Rise Out Students

Independent Education Project: Building a tiny house

Ed. note: This is a guest post by Hannah Wnuk, a participant in Rise Out’s 2014 Independent Education Project. Hannah is building a tiny house. Please consider supporting her project through her Indiegogo campaign

Hello All,

My name is Hannah, I’m 16, and I am a homeschooler. This year and until I graduate I will be taking a more unschooler route to my education. What I love about unschooling is that I can take a project I am really interested in and make it part of my education. The project I have my heart set on is building a tiny house for myself.

The term “Tiny House” generally refers to a house that is 400 square feet or less. They are often built on trailers, but not always. They are inexpensive to live in, and generally have a low environmental impact. The Tiny House Movement has been making a push to get more people in smaller, more environmentally friendly homes, and to simplify their lives. I love that idea.

I have always loved being in small spaces. When I was little, I slept in my closet for a month because the walls on either side felt comforting. When I got a bit older, my dad and I started to build a tree house in my backyard that I could hang out in. He was a very good builder and I would have learned how to build very well if we had had the opportunity to build more than the basic floor frame. Unfortunately, he passed away when I was 11. I didn’t get to learn all his skills from him and I know he would be so proud of me for planning to build this tiny house.

I learned about tiny houses online. I found one cool video, then another, then another, and pretty soon it was 2:00am in the morning and I had spent the past 5 hours watching videos and looking at blogs about tiny houses. Originally, I thought it was a cool idea but nothing more. I never expected to want to live in one, let alone build it myself.

As time passed and I immersed myself more into the idea of living in a tiny house, I found that it really appealed to me. I watched an episode of Hoarders and did a “deep clean” of my bedroom. In retrospect, I didn’t get rid of much, but it was a start.

I had ignited my dream of living a minimalist life in a tiny house.

As a homeschooler, my education centers on my interests, and this past year I made it very clear to my mom that I was interested in tiny houses. I spent hours looking at all the different houses and styles and I fell in love with a particular house from Tumbleweed. Together we went to Tumbleweedhouses.com and bought me a set of blueprints for a tiny house that is 18’ long by 7.5’ wide.

Shortly after the holiday season at the end of 2014 my mom decided that if I am going to build a tiny house, I must get myself some resources, and she signed me up for a weekend tiny house workshop that I recently completed.

The workshop was very helpful to me because it gave me a more complete understanding of what I was getting into. I learned about what kind of bathroom systems are best and what an R Value is when you are talking about insulation. I got a lot of contacts with people who can help me or could point me in a helpful direction. I also got a book that included everything I learned about in the workshop so I will be able to consult it at home.

Already I have looked back into the book to find out about trailers and the different options that Tumbleweed sells. I plan to buy a trailer from them because that way I know I will not have any major problems with that aspect of my build.

I have saved money in my “Tiny House Account” since I began working and will continue to save. I plan to sell a lot of my belongings, from Pokemon cards to clothes to my entire Polly Pocket collection that I’ve had since I was 3 years old.I’m doing as much dog and cat sitting in my neighborhood as I can to earn more money. But in order for this project to begin in this year, I need outside help. I have estimated that the build for my dream-home/school-project is going to be about $30,000. I will use reclaimed materials where I can, to lower the price, but the best way to save in the long term, living in the house, is to spend a little bit more on the build. That way I can assure I will have minimal problems in the future.

I have a builder who has built his own tiny house on board with my project. He has agreed to help mentor me with the process. I plan to build a model in SketchUp and have him help me perfect it.

I am very excited to build my tiny house and can’t wait to get started.

These are the things I will learn as I create my tiny house:

  •  I will learn trigonometry through making measurements on my tiny house.
  • I will learn writing with things like this blog post and other ways of raising awareness and money
  • I will learn HOW TO BUILD MY OWN HOUSE
  • I will learn how to use power tools
  • I will learn how to use SketchUp
  • I will learn how to ask people for help graciously
  • I will learn how to budget
  • I will learn how to convince people to help me build
  • I will learn how to market myself and spread awareness for things like the tiny house movement and my project
  • I will learn about building codes and housing laws
  • I will learn physics through building
  • I will learn how to keep in touch with useful people
  • And I will learn so much more

High school students don’t need me? Oh well.

The Rise Out Independent Education Project has been going along swimmingly. We have nine dedicated students who are working in a diverse range of fields: music, coding, health and fitness, history research, and patent development.

When I first launched this initiative, my focus was on the word Project. What would students actually DO for a year? I spent an inordinate amount of time coming up with example projects, assuming that students would appreciate my suggestions. Yeah never mind. As it turned out, each of them already had a project in mind, or developed one during the first semester, something borne out of their own interests: a question they were grappling with, a problem they were prepared to spend a full year pursuing.

My secondary focus was on the word Education. All projects should be educational, right? How would I ensure this? Who defines what’s “educational”? What if a student proposed to watch nothing but hockey? Or write a report on the Kardashian family history? Would it be up to me to veto projects I considered shallow? What if I approved, but their parents didn’t? How would I handle that? I debated all this, in the privacy of my own brain, during the summer before anyone had even enrolled in the class.

In all that time, though, I’d given little to thought to what I now realize is the most important word in that phrase: Independent. It took a death in the family to make me realize its importance.

Two weeks before our final meeting before Christmas, I learned that my 21-year-old cousin had been killed in a car accident in Iowa. I sent a quick e-mail to the Rise Out students, telling them I wouldn’t be able to make our last meeting but encouraging them to go on without me, and then turned my attention to packing. I left Boston that same night, too distracted to think about anything but my family. Had the whole class collapsed because of my last-minute absence, I’m not sure I would have noticed. At that moment, my mind was elsewhere.

But then a remarkable thing happened. Something that made me realize why I like doing this work in the first place.

A few days before the group was set to meet, I checked my e-mail in Iowa and saw that I’d received a polite note from Alex, age 17, one of Rise Out’s student participants. He gave me his condolences, and then asked if I had a facilitator in mind for the meeting I could not attend. If not, he and his brother, Owen — another student participant — offered to organize it in my absence. Of course I agreed.

A week later Alex e-mailed me the notes from that meeting: the meeting I (naively) worried they couldn’t manage without me. I’m including it here, with Alex’s permission, because I think it wonderfully illustrates that once you have Independent in place, Education and Project will naturally follow:

Hi Laura,

I hope you’re doing well! Friday’s meeting was more or less a success.

Matthew started for us. He’s been talking with various people involved with his internship. One of them explained to him that the MIT “Build Your Own Drone” workshop wants to follow his project and watch it, which is exciting. That was all he really had to say, but he did go over some math stuff with Eddy and Owen as well. The content of that talk is lost on me (as math is not my strong suit).

Owen presented some work in Python that he had been doing lately. This included a program he calls the “Cracker”, which generates a random 3-digit password and then sets about trying to find the password. The Cracker did not quite work as intended though, because upon finding the password, it would continue to search and wouldn’t stop. Owen and Matthew looked at the code itself while I conveniently avoided that by talking with Eddy about Sebastian and about the difficulties of writing sheet music.

Then it was my turn. I displayed a video I had made, featuring a song of mine set to a slideshow. Upon its completion, I gave Eddy and Matthew a small questionnaire I had made, asking for their general opinions on what I do and asking if they know any artists that I could try to create cover art for my album with. With that, I had nothing more to add and so I ended my turn far ahead of schedule.

Finally, Eddy’s turn arrived. It turns out, he has built a large, clunky model of his invention. Also, upon plugging it into his computer, he could use a program made in Visual C++ that would display the results of the measuring. At this point, a small coding debate broke out because Matthew considers the Visual version of C++ as cheating, while Eddy and Owen defended the system. It was a civil debate, but then Eddy’s computer ran out of battery so his turn also came to an end.

The last 30 minutes of the meeting were filled up by Eddy asking Matthew an intense math question. The idea behind it seemed to be that Eddy needs to make a robot and wants to know if there’s a way to program it to go in an arc towards a destination. This seemingly simple question was not as simple as one might think, and it took about 30 minutes to even come close to an answer. I meanwhile tried to stay awake (trigonometry is boring, what can I say?). Upon reaching 12 PM, Eddy and Matthew dashed off, talking about math, leaving Owen and I to put all the chairs back (not that we minded, of course).

So that, therefore, concludes this report of the meeting. I hope you enjoyed, and have yourself a merry little Chri… Umm, I mean, Holiday Season!
— Alex LaRosa

I’ve been teaching for over a dozen years, and never have I felt so gloriously irrelevant. The stated goal, in all my professional development workshops, is that we, as educators, do our tasks so well that we work ourselves out of a job. A wonderful goal! But one we never really expect to happen.

Yet here I am. Convinced yet again that as adults we give ourselves too much credit.

Congratulations Liz!

Congratulations to Liz, who received her high school diploma yesterday! Liz was one of Rise Out’s very first students. This is what she had to say:

Best experience and a great opportunity to anyone who needs to finish high school or help with college options:

Rise Out helped me finish high school and get my diploma when I had no money, and very few options. When I had just half of a class left to finish (5 credits), every other option me and my school counselor had looked into would have made me repeat an ENTIRE semester’s worth of work. So instead of having to finish only half of a class, I would have had to take an entire semester worth of classes.

On top of that I would have had to PAY to do such.

When my friend referred me to Rise Out, Laura was able to help me find a way to finish my class online, just what I needed without the excess classes and work. Laura was flexible and kept in touch throughout the entire course, making sure I didn’t fall behind and giving me encouragement when I needed it! Since I also had no way to pay for my online class, I was given a grant which paid for my class, my book, and the other fees associated with signing up for the course.

Now, the course is over: I have my diploma and can now move on to finally starting college when I am ready, and can afford it. Rise Out is also helping me look into ways to help find and figure out ways to be able to complete college. This has helped me more than I could have ever imagined and I am extremely grateful and would recommend it to anyone who needs help finishing high school, or help with looking into college.
THANK YOU!! This has opened so many doors and opportunities for me and I will forever be grateful for being able to have had this option and opportunity.
— Liz Davis

Liz is planning to pursue a degree in Environmental Science. We’ll be keeping up with her, and look forward to hearing about her future endeavors!

Rise Out’s first students take different paths to college

Rise Out’s Indiegogo campaign has come to end. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. Having a scholarship fund has helped us get off the ground as a new organization, starting with the support of two talented students.

Rise Out’s very first student has started taking college classes as she finishes her last semester at an alternative high school. She plans to become a teacher in an area of Boston that has had difficulty retaining qualified educators. She is already an advocate for children and the arts, as well as for girls and LGBT students who face bullying and gender stereotyping in school. I’m excited that she’s been working with us, because the country needs more smart teachers who love learning for its own sake, but who also understand that there are many valid reasons that students might disengage with school. She’ll be applying her personal experience with non-traditional education, concretely and directly, in her future career, thus paying forward the contributions of everyone who supported our summer campaign.

Rise Out’s second student moved across the country in the final semester of her senior year. Her new city offered few solutions for credit recovery; she was told that she needed to re-enroll in high school full-time and start her senior year all over again, even though she was only one credit shy of her diploma. By working with Rise Out, she was able to get approval to take one self-paced course online and transfer it back to her old school, allowing her to graduate much sooner. She’s now exploring her college options, as well as work and study opportunities abroad.

Two different students, in different circumstances, with different future goals, but both have been able to benefit from an individualized approach as they transition from high school to college.