‘Snow’vember Happenings

This month, we had a first for Open Doors–a snow day! And in November, no less! Amidst the unpredictable Michigan weather, however, our teens have still found time for some fun, hands on learning. Check it out below:

Our teen members enjoy the homey feel to our space.
Our teen members enjoying the homey feel to our space.
The duct tape class is creating a homemade hammock--made entirely out of duct tape!
The duct tape class is creating a homemade hammock–made entirely out of duct tape!
The artist and his work: a fun, one-of-a-kind centerpiece!
The artist and his work: a fun, one-of-a-kind centerpiece made by one of our members!
Another view of the centerpiece. Isn't it great?
Another view of the centerpiece. Isn’t it great?
One of the classes offered at Open Doors is Zentangle, a relaxing and meditative form of art.
One of the classes offered at Open Doors is Zentangle, a relaxing and meditative form of art.
Our members are the greatest!
Our members are the greatest!
The finishing touches on the duct tape hammock!
Time for the finishing touches on the duct tape hammock!
Madison and the interns hard at work! Who needs a desk, anyway?
Madison and the interns hard at work. Who needs a desk, anyway?
Fun with light and shadows.
Fun with light and shadows.

As always, if you would like to see more, please join us at one of our open houses, held the second Monday of every month. Or contact a staff member. Or simply stop by. We would love to share what we’re doing with you and your teen!

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Which Learning Style Fits Your Teen? The Answer May Surprise You

Which learning style best fits your teen? Actually, Open Doors intern Kate Boelkins makes a strong case for going beyond learning styles. Kate is studying to be a secondary education teacher at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  As part of her training, she has studied and critiqued the theory of learning styles. Read her insights below.

You know you’ve seen these kinds of quizzes before–maybe you’ve even taken one–but how accurate are they?

The definition of a learning style is actually fairly loose. Some educators may subscribe to the idea that students in their class will fall under the umbrella of three main learning styles – visual, auditory, and tactile. Some use the VARK modalities, categorizing learners as Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, or Kinesthetic. Others utilize educational psychologist Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, a much more detailed breakdown of various types of thinking:

  • Visual-Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal
  • Linguistic
  • Mathematical

Students in school are often tested for their learning style or preferred intelligence. This test or quiz is intended to make students more aware of their learning habits, as well as inform the teacher. This information is valuable, but there is a disconnect between this knowledge and how a teacher uses it to guide her instruction and assessment.

In order to appeal to “kinesthetic learners”, teachers have students get up and move around the room, or hop up and down while they read. “Musical learners” are told to compose songs or rhymes to aid them in remembering spelling words or mathematical equations. Diagrams on boards and sketches in notebooks are expected to be the means by which “visual-spatial learners” absorb information.

The learning style tests themselves do not prescribe one all-inclusive style to a student. For example, when I took a multiple intelligences quiz in my latest education class, I was an even mixture of intrapersonal, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic. I laughed the results off as inaccurate – clapping or tossing a ball does nothing to enhance my learning, and I need a lot of visuals when it comes to math. Here lies the essential problem with relying on learning styles – they are ineffective because students are fluid and ever-changing.

In a letter to the Washington Post, Howard Gardner himself rejects the idea of learning styles. His theory of Multiple Intelligences “assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers—one that computes linguistic information, another spatial information, another musical information, another information about other people, and so on” (Strauss).

His Multiple Intelligences are not to be funneled into specific learning styles, but instead are intended to determine the way our flexible minds process information. To label a student as a “linguistic learner” and therefore use specific learning strategies with her is to do that student a disservice. A student may have strong linguistic preferences while reading and studying a book, but this does not automatically transfer to a math class. In this case, handing the student a math textbook and instructing her to read a chapter does not necessarily mean that her reading will ensure her comprehension of equations and problems.

So clearly, the interchangeability of Multiple Intelligences and learning styles in the classroom is misleading and inaccurate, according to the creator of Multiple Intelligences himself. But what about other types of learning styles, such as the VARK? Although success of teaching to learning styles is perpetuated in mainstream education, a 2008 study seems to disagree. The Department of Psychology at the University of California asserted “that at present, there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice” due to the fact there is little correlation between specific learning style instruction and success or failure (Pashler).

Question to ponder: why do schools use methods that are not proven to be effective?

Open Doors focuses on the student as not only a learner, but a human being as well. After all, the two are inextricably connected. Mentorship is key in the relationships we build with teens. With this mentorship comes the fostering of self-direction. Students unearth through experience what they love to learn, and how they learn best – not through an internet quiz that defines them and puts them in a specific category.

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Open Doors member gets a hands-on learning experience in the Wild Edibles class

Resources:

Strauss, V., & Gardner, H. (2013, October 16). Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’. Retrieved October 10, 2014.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning Styles Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105-119.

Riener, C., & Willinghm, D. (2010, September 1). The Myth of Learning Styles. Retrieved October 10, 2014.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Early October at Open Doors

Have you ever wondered what goes on in some of the classes offered at Open Doors? Our teens are hard at work with some hands-on fun.

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The Mechanical Autopsy class practices picking locks on Open Doors’ front door.
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The Mechanical Autopsy class dissects a broken well pump.
A power drill is also autopsied.
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Teens take a break to enjoy the rain.
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The Wild Edibles class visits a sustainable farm and tiny house in Saranac, MI.
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Open Doors member proudly shows off her latest artwork.

Does this look unlike a classroom? Learning looks different here at Open Doors. We would love to show you more–come visit us at our monthly Open House.

Fun in Fall Classes

Fun in Fall Classes

Though our class offering is only a small part of the self-directed learning we facilitate at Open Doors, we often get questions about what our classes are like.  Here’s a small glimpse of the fun:

Waiting for Film Studies
Teens waiting for Film Studies and chatting … on the board are some Critical Thinking and Feeling notes to ponder as they wait …
Duct Tape Stash
Duct Tape Creations — the stash.
Duct Tape Creations
“Paper” airplanes and boats — made out of duct tape.
Lenny the Party Animal
“Lenny the Party Animal” — an eARTh hEaD class creation, using a recycled pinata.
Box Man
Box Man checks his iPod in Critical Thinking and Feeling class.

Learn more at Monday’s Open House at 12 noon — see you there!

What is keeping my teen from learning?

What is keeping my teen from learning?

“We teachers – perhaps all human beings – are in the grip of an astonishing delusion.”

Our astonishing delusion about education.

“We think that we can take a picture, a structure, a working model of something, constructed in our minds out of long experience and familiarity, and by turning that model into a string of words, transplant it whole into the mind of someone else.”

Trying to implant our knowledge in the brain of another.

“Perhaps once in a thousand times, when the explanation is extraordinary good, and the listener extraordinarily experienced and skillful at turning word strings into non-verbal reality, and when the explainer and listener share in common many of the experiences being talked about, the process may work, and some real meaning may be communicated.”

It’s easier to share knowledge when you’re in close relationship with a lot of non-verbal sharing.

“Most of the time, explaining does not increase understanding, and may even lessen it.”

– John Holt, (1923-1985) American Educator,  in How Children Learn

The more impersonal and disconnected the relationship, the harder it is to share knowledge.
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Open Doors teens at the beach — because sharing real life experiences leads to sharing real life knowledge. (And it’s fun!)

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.  If your teen isn’t learning in the classroom, come find out more at our Open House on Monday, October 13 at 12 noon.

How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part II

by Jacob Saborin

Our Open Doors Intern, Jacob Sabourin, has worked closely with struggling students at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids.  He is a Political Science major with a keen interest in the politics of power.  At Open Doors, he offers a class called Powerful Possibilities.  Here he continues his critical analysis of power.

In Part I, Jacob explored how teens can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.  Here he explores how critical thinking can be integrated into every part of education — connected in the same way the real world (outside of the classroom) is connected.

Think you know what a strawberry is? Let’s look at that.

Usually we can speak the word from an early age, and we know what it means. It’s a strawberry. It’s red. It has seeds. We can taste that it’s sweet and tart. The green parts are less sweet. We learn these things on our own, before schooling even begins.

Then we enter school. We learn to spell. S-T-R-A-W-B-E-R-R-Y. We write it ad nauseum to practice for a spelling test. Second grade, probably. We copy the definition out of the dictionary. A fruit, hollow on the inside. Things we pretty much knew already from eating a fruit salad at home a couple times a week. But we sure got that spelling thing down, anyway.

Spelling test — no “strawberry” though.

Sixth grade we start talking about various countries’ imports and exports. We might imagine crates of strawberries stacked between rows of pineapples and melons on a boat sailing from Brazil (which we recently learned is in South America) to the U.S.A., relayed onto a truck, and driven to the supermarket. We wrote down and presented those lists of imports and exports on a poster and read them to the class for our presentation. Strawberries were grouped in the category “fruits and vegetables.”

In high school we probably took a class on economics that said all prices are determined by supply and demand in our advanced capitalistic free market system. More people demand strawberries, the supply goes down, and the price goes up. Or vice versa.

And that’s what we learn in school about strawberries. What else is there to learn?

First off, the connections and relationship between the linguistic roots of strawberries (explored cursorily in second grade), the geography (hardly glanced over in sixth grade), and the economics (oversimplified and propagandized in eleventh grade) were never explored. The social and political aspects of strawberry-related agriculture were never mentioned. In essence, through schooling we never understand how a strawberry actually affects our lives.

Strawberry farm worker from Florida

What if we learned about strawberries in a different way?

If I were to visit a strawberry farm on Michigan’s western shore, I could ask the farmer why his strawberries grow there because I read on my plastic supermarket package of berries that they were from Mexico and usually the fruit says it comes from a Latin American country. A conversation like this might ensue:

Farmer: “Well, the soil’s pretty decent in the southern part of Michigan because three hundred years ago the land was almost entirely covered in oak trees, which died or were bulldozed and left good nutrients in the ground for plants to grow.”

Me: “So good soil makes good strawberries?”

Farmer: “It helps. It’s hard to grow on poor soils like in the Upper Peninsula where the pine trees leave the ground all acidic. But the biggest reason there’s so much fruit grown in western Michigan is because Lake Michigan keeps the growing season longer than in other places.”

Me: “How does the lake keep the growing season longer?”

Farmer: “The growing season is between the last frost of spring and the first frost of autumn. Water has a very high specific heat, which means it takes a long time to heat up and a long time to cool. Much longer than land. So in autumn when the ground in most places starts to get cold, the lake is still warm, and it keeps the plants from frosting over and ruining the fruit. Plus, the lake keeps the temperatures predictable in spring, so we know just when to plant the seeds to make sure they won’t frost after we plant them. The lake being so warm in winter is also the reason we have lake-effect snow.”

Me: “Oh, that’s cool. A couple years ago I heard there was a problem with fruit growing or something. All the fruit was expensive and I couldn’t find any local fruit.”

Farmer: “Yes, the prices went up because massive amounts of our crops died because there was a sudden frost weeks after we planted in the spring.

Misshapen berries resulting from blooms which were partially damaged by frost.

Farmer: “I lost all my money and had to get a loan and go into enormous amounts of debt, and now I can’t afford to eat anything but rice, beans, and the food I grow myself. Weather anomalies like that are getting more common because of global climate change caused by the unchecked industrial development of the human race, and it could cause a lot more disasters, food shortages, famines, and economic collapses. Also all of those things tend to incite war.”

Me: “So what you’re saying is, you think we’re all going to lose our jobs and starve if we continue to destroy the planet?”

Farmer: “Well, let’s not look at it in such a grim light. That’s not going to happen to all of us.”

It may seem like I’m drifting off-topic at this point in the conversation. But I’m not. This imaginary conversation just covered geomorphology, geography, climatology and weather, politics, sociology, and economics. And the entire conversation was, at its core, about strawberries. And the entire conversation related to the everyday lives of the people involved: the news stories we hear on the radio or television, our financial struggles, the food we eat, the weather we trudge through, and our seemingly mundane conversations at home.

The youth at Open Doors often want to think critically, on an advanced level, so that someday they can have these sorts of conversations and not feel totally unaware.  If teens want to access their power, they can start by understanding how connected the world is, and how their choices — in what they purchase and how they treat the environment, for instance — can have a powerful effect on the world.

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A teen connecting creative choices with the natural world during the Open Doors Summer Program.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

How Can Your Teen Claim Her Power? Part I

by Jacob Sabourin

One of the things we love to explore with teens here at Open Doors is how they can reclaim their power.  It begins with some critical thinking about what power is, and how they can access it.

Our Open Doors Intern, Jacob Sabourin, has worked closely with struggling students at Aquinas College here in Grand Rapids.  He is a Political Science major with a keen interest in the politics of power.  At Open Doors, he offers a class called Powerful Possibilities.  Here he begins a critical analysis of power.

A stressed teen tries to access her own power in ways that cause friction with family.

The word poder in Spanish has two meanings when we try to translate it into English:

  1. Power (a noun).
  1. To be able to do something (a verb). Conjugating poder in this way allows a Spanish speaker to say things like “yo puedo,” which means literally, “I can.”

Power as we think of it (as a noun), is a measure of the ability to do something. “What can I do?” is the same question as “What power do I have?”

Resources are the sources of peoples’ power. Money, knowledge, and physical strength are all resources. In this way, money, knowledge, and physical strength are all forms of power.

A good way to begin to understand power dynamics in the world is to ask questions about resource allocation. For example:

  • Who has the most money? How did they get that money? What do they spend it on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the least money? Why do they have so little money? What do they spend their money on? How much do they spend?
  • Who has the most knowledge? How do they get that knowledge? What are they using that knowledge for?
  • Who has the least knowledge? Why do they have so little knowledge? How do they use their limited knowledge?

    A teen often fears he is the one with the least knowledge and the least power.
  • Who has the most physical strength? How did they get so much physical strength? How do they use their physical strength?
  • Who has the least physical strength? Why do they have so little physical strength? How do they use their limited physical strength?

To ask these questions is to begin to think critically about the world around us. These questions can be applied to the large scale: “Who has the most power on Earth?” or the small scale: “Who has the most power in my classroom?” To be a true critical thinker, one also has to ask, “How much power do I have?” and related questions such as, “Who has power over me?”

Through critical thinking, we become aware of the world, and by extension, ourselves. So, through critical thinking we gain knowledge of a very important kind.  This knowledge allows us to increase our power as individuals.

If everyone were to think critically about the world, we would all be more knowledgeable, and all of us would create a more powerful society. That is, we would be able to do more.

An empowered teen has more tools to face life’s challenges.

In Part II, Jacob will explore how every part of learning can be connected to these questions of power.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

Fall 2014 — Classes And Open House!

(Save the date:  Open House on Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m.  More below.)

We’re so pleased to start our Fall 2014 Semester with some amazing teens.

Love these amazing teens.
Yes, even this guy.

During this first couple of weeks, the teens can attend any class they want — this helps them judge whether a class is a fit for their learning goals or not.  Then we can settle on a schedule for the rest of the semester.  Options for classes include Mechanical Autopsy, Film Studies, Powerful Possibilites (a Political Science class), and more. (Click on a class below to see the full title.)

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Film Studies with Bruce Winegar.

We have teens from very different backgrounds, and so we’ve already had opportunities to talk over differences, clarify everyone’s comfort zone, and reach out to make amends.  It’s not always easy, but at Open Doors, resolving communication issues is a major part of the learning.

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Talking LEGO after the Mechanical Autopsy class.
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Brian Leugs, instructor, looking wise about Mechanical Autopsy.
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Rebecca Kirk, Director, crafting and talking with teens on a chilly September day.

Our next Open House will be Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. — come see for yourself!  We’ll be hosting in partnership with our neighbor Continuum Healing and their potluck dinner.  You can tour the center, ask questions of the staff, look at example learning plans, and see our members’ work and class materials.

This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.

WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin

Check out our fun interview with Shelley Irwin of the WGVU Morning Show.  You’ll hear about Rebecca’s journey and the founding of Open Doors.  It was such a pleasure to talk to Shelley — she’s always a joy.

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Left to right: Amy Carpenter Leugs (Outreach Director), Shelley Irwin (WGVU Morning Host), Rebecca Kirk (Director and Founder of Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Teens)

Eastown Street Fair

We had a great time at the Eastown Street Fair, talking about the Open Doors alternative to school to some very interested neighbors.  The Book Fairy joined us to give away her free books, and we developed on-the-spot free learning plans for folks.

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Our Open Doors booth in front of the Hookah Lounge at the Eastown Street Fair.
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We’ve had a perfect view of the Bangarang Circus Aerial Artists!
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Our yard signs, chilling at the Street Fair.
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P1090240 The Book Fairy was a hit with all ages.
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Free Learning Plans
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Lots of folks stopped by to hear about self-directed learning.
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Flying in the silks — an aerial artist from Bangarang Circus
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It was a great day at a great booth!