In Part 1 of the Crash Course I wrote about how small incremental changes can help wedge this new educational ‘mode’ into your household, hopefully without wigging your kid out in the process.

As you make small incremental changes, it’ll be tempting to recreate a traditional class setting in your home. That certainly seems to be the aim of many distance education providers. You have a ‘tutor’ (maybe it’s a parent, or a video link to a teacher) and they stand in front of your child for a few hours and instruct: “Do this, do that. No not like that, more like this.”


A traditional classroom in Australia is usually something like one teacher standing in front of twenty-five to thirty children. The system is geared around educating groups of this size, and this is the way I have started to think about it:

Education is a path that all the kids are walking along, with the teacher up front like some sort of pied piper. The problem is that the kids are walking at different speeds, which pretty much fits an idealised binomial distribution. The faster kids are at the right end of the curve, the slower at the left and the average kid is smack bang in the middle. The teacher has to try and get as many of these kids down the path to the government mandated checkpoint. But as you can imagine, with them all walking at different paces, it’s like herding cats.

If the teacher walks at the pace of the fastest kid, everyone else gets left behind and lost. I don’t know what happens back there, they get hunted by wolverines or whatever. Not a good outcome. So, the teacher walks at a slower pace and less kids get left behind. Because as soon as a kid gets left behind… wolverines. The problem of course is that the kids that can walk faster get bored. But that’s better than being eaten by wolverines, right?

This means the optimal walking pace of the class is not that of the average kid, but about one standard deviation slower than average. Eventually a couple of kids are going to get hunted down by wolverines, but the teacher is going slow enough that it won’t be till much later in their education. Sure, the faster you can walk, the more bored you will be, and the only ones learning at an optimal rate will be those in the meat of the curve below average. But hey, no one is getting hunted down by wolverines. Not this year. Not on their watch.

Picture of the idalised bionomial distribution for teaching pace.

Teachers add ‘extension’ activities into lesson plans to try and keep the kids who can walk faster engaged. The problem with extension activities in primary school is that they don’t get kids any further down the path. They are designed to distract the children while they wait for everyone to catch up before they can move on again. An example of this recently cropped up in my daughter’s history program about Australian involvement in World War I – a ‘Colour the Bugle’ worksheet that came out of nowhere. It was such an odd ‘extension’ to wedge in after learning about the ANZAC Day parade.

Considering my daughter is learning from home, there really isn’t any need to pad out her day with exercises that are purely aimed at soaking up her time. Just get the meaningful stuff done and dusted, then she can move onto spending the rest of the day to explore her own interests. If that’s colouring a bugle or making one out of toilet rolls – cool.

It seems odd to enforce waiting points in her day. I don’t want her to learn weird presenteeism habits just to solve synchronisation problems that only exist in traditional classrooms. What is she waiting around for? All the other kids are somewhere else working at their own pace.

So, each week we take the content from our distance education provider and rearrange it into daily journeys of discovery. It’s a fair bit of work, but it means that I don’t need to stand in front of her like a pied piper and dance her down the educational path. She has her own little map that she follows at her own pace. I’m always nearby to help and mentor, but it’s largely a form of guided learning. This is what it looks like:

Picture of a sample page from my daughters daily learning journery.

The very first change we make when constructing these daily journey’s is dropping all the ‘filler’ activities that come from our distance education provider. They are still around and available for her to pick up at the end of the day if she wants, and sometimes she does want to colour the bugle. But other times she will have her own ideas for how to fill out the rest of her day once the meaningful stuff is completed.

The best bit about this whole approach is that we can draw on the best curricula from around the world when we build these little journeys. We just need to make sure that we include the assessment material from our distance education provider, the stuff we have to send back. It’s an approach that ensures our daughter is ‘certified’ within the Australian educational system, but not limited by it.


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