A Year of Being Unretired

In January 2016, I wrote about my retirement and about a conference presentation I was prepping on “The Disconnected” segment of the population. Those people are not disconnected in a detached or unengaged sense, but are disconnected from traditional modes and sources of information and learning. I had also discovered a short-lived podcast called Unretirement

In the past year, I have become a bit more disconnected, and I have moved more into unretirement. I read Chris Farrell’s book Unretirement and listened to all the podcast episodes about people rethinking and reimagining their retirement years and perhaps the entire second half of life when it comes to work.

I have become more involved in volunteer “work”  this past year. I started last year doing that with the Montclair Film group and their film festival and especially their education efforts with young people. I continue to work with the endangered species program in my state.

This past week, I was approached by a college to work part time the next six months.

In my definition of retirement or unretirement you work because you want to work and because you think that work benefits both yourself and others. It has purpose. Getting paid is not a real concern. My volunteer work doesn’t pay me anything, and I often spend money to volunteer (materials, travel, parking).

My wife isn’t a big fan of me getting too busy or even earning too much money. She likes the freedom of no commitments in planning trips and vacations. She is the house accountant and warns me that at a point earning money in addition to pensions, social security and investments will negatively affect our state and federal taxes. “You’re working for the government,” she tells me.

This college project involves designing courses that use OER, Open Educational Resources, which are free and openly licensed educational materials that can be used for teaching.  Using these materials can reduce student costs for textbooks and materials and allow faculty to really design their curriculum rather than follow what a textbook offers.

I have worked with OER before and I support its use.  The college is an urban community college and I know OER is of financial benefit to those students. If that wasn’t the situation, I would pass on the opportunity without hesitation. That is one of the best parts of unretirement.

I suppose that if unretirement means working again we could call it by the older term “semi-retirement.” But it is different. Making your full-time job a part-time job is semi-retired. Leaving your job to do whatever you want is unretirement. Plan for it.

Place-Based Learning

neighborhood

About 10 years ago, I read a book called Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and CommunitiesPlace-based learning is an educational philosophy. It is also known as (or is related to) pedagogy of place, place-based education, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability and environmental education.

The term Place-based Education was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion’s early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and I received a grant from the Dodge back then to do a project with a community and elementary school in New Jersey using this philosophy.

Here’s an excerpt of that book that gives you an overview. It was written by David Sobel, who teaches in the education department at Antioch University New England in New Hampshire.

Back when I was teaching in a middle school and working on that grant, I had used another book  by him, Mapmaking with Children.  It’s definitely related and concerned with having kids get a better “sense of place” for their community.

child's map

I’m a map fan and for me this is more than geography education. You can work with kids and start with mapping close to home in their known world. Then it can “zoom out” to nearby neighborhoods, bordering towns and beyond. I saw this as visual literacy and critical thinking.

I know that many educators use it along with community projects involving the environment or service projects. In the project I did for that grant, we had set one of the goals to be having every kid work with at least one parent closely and we did a day of field trips around the town and area with them,

I saw the mapping as way beyond a  social studies class. I had a lot of fun having students make maps of imaginary places and setting from books they were reading.

Place-based education is more aimed at solving community problems. It uses the students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning – the unique local history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. The community can be just the school grounds or the town.

You might zoom out later but at the start it is definitely better o zoom in on the community rather than national or global issues. Think global, act local.

Kids always liked that this was very much hands-on learning, project-based learning, and involved getting out of the classroom.

More recently I saw an article on place-based learning that got me thinking about this again. This idea of community as classroom and learning that engages students in solving real problems in the community is still very valid. Even more important to me is the idea of place.

You can easily imagine a nearby woods or river as a classroom for science. What about using it for writing poetry or for a math lesson? Getting away from just using textbooks and worksheets is probably more of a challenge for teachers than for students.

Sobel has kept the philosophy moving forward and he consults and speaks on child development and place-based education for schools. He has authored seven books on children and nature. Perhaps his best known book is Beyond Ecophobia.

That article mentioned above is by Bernard Bull and he suggests six starting points for using place including thinking beyond the “field trip (something that is often not feasible for teachers to consider these days anyway) and building a community network of groups and people in the community who own or work in places that align with the curriculum.

Place-based learning didn’t take a real grip on education when it first was promoted, but I think it has so many possibilities for dropping the many walls, literal and figurative, that hold back innovation in education.

And this is certainly an approach that parents can take with their kids, even if the schools are not willing to take on the challenge.

Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere https://www.flickr.com/photos/60712129@N06/
Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere via flickr.com

Makerspaces

Makerspaces (AKA hackerspaces, hackspaces, and fablabs) are creative, do-it-yourself (DIY) spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn. A large number of them have been opened in libraries and more recently in public spaces and on campuses. The makerspace may contain 3D printers, software, electronics, craft and hardware supplies and tools that most individuals can’t afford to own but want to learn to use.

I read an EDUCAUSE “7 Things” sheet back in 2013 on makerspaces that had predicted that “As makerspaces have become more common on campuses and have found their place in public libraries and community centers, their influence has spread to other disciplines and may one day be embraced across the curriculum. Eventually makerspaces may become linked from campus to campus, encouraging joint project collaboration.” They even went as far as to say that the work done there “may one day be accepted and reviewed for college credit in lieu of more conventional coursework.”

From my observation, they seem to have made more inroads in K-12 than in colleges. This month, there will be a Makers Day here in New Jersey (March 21 – see http://njmakersday.org) which I will unfortunately miss as I will be at another conference. I’d like to see what people are doing in NJ because I am working on a presentation that involves makerspaces for another conference in May.

The benefits of having a makerspace in an academic setting or available to students offers many opportunities. Providing the space and materials for physical learning works because it can be cross-disciplinary, provide technical help for work they are undertaking. It seems more STEM, STEAM or suited to engineering and technology but if you look at the projects in some of the links below there is a lot that id outside those areas. If you see students work in these spaces, you have to be impressed how students take control of their own learning with projects they define, design and create.

Although I work in higher education, anyone who teaches at any grade level knows that students love hands-on projects. I think that these spaces are a very fertile ground for work that bridges ages – a great place for K-20 work and a way to connect parents and the community to schools.

FIND OUT MORE

http://makerspace.com is probably the world’s largest community of Makers, from Maker Faire and Make: Magazine

Watch Makerspaces in Libraries youtube.com/watch?v=hOqTcQedDrw and an example from the Westport Library  youtube.com/watch?v=nurj3zBlfIg

A list of makerspaces in libraries   http://library-maker-culture.weebly.com/makerspaces-in-libraries.html

Make it at your library   makeitatyourlibrary.org http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/
Makerspaces in K-12 schools   edutopia.org/blog/creating-makerspaces-in-schools

Some of the tech tools and resources used are very sophisticated, such as a 3D Printer http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-printers or an electronic cutter http://cucfablab.org/book/electronic-vinyl-cutters, but they might be much more familiar, such as the Xbox Kinect 3D scanner http://cucfablab.org/book/3d-scan-and-print-yourself-3d or a computerized sewing machine http://www.brother-usa.com/Homesewing