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Taking it Home with Self-Directed Learning by Bob Sprankle

I love it when this happens: when learning goes home, never having been assigned by the teacher, but taken up by the student.

It happened a bunch this week, so I'm smiling hard and telling the tale in 3 acts:

Act 1: The scene is 2nd graders who are learning how to change the font in their "Peace Cards to the World" that they're making in the tried and true application, KidPix. One girl comes across the font called, "Alex" and pretty soon students are asking, "Who's Alex?" I explain that this is the name of the font and that it was probably named after the person who made it (Alex). The girl who discovered the font lights up and says, "Cool! That would be cool to make your own font." Moments later, we are downloading the template to make your own font from FontCapture.com and I'm showing her how she can in fact create her very own font. She asks me if she can take the template home, and I say sure. The next day, she has created three beautiful fonts on the templates, has named them ("Peace," "Cactus," and "The Squirrel") and brings them to me. I scan them in, upload them to the site, and voila! she has her own fonts.

Now most of her class is taking home the font template and are bringing back font after font after font. My scanner is busy and happy, and this class has become font designers all on their own: it was never a part of my curriculum.

Act 2: It's a lesson working with photo images with 4th graders at the site Pixlr.com, which is a free web-based graphics program that does many things that the very expensive Photoshop can do. Students are working with the photos that they recently took in Art and are literally jumping out of their seats when they discover something new that completely transforms their photos into amazing works of art. At the end of the lesson, student after student actually thanks me for the lesson.

Then half the class goes home and fires up Pixlr.com on their own and continues creating art. They can't wait to tell me about it when I see them next.

Act 3: I'm watching 3rd and 4th graders "knock it out of the park" with their Poetry Blog they're working on: their poems are amazing, but so are the in-depth comments that they leave for each others' work. They don't just say that they like a poem. They are following through with our lesson of "What Makes a Good Comment" and telling why they like the poem, asking the poets questions about their inspiration, and starting threaded conversations with each other.

One student goes home and shows her mother the blog, teaches her how to log in and how to leave a meaningful comment. The mother joins in and leaves her daughter and another student comments on their work. The girl is overjoyed when she reads this the next day.

Now other students want their parents to join in. Neither their teachers nor I have even sent a letter home to orchestrate this.

It's happening all by itself.

The show continues... without the teacher as director.