A Model of Good Teaching?

One of my guilty pleasures is watching MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition for 8 to 12 year olds, and as an educator, I have been analyzing it as a model for good teaching.  My observations include:

  • The challenges are hands-on and naturally engaging for these kids. They are based on the kids’ passion for and interest in cooking.
  • The kids don’t need to be graded about their performances. Consequences are natural. Food gets burned. The kids sometimes get burned. The food dishes taste good or they don’t.
  • There is a gamelike atmosphere. There are elements of play, leveling up (each subsequent challenge is more difficult), a sense of mastery or achievement upon accomplishing each challenge. The experience is immersive with the kids living the part of a chef. The kids get to try new roles such as team leaders, lead chefs, team representative, and being popular (this is one of the first situations that some of these kids get to shine).
  • The kids push themselves to the limit within seemingly impossible challenges – mostly because of their love for cooking, a strong intrinsic motivator. The kids often create very difficult food dishes that they have never created before. They often rise to the challenges surprising both themselves and the judges with what they created.

Just seeing the kids … when their hands go up, and the look on their faces of what they have done is unbelievable. You can tell right on their face at that moment if they’re happy or if they’ve completely blown it. Obviously there are failures, and they’re crying. For the ones that have done well, when they put their hands up and they are proud of what they just put on the plate, that look — there’s no words to even go there with it. It’s unbelievable, because you know that they put everything into it. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • The challenges are designed to be novel and create excitement and joy for the kids – there are things like mystery food boxes; the judges introduces challenges are astronauts; the kids cooking for other kids at an amusement. The kids visible shake with excitement and anticipation while the challenges are being introduced.
  • The judges are clear, specific, and truthful with their feedback: both positive and negative. The judges give brutally honest feedback. They are very specific in describing what worked and what didn’t work about about the kids’ food creations. Sometimes the kids cry but there is visible respect that the kids have for the judges and that judges have for the kids.

Even when Gorden (the top chef and host) is disciplining them, or yelling at them about something, there’s this level of respect that the child has for him, and he has for the child, that total care. They know, they get it. He’s this grandiose father figure that has the career of their dreams, and he just does it so naturally. He doesn’t sugarcoat things for them like they are a toddler. I mean, he really goes at them when they need it, but there’s always this wonderful constructive element. So that was awesome to see. (Inside “MasterChef Junior,” the best cooking show on television)

  • There is an atmosphere of mutual respect . . . kids for the judges, judges for the kids, and kids for one another.
  • The adult judges will come in and help the kids if they see any individual being pushed too far over their limits and capabilities. This intervention is based on teaching the kids proper technique not doing it for them.
  • There is a healthy competition where the kids have to compete against one another. The objective is to win but the kids seem more concerned about their own performance rather than the performance of their peers.
  • The kids, through working together on many of their challenges, develop into a close knit team and visibly support each other. Even though they are competing against each other, they seem to understand they are with like minded peers. In effect, they develop their own PLNs based on similar interests. For some, it is the first time they have been with peers with a passion for cooking.  Many cry when one of their peers in eliminated from the competition and say that they made friends for life.

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What I believe the kids learn during their MasterChef Junior experiences:

  • Additional cross-curricular skills including math skills, oral communication, following directions;
  • Working with a team;
  • Tolerance for frustration;
  • That their passions and interests are valuable and meaningful.

Many of the kids in interviews following their elimination from the competition state that it was the best experience of their lives.  I have a hunch that many of these kids would say their MasterChef experiences taught them as much or more than all of the school years combined. I’ve written about creating the conditions for the best day ever.

It’s mind blowing how much I grew as a chef, how much I grew as a person. 12 year old Zac

Educators, in this era of learning, should focus on those conditions that create an environment that each and every one of their students love coming to school and love learning.

Courage to Be an Outlier Educator

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Today, during a podcast interview, I was asked what it takes to be an educational thought leader. My response was, “courage.”  In this test driven, accountability-laden era of education, it takes courage to be an educator driven by authentic, constructivist, and student-centered values and practices.

Courage:

Courage is the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.  Moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, discouragement, or personal loss. According to Maya Angelou, “Courage is the most important of the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courage

Outlier:

“Outlier” is a scientific term to describe things or phenomena that lie outside normal experience. In the summer, in Paris, we expect most days to be somewhere between warm and very hot. But imagine if you had a day in the middle of August where the temperature fell below freezing. That day would be outlier. And while we have a very good understanding of why summer days in Paris are warm or hot, we know a good deal less about why a summer day in Paris might be freezing cold. I’m interested in people who are outliers—in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August. http://gladwell.com/outliers/outliers-q-and-a-with-malcolm/

I have been an outlier educator in a number of educational settings including elementary and college levels. I rarely stood in the front of the class as a sage on the stage. The only time I did so was to provide short snippets of information as mini-lectures, ten to twenty minutes in length, or to provide information about how to do the class activity. My classes were loud and seemingly chaotic (it was controlled chaos – I gave students lots of choices with the only rule being that you need to be engaged with a learning activity) with all students engaged and interacting with one other, computers, and with hands-on and experiential activities. I often was asked to quiet my students down and questioned about my classroom practices by other teachers and administrators. The other teachers did not like how I was teaching-what I was doing but my students did like it . . . a lot. Many students shined in this learning environment especially those who did not fit into or thrive in a traditional classroom. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing even in these climates where I was an outlier, where my techniques were under constant scrutiny and ongoing questioning. So today, during that podcast, I realized I have been courageous in standing my ground about what I believe encompasses good, student-centered teaching and I also realized that I am proud of that courage. And in this new year, I toast all of those courageous, outlier educators.

Photo Image: http://www.superherolife.com/e-courses/cultivating-courage/

Making a Hacked-Out Ugly Christmas Sweater

I’ve discussed the need to be a learner and lead learner in this era of education which includes maker education. What I find absolutely exciting about being a maker educator is that they need to be learners; dedicated and invested in attitudes and behaviors related to being lifelong learners as the maker movement is ever evolving with seemingly daily advances. I believe that being a lead learner involves documenting and reflecting on the iteration process that is common for maker education. I provided an example of this in my post, Educator as Lead Learner: Learning littleBits.

As a learner and maker educator who wants to keep developing my making skills, I decided to hack out an ugly Christmas vest. What follows is what I did and my reflections about the process of creating this vest:

Reflection on This Hack:

  • None of the original hacks worked correctly the first time. It was very frustrating but I had a need to make it work. Failure was not an option even if it meant my hacks weren’t as clean as I desired.
  • Even though they weren’t as clean as I originally pictured, there was joy in getting my hacks to work. It was rewarding and fun to see the finished vest.
  • The most joy I felt was when I wore the hacked out ugly Christmas vest to my health club. It was fun to watch others reactions –  their smiles, laughs, and comments were priceless when they realized all that was going on in my vest.

Best 2015 Videos: STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education Theme

One of my end of year rituals is finding and posting the years’ best videos. Given my current interest in maker education, I decided to locate and post 2015 videos related to maker education, STEM, and STEAM.

Maker Education: Reaching All Learners

At Albemarle County Public Schools, maker education fosters student autonomy, ignites student interest, and empowers students to embrace their own learning.

What Is a Maker?

We are all makers; it’s in our DNA. Featuring President Obama, Dale Dougherty, Adam Savage and others.

The Adaptable Mind

The Adaptable Mind explores the skills we need to flourish in the 21st Century.

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9 MIT Media Lab Innovations that Changed the Future

From touchscreens to E ink and GPS to Guitar Hero, some of today’s most popular technologies all originated from the same place: the MIT Media Lab. To celebrate its 30th anniversary current and former directors count down the nine most influential innovations to come out of the future-forward lab.

The Next Maker Movement

Since those early Maker Faires of 8-bit Arduinos and 3D printers much has changed, from the the wide availability of powerful smartphone-class electronics to the rise of polished crowdfunded campaigns. So what’s now at the DIY bleeding edge?

How 3-D printed arms are changing kids’ lives around the world

3D  technology is changing the world for kids born without limbs.

Change the World: Hour of Code

Computer science is a foundational field that opens doors for all boys and girls. Starring Sheryl Sandberg, Jasmine Lawrence, Karlie Kloss, May-Li Khoe, Mia Epner, Alice Steinglass, Jess Lee, Paola Mejía Minaya, Malala Yousafzai, and Susan Wojcicki.

“When knowledge is a free commodity, we need to innovate” – Tony Wagner

In a world where knowledge has become a free commodity, one skills set is vital to guarantee our students and our countries a healthy and prosperous future. It is the capacity to solve problems creatively – in a word, to innovate.

Anya Smith: Thinking Like a Designer

The world is malleable and everything in the made world is designed. Mount Vernon Innovation Diploma leader Anya Smith inspires our sense of agency and creative confidence, and she provides her recipe for success in taking on and tackling problems to make a positive difference.

iQ:smartparent: “The Maker Movement in Schools”

Just as the Maker Movement is transforming our culture, it’s having a major impact in our schools.  This episode of iQ: smartparent  examines the Maker Movement’s impact in the classroom.

Ugandan Children Play with Legos for the First Time

Playing with Legos for the first time without instructions – they’re reactions are priceless.

School is for learning to live, not just for learning

What did you learn when you played as a child? Susan shares the idea of how play is making learning successful at the Museum Center for Learning and Opal School.

Inspire Imagination and Keep Building

A Lego commercial that encourages girls to keep building.

Rube Goldberg Machine college nationals

The 2015 Rube Goldberg Machine college nationals contest . . . the challenge: erase a chalkboard in the most whimsical, over-elaborate way possible.

Bonus Video: The Other Christmas Gift

When faced with a tough decision, will these kids pick a Christmas gift for themselves or give it up for a gift for their family? 80% picked the gift for their family. As one asstute young man noted, “Your family matters not legos, not toys….your family so it’s either legos or family and I choose family.”

A Class on Coding and Bots

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Thinglink of Resources: https://www.thinglink.com/scene/753039991126360065

I have been asked to return to teach summer enrichment classes on maker education for elementary-aged learners at a local school during the summer of 2016. One of the new classes I am designing is called Coding and Bots. It is a week long (5 days) class that will meet for 2.5 hours each morning. The description is:

Learn how to code first by playing games and then by coding some bots including Sphero, Ollie, mBot, OZOBOT, and Dash and Dot. All ages are welcome but the child should have basic symbol recognition/reading skills.

Two things to note about this class are, first, I learned last summer not to underestimate the learning potential of very young kids. These classes are mixed ages ranging from 4 to 10 year old kids. For most of the maker education activities, the very young ones could perform them, sometimes better than the older kids. Second, I am a strong proponent of hands on activities. Although I like the use of iPads and computers, I want elementary aged students to have to directly interact with materials. As such, I am designing Coding and Bots to include using their bodies and manipulating objects. This translates into having all activities include the use of objects and materials excluding and in conjunction with the iPad – not just using the iPad and online apps/tools to learn to code. The activities I plan to do follow:

Warm-Ups: Human Robots

Coding the Cups

Adapted from this Tinkersmith Activity, learners use symbols and plastic cups to act as robots using the coded symbols to build and manipulate a cup stack. Each small group of 2 to 4 learners gets 18 to 24 plastic cups and a set of symbol cards (a few sets of the template below):

cupstack

The cups are lined up on two levels. Each player, one at a time, picks and flips over one of the symbol cards and does the action stated on the card with the cups. In doing their movements, players need to insure that their selected cup is in contact with at least one other cup as part of their action. A player is “out” if s/he knocks over the cup/cups. The winner is the last player who places a cup without knocking any over. To increase the challenge, have learners play the game with just the symbols during second or third round of the game.

Kodable fuzzFamily Frenzy

Learners create a simple obstacle course where they “program” a partner to complete it using the code key below. Once they have written their code their partner must follow instructions to complete the course.

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An Outdoor Treasure Hunt Through Codes

The educator sets up a Treasure Hunt outdoors for the learners to solve using coding clues provided by the educator. The coding clues are based on the following legend:

treasurehunt symbols

The pre-activity set-up includes setting up clues around the outdoor learning environment that lead from landmark to landmark and finally to a treasure (a treat or prize of some kind) along with the coding clues to get to each of the landmarks. Several routes might have to be set up if working with a larger group. I recommend no more than 3 or 4 per group. Learners are given the first clue, a series of the coding symbols that lead to the first landmark. An example might look like:

treasurehunt example

When they arrive at that landmark, they will find another clue, another series of coding symbols that lead to the next landmark and so on until they arrive at the last landmark that contains their treasure.

As a follow-up, learners will be separated into smaller groups to set up a treasure hunt for the other groups using the same legend of coding symbols.

This activity was adapted from Kodable’s Fuzz Family activity.

Superhero Coding for Kids

Use basic programming ideas to help Batman avoid the bad guys and get the jewels! You have to get him to move on the right path around the obstacles using basic programming commands.  The directions for this game can be found at http://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/superhero-computer-coding-game-without-a-computer/

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Board + Manipulative Games

Robot Turtles Game

Learners will play the Robot Turtles Board Game. Robot Turtles is the a board game that teaches coding skills to kids as young as four, and the only screen-free resource for this pivotal age group. Read more at http://thinkfun.com/media-center/robot-turtles/.

Liz Engel Greaser designed an extension to this game but having her learners create their own Robots Turtle Games – see Extensions for Robot Turtles for the how-tos.

Coding Monkey Island

Learners will also play the Code Monkey Island. Its description is:

Code Monkey Island, the board game designed to teach players of all ages computer science logic! As the wise leader of your own tribe of monkeys, it’s up to you to guide all three of your monkeys safely around the board and into the banana grove. You’ll have to use concepts like conditional statements, looping, booleans, assignment operators and more to earn moves for your monkeys, dodge quicksand traps, and score some delicious fruit along the way!

Code Master

In Code Master, your Avatar travels to an exotic world in search of power Crystals. Along the way, you use programming logic to navigate the Map. Think carefully, in each level, only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success. Once you collect all the Crystals and land at the Portal, you win! (http://thinkfun.com/products/code-master/)

Osmo Coding

Osmo Coding begins with an assortment of modular magnetic blocks. You snap together numbered blocks along with commands such as “run,” “jump,” and “grab,” as you guide a tiny monster named Awbie on his eternal quest for more strawberries. https://www.playosmo.com/en/coding/)

Bots and Coding

Finally. the learners will move into coding the bots: Sphero, Dash and Bot, and Ozobot.

Sphero and Ollie

Learners will code their Spheros and Ollies using the Tynker app.

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MESH tags

MESH are wireless electronic tags shaped like blocks and each of them has different function. When you connect them together by using MESH app, your ‘what if’ ideas come to life. There is no need for knowledge of electronics or programming. Creating an IoT (internet of things) system will be very simple with MESH. http://meshprj.com/en/

Dash and Dot

Children ages 5 and up learn the foundations of problem solving and computer programming as they have fun with Dash & Dot.  Dash Dash is an explorer who zips around the room, getting into mischief along the way. Using sensors, Dash can detect objects in front and behind, hear where you are, and see where Dot is. This robot has quite the personality and becomes more capable as you program and play. Introducing Dot Dot is a puppet master who instigates the adventures that Dash goes on. When you toss, shake, or pick Dot up, Dot sends a signal telling Dash what to do. Dot can also tell stories using lights, sounds, and eye expressions.

Lesson plans for Dot and Dash can be found at https://teachers.makewonder.com/lessons.

OZOBOT

OZOBOT is an award winning smart robot, designed to teach kids & techies alike about robotics, programming & coding.

Ozoblocky is the programming language. The editor can be found at http://ozoblockly.com/editor

OZOBOT  lesson plans can be found at http://ozobot.com/play and http://portal.ozobot.com/lessons.

Codebug

CodeBug is a cute, programmable and wearable device designed to introduce simple programming and electronic concepts to anyone, at any age. CodeBug can display graphics and text, has touch sensitive inputs and you can power it with a watch battery. It is easy to program CodeBug using the online interface, which features colourful drag and drop blocks, an in-browser emulator and engaging community features. Create your own games, clothes, robots or any other wacky inventions you have in mind! (http://www.codebug.org.uk/whatiscodebug/)

Codebug lesson plans can be found at http://www.codebug.org.uk/learn/activity/ and http://www.codebug.org.uk/explore/codebug/

Extras – Build a Bot

Kamigamirobot

Resources:

The O Watch

Resources:

Maker Education Card Game

I like and have always used games in my classrooms. One of my current educational interests is maker education. As such, I have begun creating games for maker education – see my first one, a board game, at Reflecting on the Making Process. The game I am presenting here is a card game that ends with the makers making something based on selected cards. Each maker picks a card from each of the three categories:

  1. The Thing or Process
  2. The Product
  3. The Population.

For example, a maker may choose, Create a Blueprint from The Thing or Process category; a New Toy from the Product category; and Adults from the population category meaning the maker would create a blueprint for a new toy for adults. The educator and makers can choose whether it is a “blind” pick or one in which the makers see their options. (Note – I would love to increase options in all categories. If you have additional card ideas, please leave them in the comments section).

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