teacher. Accurate and immediate feedback to the student helps a student learn better and faster.
Fireworks are distinctly different from worksheets. They involve a variety of school subjects and learning styles. Here are just a few or our firework ideas from our Harry Potter year, in a lesson about languages:
Choose three Latin-based languages. Write “It's a small world” in all three languages. What are the similarities and differences in the three sentences?
Open a Harry Potter book to a random page. Choose a paragraph. Discover the Greek and Latin word roots in the words of this paragraph. Write these in your wizard journal.
Learn a song in another language.
Make up your own collection of Latin-based spells.
Make fact families using the Greek or Latin words for the numbers.
Read The Little Prince in both English and French.
If you could speak Parseltongue, what would you say to a snake? Write out this conversation.
See a movie in a foreign language.
Play Rummy Roots card game.
Print a blank map of the world. Color the countries that speak latin-based languages.
As you can see, the fireworks cover several school subjects and can be done at any school level.
How to use Fireworks
Instead of reading through the entire list of fireworks, choose just five to ten that you think your child would enjoy. Allow her child to choose as many fireworks as she likes. Two or three is a good number.
After the fireworks are chosen, she will probably want to start on them right away. Let her. Unless she asks for help, allow her to take the lead in how to get the work done. Allow her to spend a long time on these fireworks. If your child gets stuck or frustrated, you may offer help. Be careful you don't take over the project or insist that it be done in a certain way.
It's OK if the written fireworks are done done as written, but often the fireworks will serve to inspire a completely different project. Let him run with it.
Sometimes there are fireworks that you believe would be a good fit for your child, whether or not he agrees. It's OK to choose a firework or two for him, but he may or may not do them, at least not at first.
Years ago I thought an undersea poster would be a great project for my son. I suggested it for him, but he said no. I respected his opinion and started working on the project myself. I got out the poster board and started painting it blue, with some brown sand at the side. This is where my son came around. While he finished painting, I started printing out undersea creatures. Before the paint was dry, my son was cutting out and gluing the creatures on the poster, in the places that represent the different parts of the ocean. The poster turned out great, and for the following two years, my son took several opportunities to show it off.
Once your child is set on a track and is taking the lead, you can take on a more supporting role. Your job then is to make sure your child has all the materials she needs and plenty of time to work. You can also help her with academic parts of the work that she struggles with.
Allow your child to decide when she is done. Generally, a child will continue to work on it to her own satisfaction. There will be times when you wish she did more. Do not insist that she do more, but ask her if she would like to. You may point out the benefits of doing more or you can share with her how you imagine it would be done. This may serve to lengthen the experience.
You will notice that there are no right or wrong answers to the fireworks. There is no set outcome. This is intentional. In keeping with individualized learning experiences, each child will produce something different. The learning happens as the child seeks out the information himself.
It has been said that, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” (Attributed to Albert Einstein)
The ability to be creative sets apart the outstanding person from the common person.
Creativity is something that cannot be taught, but children must be free to practice it every day. If the majority of your child's day is structured learning, you are depriving your child from some of the most important elements of learning. The children need plenty of free time to design their own experiences. We need to make sure our children get regular doses of nothing.
Through creative play, children are free to explore the educational concepts they have been introduced to, as well as gain a greater sense of self as they participate in activities of their own choosing.
How to Write Fireworks
Fireworks are distinctly different from worksheets. Unfortunately, they are not as readily available as worksheets are. For this reason, it may be necessary for you to create your own fireworks. Here are some prompts to help you get started. Adapt these to your theme, topics, and needs.
Predict what would happen if...
Conduct interviews. It can be a real person or a pretend interview with a person from history.
Do a research project.
Dramatize an event.
Listen to, play, or create music that relates to the topic.
Create some art.
Tell a story about the subject. This may be a retelling of a real event or historical fiction.
Write some poetry.
Hold a discussion.
Hold a reader’s theater.
Do some improvisation.
Write and/or perform a dialogue or monologue.
Memorize key points of the topic through song, poem, mnemonics, or movement.
Make a storyboard about an event.
Make newspaper from the time of the topic.
Make a PowerPoint presentation.
Make a video.
Listen to a guest speaker and take notes.
Demonstrate how something works.
Make and/or solve a puzzle.
Hold a mock trial.
Create a gallery.
Create a simulation.
Do some role-playing.
Create a database of information.
Comment on a controversy.
Make a models.
Experience the topic in real life.
Create an environment.
Play pretend and dress-up.
Make and/or eat food.
Prepare a lesson to teach others.
Make a game.
Create a map.
Hold a panel discussion.
Make a puppet show.
Play 20 questions.
Create an advertisement.
Make a mural.
Create a brochure.
Create a bumper sticker.
Do some calligraphy.
Write a campaign speech.
Create a Chart.
Make comic strips.
Create a crossword puzzle.
Watch, learn, or create a dance.
Hold a debate.
Create a vocabulary list.
Write a descriptive paragraph.
Create a diagram.
Make a display.
Explain how something works.
Write and tell jokes.
Make greeting cards.
Write a review.
Create a mock-up.
Take and organize photographs.
Create a sequence.
Create a questionnaire, question people, and organize the results.
Create a quiz. Let your family take the quiz.
Write and perform a radio show.
Write and give a sales pitch.
Write a satire.
Write a telegram.
Write tongue twisters.
Write a How-to.
Compare and contrast similar items.
Create an outline.
Make a statue.
Create a collage.
Make a flow chart.
Create a mobile.
Design commemorative stamps.
Reporting back is an important part of doing fireworks. Having a specific time each week when your child is expected to show off what she did with the topic can help with focus. Also, if your child has the opportunity to show off to her teacher and friends, she will want to put a little extra something into the project. Then she can get some positive feedback for her work.
I like to introduce topics on Mondays and do reporting back on Fridays. It makes for a nice week. Reporting back can happen any day of the week, but it should be a consistent deadline.
This is not intended to be a scary deadline. Don't make threats about work being done on time. We don't want them to rush through a project just for the deadline. Allow your child to continue to work on a project as long as he likes – even beyond the deadline. If a child wants more time on a project he may have it. It's OK to show a work in progress. Of course, if he wants to show off the completed project, you can help him cram if necessary.
If you're concerned about your child learning to keep deadlines, you can make deadlines for some things. Make sure he knows when it is and he agrees to it. But remember to keep in mind that the learning is more important than deadlines.
Reporting back is intended to be a celebratory event, recognizing any and all work that was done during the week. Keep the reporting back positive. You may want to mark the event with a special snack or activity that you look forward to each week.
Your child can show anything he wants at the reporting back. It does not have to be just his fireworks. I doesn't need to be something that relates to this week's topic. It can be a project that's not done yet. Encourage him to bring the work he is most proud of.
Fireworks can be exciting. Instead of a stack of worksheets that you will inevitably throw away, at the end of the year your child will have a collection of interesting projects that she can show off – or at least pictures of them. These are the things that you both will be proud of.
Doing fireworks instead of worksheets creates for your child a childhood rich with a variety of memorable educational experiences. She has the opportunity to increase her personal genius, and she will know how to be a lifelong learner. This will help to increase her confidence and self esteem. She will be an individual with her own special skills, rather than being just another brick in the wall.
PS: Whether your children are in our classes or not, you can get weekly lists of fireworks ideas that complement the activities in our classes. To gain access, get a family membership at LearningOutsideTheBox.com .