A New Way of Learning


By Dave Wheaton

Photos Noriko Nasu-Tidball

_03A8058Peter Lambert arrived at Keiko’s house dressed in his outdoor gear, sporting long blonde hair and big yellow backpack. After making introductions and settling into the living room Peter reached into his yellow backpack and pulled out a strange green vegetable, covered in dull spikes, looking like the kind of thing that might electrocute you if you got too close.  “I have no idea what it is, so if you guys know anything that’d be good”, he says.

Peter had gotten the fruit one day while picking apples around the Point Grey area. The lady who had given it to him spoke no English. It might seem like an odd thing to hold on to, this unidentifiable vegetable, but for Peter this strange food is a chance to learn. Why bother with Wikipedia when you have the chance to actually hold a foreign object, and find out for yourself how it works? It’s this attitude of “learning by doing” that makes Peter such an inspiring person. “It’s a fun thing” he says, “You get to meet some good people and make some connections. You see them on the street and get to say hi”. Peter shows how incredibly powerful it is that two people who can’t communicate through language can gather around a piece of fruit and share an instant connection.

                  Other odd mysteries from Peter’s yellow backpack included the bark of a cedar tree, two varieties of amaranth seeds, a piece of shaped and smoothed wood, and some children’s toys. For everything in the bag Peter had a similar story of learning and connection.

               _03A7989   Peter pulled out a couple of the children’s toys, a small puzzle and a plastic alien attached to a parachute. “We started off playing with this little alien and then moved on to talk about physics” said Peter, explaining how he works as homeschool teacher exploring new ways of learning with his students. “We talked about free-body diagrams and space and the cosmos, and had a bunch of library books that went along with it”.

By working in a hands-on environment, Peter inspires his students to explore information and find answers for themselves. He shows them that they can really learn through natural curiosity and experience. “Every day we get up and we figure it out, the kids and I. When we’re gathered around something hands on our relationship really works out. But if we’re gathered around physics without some little alien to play with, it’s harder”

                  “How did you get into education?” I asked him.

                  “I have no idea” he chuckled, “I had good teachers I guess and wanted to give back to people in this way. I think it’s important to take what I’ve learned and how I’ve thought and to tell the next generation about it. Whatever that is. I trust myself to know the next step in education. Taking the next step and trusting that it’ll work. Sometimes just being with the child and showing them that trust gives them this enormous confidence in themselves. It’s like, ‘this guy doesn’t know what I’m going to do next, but he’s ok with that’”

It all comes down to trust. Peter trusts the idea that these institutions that we grow up with, like public schools, don’t necessarily have to hold us together. It’s ok for us to center around a totally new idea, like a style of learning that doesn’t involve classrooms. Peter and his students trust that they’re going to learn and experience the world in their own way.

   _03A7953               “Learning by doing” is an expression that holds a lot of meaning for Peter. The act of exploring a theme or idea through hands-on experience is valuable in that it builds connections between people and centers learning in something real. Learning by doing is education that comes directly from experience; it flows through the physical world and enriches us. What better feeling is there than discovery? Education can be more than we realize, it can be a way for us to answer questions through our actions, and build relationships with one another. “If you get together around an idea”, Peter explained, “there’s still this sort of tension about how you stand with it but if you get together around some seed or a vegetable you’ve never seen before it’s an instant connection”

“So how do you go about learning something new” I asked.

“Here’s how I learn and here’s a great way of learning. I or anybody else is growing up and we’re just going along and you hear about something. It’s just playing around the edges of your consciousness but you know someone’s doing it out there, it’s just kind of far away, kind of mythical. Well the next step is you seek somebody out whose doing it and you spend time with them and get a sense that here’s the person here’s what they’re doing. In some things, like alternative education for example, there’s no handbook. There’s probably tens of thousands people in the city doing it in different ways. Looking for different things for kids outside of what the system has to offer”

If we all trust in ourselves to live and learn without relying on these traditional ideas of education, something amazing happens. We find irreplaceable experience that connects us to one another for life.

“My theory is that humans have survived just fine without the things we rely on today. No matter how bad things get we’re going to be ok if we like doing what we’re doing. Happiness will probably come along, even if we don’t know why”_03A7952