Sunlight shining through leaves

“Tree,” “escape” or “leaking,” “sun.” The Essayistic class is finalizing their class ‘zine, which now has a name: “Komorebi,” which in Japanese uses the symbols that conjure a vision of sunlight sifting through the leaves of a tree. Above, left, is the art and part of the design for the cover of the ‘zine. On the right a student works one of the pieces of art that illustrates another student’s essay.

The image of dappled sunlight does not immediately call to mind images of justice, as part of Teen Learning Lab’s Justice Project. However, this year has seen many bursts of brilliance from our teens as they grow and emerge into caring, educated adults. They need the kind sunlight of knowledge, insight, and self-awareness. They bend and bow amid the winds of emotions, but they are always turning toward the sun. How can there be justice when there is no light? These teens are always demanding more light. We need to give them that light.

With only one more class meeting before our final class on May 4, the Justice Project students were busy Friday finalizing their personal and group final projects. For more about the Essayistic class, Mock Trial, and Science & Justice, please see the Justice Project Blog.


Rigorous in a different way

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Students in the Essayistic class work in groups on the class ‘zine while instructor Lee Ferdinand meets with a student in March. The whiteboard has the students’ organization of student-written essays into magazine sections.

Homeschooling — particularly the high school years — certainly attracts a large share of teens who are independent spirits. That independence will fuel these teens throughout their lives as they navigate the high school years, the college years and beyond. They will forge new and exciting paths throughout their lives–they will change the world!

And, (and I say this with love) they will drive people nuts. That same independence can calcify into inflexibility and narrow-mindedness, undermining their efforts. 

At Teen Learning Lab, we offer interesting and challenging courses that go beyond the traditional high school curriculum. These courses are challenging in ways that are different from traditional homeschool teen cooperatives. Our classes incorporate teamwork and long-term projects–both of which offer different kinds of challenges for many homeschooled teens. These include challenges to make long-term plans — and stick to them. We challenge them to work with one another –which often requires them to address personal disagreements. There is a lot of learning taking place on many different levels.

Teen Learning Lab encourages students to set their own goals, and our instructors are ready to help students work towards their personal benchmarks. Our classes are challenging for those students who take the initiative and invest themselves–the courses are as rigorous as each teen wants to make them.

Those students who get the most out of Teen Learning Lab decide to use the courses as a jumping-off point for their own education. Our instructors provide a structure and regular assignments. The successful student at Teen Learning Lab is able to develop and rely on a personal strength of initiative and purpose. These students love learning for learning’s sake, and they thrive in Teen Learning Lab’s culture. They hold themselves accountable and do not wait for or need approval from an instructor.

Teen Learning Lab is very pleased to offer The Point-of-View Project for 2018-19. Teen Learning Lab is finalizing details of the launch of our new online registration. Seats are limited. Current families will be able to register in April. New families will be able to register starting May 1. If you wish to register your teen, please email us, using the Contact page. Our Registrar will email you the link to the online registration on May 1. Please note that the Registration Fee of $150 is due by June 15. This fee covers TLL rent and insurance costs. Instructors are paid directly and need to be paid in full by July 15 to guarantee your student’s seat in the program.

We look forward to welcoming your teen to Teen Learning Lab of Greater Chicago Organization.

Justice’s Other Side


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Teen Learning Lab students and parents help organize the clothing room at St. Leonard’s Ministries during a field trip Monday.

Teen Learning Lab students toured St. Leonard’s on the West Side of Chicago, helped to organize the clothing room, and ate lunch with residents. Residents were interested in the TLL theme of justice and empathy. Said one:  “You can’t put justice and empathy under the same umbrella in our system. Society wants justice–and empathy  doesn’t have a part in that in our system.” For more — and more photos — see the Justice Project Blog.

Making trials precise

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Science and Justice students learned more about making their trials in their science projects extremely precise. Replicability is what helps our scientific knowledge expand and grow. Dr. Kulmala explained that if they changed any parameter, they must do a new trial. For an example, she talked about how asthma inhalers used to use CFCs (chloro-fluorocarbons. CFCs contribute to increasing the hole in the ozone layer of the atmosphere. When manufacturers decided to eliminate CFCs from inhalers, they needed to conduct new tests, even though the medication itself did not change. Science & Justice students need to design their own trials to be precise and reproducible.

Science, Justice & Baby Chicks!

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Science & Justice students took a break from their group projects to learn about how raising chickens is a justice issue. “This is the best Science & Justice class ever,” said one student. “Can we just have a class called “Science and Baby Chicks”? See more about what students did on Friday in the Justice Project Blog.

Open Houses March 23 & April 6

Teen Learning Lab is very pleased to announce our program for the 2018-19 year: The Point-of-View Project: Seeing Different Perspectives. We will hold Open Houses on March 23 and April 6, 10:30 to noon. Please contact us for more information.

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The Point-of-View Project is an inter-disciplinary, year-long program that gives homeschooled high school students the opportunity for a rigorous exploration of different perspectives through the lenses of film,  robotics, aquatic biology, and the humanities. Students will develop skills in analytic writing, film analysis and filmmaking; engineering design and construction, aquatics, electronics, and robotics. A humanities/social science class may be added. This program is ideal for students interested in challenging themselves.

Teen Learning Lab classes meet on Fridays for 27 weeks from September to May. Sign up for Teen Learning Lab requires a $150 Registration Fee, in addition to separate course fees. Open Registration begins May 1. Students must be at least 13 by Orientation Day, Sept. 7, 2018.

Film Analysis and Filmmaking. $300 for the year.  Fridays, 9:30 to 11 a.m.

Today’s students are more visually oriented than past generations. In this rigorous class, film is text and students will learn to address film the same way we address literature. Students will learn tools to think critically of the videos and films in their lives, while also learning video film production. Students will be introduced to film history, film criticism, film aesthetics and the language of film. Frequent analytical and reflective essays are an integral part of the class. Starting in the second semester, students will produce three individual videos: a documentary, an experimental film, and a personal film. Instructor: Lee Ferdinand teaches filmmaking at DePaul University and Columbia College. He has an MA in English Literature and an MFA in Filmmaking. He has been teaching arts and humanities at Teen Learning Lab since its inception in 2016.

Underwater Robotics. $250 for the year. Fridays, 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. (May move to 1:30 to 3 p.m. if a Humanities class is added.)

This lab-intensive, 2-semester class will introduce students to several areas of science through the lens of building an underwater, remote-operated vehicle (ROV). Through weekly, immersive labs, students will learn how to build a remote-operated vehicle that can be used underwater to collect samples and data on local rivers and lakes. Students will learn and apply concepts from biology/biochemistry, marine/aquatic biology, physics (primarily electronic circuits, buoyancy, propulsion, and underwater optics), and robotics, including some programming in JavaScript and Arduino. Hands-on skills include soldering and project design. Students do not need a background or interest in computers or programming to have a great experience in the class. Students will have extensive, hands-on experience working in large groups to design, create, and test their underwater ROV with two goals: first, to test their ROV against other teen-built robots in a Marine Advanced Technology Education competition in April 2019, and second, to meet goals in monitoring, data collection and documentation of local freshwater environments. Instructor: Ruth Kulmala, MPH, PhD, is a medical researcher with a PhD in bio-medical engineering and masters’ degrees in public health and epidemiology/biostatistics. She has taught science classes extensively throughout the homeschool community.

Humanities/Social Science class TBA. We are actively soliciting course proposals from Humanities/Social Science instructors.

Teen Learning Lab is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. It meets in Skokie. Email for more information and to reserve your spot at the Open House.