About Jenny de la Hoz

I was born in Colombia and came here when I was really young. I grew up in New Jersey but have now lived on the West Coast longer than I have lived on the East Coast. I have taught high school and worked at an aquarium among my many jobs. I am now working on my PhD in Free Choice Learning. What is that? Ask me. I look forward to meeting you.

As a social scientist with ADHD, or the creative mind as I like to call it, I am often captivated by the idea of distraction.  You may even say that I get distracted by thinking of distraction.  How are others distracted?  Are they distracted as often as me?  Are they distracted by things that are interesting to them or by whatever is in front of them?  These questions puzzle me because I wonder how much motivation can be seen in distraction.

As an educator of students with ADHD, I find that they are often distracted by many things.  But if they find something they are interested in, then they can focus for an unending period of time.  (I have seen non-ADHD people capable of the same thing, but somehow they are not pulled away as often from uninteresting tasks as those of us with creative minds.)  This focus can bring amazing results.  For example, I once created a diorama of a prehistoric swamp with 13 clay dinosaurs and an assortment of plants in two days.  For reference, this project was done before the creation of the internet with just encyclopedias.  Another example, a friend of mine recreated the coding for the electronic video game Pong in just three hours.  This was all done by people with creative minds.

So my question, when we get distracted, do we get distracted by something that is motivating us to learn, or by things that are just – well, distractions?  Could we use distractions as motivators to learn or they just wastes of time?

An article by Judy Lombardi (2011)* on six motivation resources noted some external factors that could be viewed as distractions.  For example, Lombardi noted that one of Lavoie’s motivational forces found in his book The Motivation Breakthrough is external recognition.  The need for this external force to help motivate the learner can be seen in all of the six motivational styles and could also be labeled as a type of distraction.

Technology has helped us all, creative minds or not, to have distracted minds.  One Carnegie Mellon research project says that distractions costs us 25 minutes to return to our original task (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/opinion/sunday/a-focus-on-distraction.html).  And with constant distractions from electronic gadgets, who knows how much work we are really getting done.  So what say you – do your distractions serve as a motivator or are they truly distractions from getting more productive work done?

*Lombardi, J.  ISSN: 8756-7555 print / 1930-8299 online

DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2011.591455

Got Motivation? Six Great Resources for Instructors at Every Level

What role does religion play in science education?  This is a question I have started to ask myself lately.

In my years as a science educator at an aquarium, religion seemed to be a dirty word.  It had virtually no place in the institution I worked.  Organization leaders shied away from the topic, and educators would roll their eyes if a group of religious home-schooled children were coming to visit.

And yet, research by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums shows that some people visit zoos and aquariums as “spiritual pilgrims” with the specific intent of seeking out contemplative/restorative experiences.  According to the Pew Research Center, over 80% of the American population self-reports having a religious affiliation. 80%!

The mission statements of so many zoos and aquariums now involve more than education; there is often a goal to change the attitudes, beliefs, or actions of the visitors to their institutions.  Yet these organizations continue to shy away from that which so many people’s value system has been built upon – their religious upbringing or affiliation.   It’s as though zoos and aquariums have decided that science and religion are incompatible, “therefore we will pretend that religion doesn’t exist.”

How do these institutions expect to foster change if they are not willing or able to have an open dialogue with their visitors, many of whom clearly have a religious affiliation?  How do they expect their visitors to address the internal conflicts that come up when science and religion butt heads?

Members of religious groups ARE opening up the dialogue around faith and the environment.  As a Fellow with the organization Greenfaith, I participate with leaders of a variety of religious faiths as we grapple with questions about environmental justice, the definition of stewardship, and clarify the meaning of religious texts and traditions.

This open dialogue among and between members of all faiths is helping to fill the gap that the science education community has ignored.   I am heartened to see people come together to create a clearer environmental identity.   This is where the free-choice learning is really happening.

To the informal science education community – zoos and aquariums in particular — I say there is a place for religion in science education.  Moreover, if your organization really expects to meet the lofty goals of your mission statements, it is imperative to open up a religious dialogue and directly address the religious attitudes and beliefs of your visitors.  If you really want to change behavior or instill an environmental ethic, make your institution a relevant force in people’s lives.  Foster a truly free choice learning environment by including religion in the conversation.

(Traci Reid is a guest poster to the FCL Blog and a 2013-2014 Greenfaith Fellow.)

In this season of giving, we have been exposed to not so generous actions on behalf of a good deal (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_adgG8Ba2Q).  Many of us shook our heads in amazement and utter dismay, but we have all taken advantage of the sales.  Whether it was on Black Friday or some other day during this season, we have all worked hard at some time or another to give the perfect gift (at a ‘good’ price).  What we as a society may have forgotten is that true giving comes in the form of truly loving and accepting someone for who they are.  Wait! What does this have to do with learning?  Well, a heck of a lot if you think about it.

I was reminded of this when one of my students in my math class was having difficulty doing simple multiplication problems in his head.  Throughout the class, I have encouraged him to use his calculator to do these, but have consistently asked him to learn them without that crutch.  As the term came to an end, I asked him what was going on in his life during the second and third grade when he would have learned his multiplication tables.  It was during this time in his life that he was removed from his home for the first time and put into foster care.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg of all that was really happening.  For this student, multiplication tables have been imbued with emotional trauma that prevents him from learning or memorizing them like many of us did back at that age.  The disruption of feeling loved at that time impeded his cognitive development and today he is still feeling those effects.

David Richo in his book, How to be an Adult in Love, uses a common experience of coming home and showing our work to a parent.  Remember, doing an art or science project in class, or maybe it was a spelling quiz.  You get home and say, ‘Look what I have done!’  In that situation he argues, we were expressing our desire for the five A’s: attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowance.  In this common anecdote, we were communicating, “Pay attention to me; accept me; appreciate what I have done; show affection; and allow me to go on doing this without interference or interruption.”  If we did not receive these important affirmations, then they express themselves in our adulthood whether through our personal relationships, or as in the case of my sweet student, in simple multiplication.

So in this season of giving,  I would like to encourage you to give the best thing you can give that no dollar, euro, or peso can buy – the gift of the five A’s.  You may never know how deeply it may impact that person.  But if you find them learning new things with joy and vigor, then you know you have created a nourishing ground of love and acceptance.

Happy Holidays to all.



I have been watching a lot of superhero movies.  Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, even the Hulk provide me a lot of fuel for thought.  The biographies of many of these fictional characters are replete with narratives of lessons learned and relearned often not through the use of their super powers or acumen, but most often because of their human frailties and feelings.  It is the feelings that allow these superheroes to use their power for good and fight evil.

I often think that emotions play a large role in how we learn and what we learn.  I see this often in one of the classes I teach.  My students take a look at the subject matter and fear drives them to believe they cannot learn it and that they are incapable of being successful.  A different side of the same coin, self-confidence in a subject matter will make anyone feel like a Sheldon Cooper to that content.  (In case you don’t watch Big Bang Theory, that means uber smart.)  Emotions are often overlooked component to learning and learning environments.

New research on emotion and learning can give us some of the biochemical reasons how emotion impacts reason.  Research by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang from USC’d Rossier School of Education shows how emotion can be used by teachers to stimulate creativity.  She has even created curriculum for teachers to access these findings (http://www.learner.org/courses/neuroscience/index.html).  She explains that the “neuromechanisms responsible for feeling and managing the body’s physical survival and consciousness have been co-opted to also manage social survival” (mindshift blog, blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/how-emotional-connections-can-trigger-creativity-and-learning/).  In other words, the very feelings that help us survive in the physical world also help us navigate social setting such as learning environments.

So this week, I would like to challenge you to consider your feelings as you are learning something.  Do you experience excitement, concern, anxiety, or joy?  How do these feelings impact how you learn?  Can you interrupt your negative feelings, address them, and then move forward all at the same time?  If not, then how would you recommend that we as practitioners can motivate our students when they encounter strange experiences or unknown content area?  What personal experiences can you share about moving through feelings, whether positive or negative, to finally get at a learning experience?  Let us discuss…

This past weekend, I was able to watch the first episode of Dream School – a reality show that follows students who have not succeeded in traditional school as they come back for a second chance at getting a high school education and diploma.  These kids are taught by celebrity educators.  These are people who have been deemed successful in the eyes of the world in their respective fields.  The hope is that the success of these individuals will motivate the unmotivated.

Watching the first episode reminded me of why I started going down the free choice learning (FCL) road.  In the British pilot, well-known historian and documentarian Dr. David Starkey takes on a group of students and has an amazing lesson plan – Bling through the ages.  As a history channel watching geek and lover of most things bling, I thought, AWESOME.  This is going to be a good one.  Well, you judge for yourself – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkrhhlAQgu0.

I think the premise of this show is in indicator of what is happening in our society.  This interesting infographic by the Huffington Post gives us some statistics around the phenomenon or epidemic, depending on your point of view- http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/03/sundance-infographic-americas-school_n_4032373.html.  Our schools do not seem to be addressing the learning needs of a large portion of the next generation.  Can lessons from FCL help?  If you guess that I would answer affirmatively, you would be correct.  But I think that the answer, as many answers to life’s hard questions, is not as simple as that.  There is a lot that FCL needs to take into consideration before leaping into a hero-saving mode of formal learning environments.

The biggest issue that FCL has is scalability.  Museums, zoos, and informal learning venues are excellent at accommodating large groups and introducing them to interesting concepts and themes.  But the information that groups get are just morsels or amuse-bouches of knowledge.  The exhibits titillate, provoke, and stimulate the mind, but there is little research that demonstrates the long-term acquisition of larger concepts or building of sequential knowledge.  There is a much needed socio-cultural place for FCL environments, but until we can hold learners for a long period of time and move them from point A to point D, formal learning environments will still be the environment that fosters this type of learning.

The next biggest issue that FCL environments have is assessing the learner.  There are so many stimuli and learners arrive with many preconceived ideas and misconceptions, it is difficult to truly assess what the individual is actually learning in a FCL environment.  The best we can do as social scientists is to see how learning is occurring and take a snapshot of the learner at that time and space.  This is not to say that formal environments really know how to do this well.  On the contrary.  It is just that the formal environments have more years of trying to do it.

The final big hurdle is the culture.  Learning and motivation are culturally rooted.  And whether FCL environments want to admit or not, they are cultural institutions imparting a certain way of looking at the world.  Art museums, aquariums, and science centers all impart a certain perspective and view.  The problem doesn’t come with that view – it comes with not acknowledging that they hold that view.  Art museums deem what is beautiful.  Aquariums deem what is worth seeing of the ocean.  And science centers show a western perspective of science.  But they do not hold the corner on what is beautiful, worthy, or scientific.  These institutions help us narrow down from a vast field into digestible facts, but in the narrowing down comes a belief that their visitors will only need to deem that beautiful, worthy, or scientific. They sometimes forget that there is a large world of “other” available for their visitors and from which their visitors come.  It is in remembering this and embracing it when crosses their thresholds which make the FCL environment transcend the cultural institution to a true place of learning.  Yet, as I write this, I know it is a difficult task to accomplish – difficult but not impossible.  Again, this is not something that the formal environment has conquered in the least.

These are some of the biggest challenges I see FCL environments facing and why they cannot be the panacea for our ailing educational system.  But I definitely think they have their place in learning, something that formal educators are really beginning to embrace.  What about you?  Do you agree with these areas or do you think I am selling FCL short?

As the school year begins, like most of you, I start reminiscing about the past summer and what I have done.  These past few months have been dedicated to learning new things. I wanted to share some of thoughts around learning that participating in these experiences has brought to the forefront.

Recently, I have taken up a new form of exercise – Bikram yoga. And like anything new, I have struggled with learning the novel ways of bending my body and thinking through the exercise.  I started thinking about this merging of body and mind and how we often think this only occurs during exercising.  But this merging also happens whenever you are learning something new.  Have you ever taken up learning a new hobby and had to readjust how you do something?  For example, keeping your wrist straight when bowling or shooting a gun? Or how to physically approach a horse you are riding or a dog you are training?  Or how to breathe as you trim and attend to a bonsai tree?  All of these learning experiences require you to adjust the way your body moves and you must be mentally present in order to make sure that you are doing the activity correctly.  By unifying body and mind, it makes the experience more meaningful and the learning deeper.

This summer, I also took the time to learn how to row.  It is a lot more difficult than it looks.  First, there is a specific technique to rowing that I never would have imagined as an important part of the sport.  It is not all in the arms as many would think, but requires a precise pattern of movement to maximize the stroke.  (For a detailed explanation, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oP6OR-G7AxM#t=14.)  The thing about rowing is that as you are learning and practicing the technique, you must do it in cadence with other rowers.  This adds the aspect of team work into an already complicated experience.  But let’s face it – learning is often like this.  If you are in a classroom and doing a whole group activity, you must learn the content by yourself but at the same pace as the rest of the group.  This can be complicated but it is important part of the academic learning experience in this country.  Can you think of other non-academic experiences where learning is a whole group as well as an individual endeavor?

Finally, as you move along a learning experience, there comes a time when you start facing physical and mental exhaustion.  How you move through this exhaustion can also bring in elements of the spiritual and/or philosophical to the learning process.  I have faced this with swimming.  I love to swim, but the thought of pre-swimming ritual makes the whole activity daunting.  Someone recently shared with me that at times when he faces exhaustion, negative and self-defeating thoughts start creeping in.  The way he counters these self-defeating thoughts is to see them as a challenge and face them down.  He does self-talk that contradicts the negative thought and then imagines the thrill of climbing over the destructive hurdle.   Discovering how to overcome the hurdles of negativity is an important part of a learning experience.  Often we will face self-doubt and exhaustion when learning new things.  But being gentle with yourself as you learn helps the concepts to come more readily and makes the experience more enjoyable.  Or you can be aggressive like Tim Ferriss.  (http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_smash_fear_learn_anything.html)

How about you?  What experiences have you had this summer and what have you learned about learning?