Learning Pod for Science

Learning pod has become a popular web search. (See the stats.) What is a learning pod? What does a learning pod for science look like?

find your learning pod for science and don't get schooled
What is a Learning Pod?

No, we are not talking about dolphins. And not a physical space, like a room or workstation (a pod) either. 

A learning pod is an expression for a group of learners, usually learning outside of a traditional brick and mortar building called a school. It’s a popular search term these days because schools are closed and parents are looking for alternatives.

Let’s break down what a learning pod is and how you (yes, you!) can make one. For science. Or any topic.

How To Make a Learning Pod

Learning pods are made everyday by parents just like you. It’s not a new idea. Traditional homeschool families used to form “groups.” For those new to home education, the same thing is now called a “learning pod.”

Learning Pod Elements

Let’s start with the basics. You want to have an organized learning pod with the right basic parts. You can build from here.

  1. A group of learners
  2. A real, live teacher
  3. A learning magagement system (LMS)
  4. Documented organizational structure
1. A group of learners

Learners have been grouped in things called schools for quite some time. Traditionally, this leads to a diverse group of learners being placed in the same classroom because of their age.

We suggest that age is not the most important factor in designing a learning pod. Experience and learned skills might not be as important as you think, either. Then what is the most important factor in forming a learning pod?

The most important factor is learner interest. Motivation. Desire to learn. Do all the potential learners in the pre-algebra pod actually WANT to learn math? Is mom making them learn math? It’s fine to say yes to either question. It’s not about judgement. It’s about grouping learners with similar interest. Imagine a learning pod where one learner has advanced math skills, but really, really dislikes math classes. This negativity could be and will be infectious. It only takes one rotten apple to ruin the bin, as we say.

So form one math learning pod for learners that actually want to learn math. They can learn advanced math. Awesome idea! Form a very different learning pod for the learners that dislike math. They can learn how to address their math phobia. An equally awesome idea! Maybe they graduate to a more advanced learning pod, maybe not. You, the parent, cannot control the learning outcome. You can control the human experience of the learning pod, placing your learner in a group of like minded individuals. This will facilitate and promote more learning in the long run, although it won’t necessarily produce a math wiz. So be it. When forming the learning pod, focus on providing a good learning experience, not on the learning outcome.

Back to the age issue. Does age matter? Yes and no. It’s fine to have learners of different ages, just don’t expect to treat them the same. Have the older learners teach the younger learners, for example. This is widely accepted as the single best way to learn: by teaching. Interestingly, society hasn’t exactly embraced this idea since the days of the one room schoolhouse. Find a recent article on the topic here.

Obviously, the learners also need to get along and play nice. Be sure to consider whether the learners will get along or not. Your learner doesn’t play nice? Does that mean they are banned from learning pods? No way! You are not alone. Find some parents with learners that don’t play nice. Form a learning pod. The topic could be emotional intelligence, the new science of learning how to have positive interactions with others. Create a learning opportunity where traditional schools create problems on top of problems. 

2. A Real, Live Teacher

You need a real, live teacher. The person in charge of the class. The learners need to see an adult organize and lead the class. How else would the world ever create its future leaders? It’s not about authority, it’s about leadership.

The teacher could be a parent. One parent. Not a rotation with a different parent with different rules and a different perspective every week. This is called confusion. It promotes the association of learning with confusion. Learning shouldn’t be confusing. It should be organized and systematic. This requires a leader called the teacher. The learning pod needs to learn to follow the leader, not respond and react to random and arbitrary parent input. Don’t have too many cooks in the kitchen. Find somebody who wants to be the chef.

The job of the real, live teacher is to 1) have a plan and 2) execute it.

Part one, the teacher needs to be prepared before the learning pod gets started. He or she needs a plan. This could be a formal plan like following a pre-algebra curriculum. Note that the teacher just needs to have a plan. The teacher does not need to create the lesson plans. They just need to have a plan, which could totally be some outside source, even a free internet resource.  Curricula can be bought or found. The plan could also be informal. Like, let’s have an art class where the students draw hands in a new position each week. Boom. You now have a plan for a hand drawing learning pod. Simple! Just have a plan beforehand. Don’t make things up as you go. Young learners can tell when adults just make stuff up. They really, really despise this at the deepest level. Don’t you?

Part two, the teacher needs to execute the plan. This doesn’t mean they need to follow the plan. What? The teacher’s job is to execute the plan, which means constantly evaluating whether the plan is working or not. Don’t just expect your plan to work. Even if it’s a good plan. The best teachers can tell when the plan is no longer working. Then they simply make a new plan, usually by slightly modifying the old plan. Communicate with the learners and parents, and figure out if this is really working or not. Don’t check off check boxes of topics covered and call it learning.

In many cases, the teacher can be a parent. This makes a lot of sense for a lot of topics. Find a reasonably qualified parent that agrees to be organized and lead the class. It’s not about what they know. It’s about their willingness to organize the pod for the semester, and stay organized when the plan changes. For advanced topics like chemistry, physics, and calculus, many parents look for outside help, pooling together to hire a specialized teacher. 

The real, live teacher could be online, using video chat, or in person. Note that it’s becoming much more cost effective to hire an online teacher these days. Online teachers can be just as effective, or even moreso, than in person teachers. It’s more about the teacher having a curriculum, assessing whether it’s working, and communicating with the parents.

3. A learning magagement system (LMS)

An LMS, or learning management system, is the collection of class materials. Worksheets. Assignments. Lesson plans. Instructional videos. Notes.

In the old days, a teacher’s 3-ring binder played the role of the LMS. They photocopied pages with this thing called a Xerox machine, then walked around the classroom using their legs to literally hand the papers to the students. How quaint.

The same idea, in an online format, is called an LMS. It has everything in place for the learners to find online at any moment. This also saves the teacher lots of time, so they can focus on evaluating whether or not the plan is actually working. Teachers too bogged down in their own paperwork to properly assess class performance are setting a bad, bad leadership example. Be organized, not super busy.

The teacher’s responsibility is to make sure the LMS is complete and that the learners know how to use it. Complaining that, “I cannot find the homework,” after six weeks of learning is completely unacceptable. In the old days, teachers told learners to, “Look it up.” Now, they say, “It’s on the LMS. Find it.” The teacher is now teaching the learning pod how to be organized by example. The teacher gets an A+ for having the LMS ready before the learning pod gets started. Don’t make things up as you go. We already talked about how despicable that is.

The LMS can be really simple. A free, simple option is Google Classrooms. Professional teachers like the open source Moodle. Teachers build their lesson plans on the Moodle, over years, and are able to transport it seamlessly to a new school when they get a new job. This website was built with a technology called LifterLMS. It’s more powerful but also takes longer to build.

Not a techie? Not into creating an LMS and you don’t want to pay somebody to do it? Sounds reasonable. How about forming a learning pod where the youngsters create an LMS for themselves? Young people today really need to learn about technology, and this creates the perfect opportunity to form a learning pod!

What you don’t want to do is dump on your learning pod. Like, “Here’s 300 pdfs for the semester, sorted alphabetically.” Good luck finding the right file at the right time! You want a clean handoff of the materials from the teacher to the learners through the LMS. Teach your learning pod to be organized, not to dump on each other!

4. Documented organizational structure

Have an organizational structure. Write it down. Don’t make it up as you go!

Who are the learners in the learning pod? Who is the responsible parent or parents for each learner? Who is the teacher? What is the curriculum? How are funds handled? If somebody gets sick or moves, does the structure change? What if people don’t play nice? Does this apply to the whole year, a semester, a quarter, or some other specific period of time?

It’s all basic stuff. Just write it down. People get upset when things change unexpectedly. It’s just human nature. Don’t let parent squabbles spill over into the learning environment. That would be a bad leadership example.

Speaking of bad leadership examples, you can read an article here about what lawyers and the news media have to say about learning pods lacking documented organizational structure. Yikes! Yet don’t be scared, just write down your organization structure. As for a good idea: How about forming a learning pod to discuss facts vs sensationalism in the news.

How To Make a Science Learning Pod

The 4 Elements Still Apply

A learning pod for science is fundamentally no different than any other learning pod. The thing is, though, that you most likely need to find a curriculum somewhere. Unless you happen to have a chemistry professor with lots of free time in the family.

The teacher could still be a parent. The teacher needs to choose the curriculum wisely, and it should probably be a group effort. Establish a search committee. Identify the available resources, free and paid, for your topic. Then choose. The teacher does not need to be an expert in the topic, they need to be a leader and keep the learners organized. This is, admittedly, a big job for advanced topics.

Many families hire a teacher just for some advanced topics. Like chemistry, physics, or calculus. Or writing those college admissions essays. The main idea is that the teacher comes packaged with a curriculum… make sure that is really the case! Don’t just hire some expert that will make up the class structure as they go. The learners will learn to despise this intruder teacher. Hire a teacher with a curriculum. It could be their own curriculum they personally developed, or it could be a book or online resource. Ask to see the curriculum and/or LMS. Is it organized? Would you want to use it? Does it make you gag or cringe?

Focus on the Curriculum

A science learning pod is no different than discussed above, Except for the importance of the curriculum. In science, there really often are “right answers” toward which the learners need to be gently steered. Science classes can be creative too, but only in the absence of confusion. When science classes get confusing, teachers normally retreat into rote, repetitive, boring methods that minimize the possibility of creating additional confusion. This is perfectly understandable, yet it’s much more desirable to have a curriculum in place that has been designed by experts and tested out on real learning pods.

One Word of Caution

One word of caution. Marketplaces. As opposed to teachers with curricula. Shortly after the arrival of COVID-19, a large number of websites appeared offering services to connect learning pods with teachers. Many of these websites are marketplaces. They are neither educators nor producers of educational materials. They do, however, seem to have vast budgets for advertising and online marketing.

In a marketplace, teachers and families pay to be connected. And that’s it. Obviously there are great teachers to be found in such marketplaces. Yet most of these marketplaces have no LMS and no curricula. And no quality control either. It’s just to find a teacher for hire. You need to check with the teacher, and not with the marketplace, as to whether he or she can properly lead your science learning pod. Ask. Don’t assume.

It Starts with Interest

Creating a science learning pod is a process that starts with learner interest. What is your learner interested in learning? Fun science? Practical science? Lab science? Rigorous science (with math)? College prep science? AP science? The history of science, a topic perhaps better suited for a writing pod, not a science learning pod?

Figure out what your learner is interested in. Talk to other parents. People you know, as well as online contacts. You are not alone. There are other families out there in the same situation. Probably many. You’ll never find them unless you start looking. Be proactive. Set a good example for your young learner. Don’t just wait for it to happen.

Start to form a group. Set your intention that it will happen. Allow some time and be patient. Keep with it. Eventually the learners and teacher will emerge. But it won’t happen unless you go out and look for it. The last time teachers went around forming groups of students while parents waited around it was called the public education system. And we all know how that is going these days. Hence the popularity of the web search term “learning pods.”

So what is a learning pod? In short, it’s what you make of it! Get started finding your pod today!