24 September, 2010

The Basal Method

Learning Together:
Part Four. The Basal Method

My kids got a box of Legos in the mail last week. These Legos came in a plain, brown box. Not the shiny box with the picture of what you can build on the front. That's because my husband bought these Legos on Ebay. The little plastic blocks had been used. There were no instructions. They were mismatched. My kids thought they were...wonderful.
As soon as we opened the box, the kids went right to work. A helicopter. An airplane. A moon rover. Even though there was no instruction manual or picture of what to build, the kids knew exactly what to make with those blocks. They created things. Children are good like that. They have way fewer inhibitions than we adults do. And their imaginations? Running wild. At least, that's what children's minds are supposed to be doing.

In education, we tend to get so preoccupied with what children are supposed to learn. Sometimes we forget what they are supposed to be ... Kids. That's what. Kids are creative. Kids are curious. Kids are imaginative.  The great thing about kids is that we don't actually have to force them to learn new things. Quite naturally, they want to. Us adults? We just have to open the box.

After we pore over all of the developmental theories, the educational philosophies, and the many methodologies of education, we notice that most of the literature has three primary things in common:
  1. We must consider the "whole child" in education. Not only his mind, but his body, his spirit, his personal interests and abilities.
  2. We must consider the environment in education. The child's surroundings must stimulate and foster the curiosities and imagination of childhood.
  3. We must consider the developmental stage in education. The child's age and maturity must complement the means of teaching and learning. 
The "whole" child, the environment of the child, as well as the maturity of the child must be addressed if we truly want a great education for our kids. Basically, we are seeking to determine  the following:
  • What to learn?
  • When to learn?
  • Where to learn?
  • How to learn?
  • Why to learn?
The Basal Method helps us answer those questions. It serves as a framework, a guideline, an outline. With lots of wiggle room. Literally. Kids need that and frankly, so do we. Otherwise, we get the b-word.(bored, of course)The Basal Method is a seven-level primary educational approach that places the development of a habit of life-long learning as its over-arching goal. It is influenced by the unschooling movement, classical education, international education, and progressive education.

Language, Literature, History, and Geography are covered in one cohesive lesson. Math and Science are covered in another. Each lesson should last no more than 1 hour. Extracurricular activities such as art classes, music lessons, dance classes, chess clubs, athletic participation, and such should complement the lessons.

Each subject has a theme or basic concept on which to concentrate for each level. How you choose to cover that theme or concept is entirely up to you. Or the child. The teacher or parent is responsible to provide books and materials to complement the themes or concepts. This vagueness is intentional. The generality of the subject matter allows for depth. In other words, kids can "get into" the subject matter, rather than skimming along on the surface of dozens of topics. 

Immersion in limited topics during a course of study helps information and concepts to "stick". The "Jack of All Trades, Master of None" brand of education that has been handed out is not what is best for our children. A recent article In Education Week that addressed the need to clarify national science education standards states the following:

There is widespread recognition that too often standards are long lists of detailed and disconnected facts, reinforcing the criticism that the U.S. science curriculum tends to be ‘a mile wide and an inch deep...[Priorities must] embrace science learning as an “ongoing developmental progression” that enables students to continually build on and revise their knowledge and abilities...

Indeed a more cohesive program of study would be beneficial for all. The Basal Method seeks to achieve this. Levels 1-7 progress from age 7 to age 13;therefore, it covers the elementary and middle school years. The frequency of the lessons is up to the user. The Basal Method highlights the core concepts and  the basic knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire upon entrance into high school. 

Unlike traditional schooling, concise lessons leave ample time during the day for kids to pursue individual interests. That leaves the rest of the day open for play, for reading, for music lessons, for art-making, for nature-exploring...for Lego constructing. 

The Basal Method is geared toward homeschoolers. Mostly because homeschooling families have more autonomy over their learning than those with students in the school setting have. However, the Basal Method could be implemented in a cooperative, private or charter school as well. Click here to read a complete overview of the levels of the Basal Method. 

Example of LEVEL ONE:
Level One (Age 7)
Language- Phonics, Spelling, Narration* in primary and secondary language.
Literature- Character Tales I (Click here for a list of suggested books)
History- Personal History (Construction of Family Tree, conducting interviews with family members, visiting places where family members "grew up", etc.)
Geography- Where I Live
Math- Place Value, Greater Than, Less Than, Equal To, Counting (1's, 2's, 3's, 5's, 10's)
Science- Plant Classification, Grow and Care for a Plant. Collect and Sort Plant Matter.
*Narration is reading and speaking aloud. It develops listening and speaking skills. 

Click here for a printable version of the Basal Method.

Click here for a full synopsis of the Basal Method.

Learning Together. 
Part Three. An Introduction to Educational Approaches: How, Now?

13, July 2010. Panel moves toward next generation science standards. Education Weekly. Found on 24 September athttp://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/07/13/37science.h29.html


  1. Legos are the structural component in the Robotics curriculum I teach. Over the years, a couple of roadblocks have emerged.
    One is that when you attempt to measure learning - you almost always change the course of the students intended design. What I attempt to establish is the "core concepts and basic knowledge" mentioned above through inquiries into: aesthetics, structures (meaning classically derived designs that illustrate fundamental engineering principles at work) and absurd examples of dialectic techniques as destructive to the end in mind. The reason is: students are used to establishing the value of their ideas and hierarchy among peers based on numbers. This drives them to be destructively critical of the necessary failures involved in the design process. My attempt is to have the most absurd idea,(I call them different things..this week "avocado doughnuts") and then show how dialectic techniques mostly create a winning argument, often with merit-less design principles. (I am imagining FOX news and CNN as armchair political geniuses as the perfect picture of what I am saying.) This holds true with parenting, finances, diet, etc, etc. Culturally, we are intrinsically driven toward finding a winner in everything, all the while ignoring design.
    I think I got off track in my comments here. I want to teach 2 things to my students.
    1. a more sophisticated building and design process based on classical principles.
    2. an unhurried quality of mind.

    It is a major adjustment of thinking, as you say. Thanks for posting your thoughts on legos as a basil learning tool.

  2. A robotics curriculum sounds fascinating. What age are the students? Yes, I agree. In order to truly be creative, you must be able to critically think about what you are creating.