Cooking

I think that cooking is a really neat way to engage higher order thinking.  It is a lot like classroom learning, where cooking a meal is a particular problem, and students must use background knowledge and creative thinking to come up with a product.  Cooking is a great way to teach these skills, because kids literally and figuratively have to juggle tons of different foods and knowledge about those foods, measurements, temperatures, etc.  I can see how critical and creative thinking can easily be targeted in the math or science classroom using cooking problems.

 

I was thinking about what to write for my last journal entry this week as I stood in my kitchen looking at all the different produce spread over the counter and in the fridge.  Reminder, my friend runs an organic farm on our property, and she drops of produce and herbs constantly in our kitchen.  So, in thinking about dinner every night it is that sort of synthesis process where I look at the foods available, search my brain for past recipes or meals I have eaten, and think about how I can combine what I have in front of me with what I know.  I must admit, I do use those online recipe builders for help sometimes, where you just enter the ingredients that you have and it spits out a couple of doable recipes.  But it does take an awful lot of creativity to go at it on your own.  It’s also a bit risky, because one probably has to eat the product.  This is similar to education that targets critical and creative thinking because it puts responsibility on the learner to progress to an unknown endpoint, and because it is sometimes uncomfortable.

I think it would be cool to have students come up with and test recipes as a learning process.  They would definitely need to pose and answer questions along the way, and reflect on their thinking in terms of divergence and convergence.  This would be great for learners with different strengths in terms of their intelligences.  I think it could be cool to infuse this as an interdisciplinary project that students could work on in their social studies and science or math classes.  That way they could study the social or cultural connections of the foods they are using (like the history of sugar, which is really interesting and touchy) and they could be studying the science behind it!  Hmm… I’ll have to think a little more about how this will all play out.

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The Triple Agent

I just started listening to a digital recording of The Triple Agent, which is a book about a Jordanian man who killed seven CIA operatives in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan in 2009.  This man was an agent for the U.S., Jordan, and the Taliban.  In one portion of the book the author, Warrick, explains how the CIA has changed over the last 3 decades.  In the past Warrick explains that many of the recruited employees were able to move up in the ranks through field work and very specific skills/knowledge.  Warrick explains that the game has changed in the CIA now because wars are based so much on technology and the ability to sort through information to gain useful intelligence.  Warrick asserts that the CIA now prizes workers who can adapt quickly and who can look at the big picture (a dearth of useless and useful information intertwined in a complex web) and create a story or make some sense of it.  These are the same skills that should be used to teach content in all classrooms, according to proponents of higher order thinking skills.  I thought back to our first day in the classroom when we agreed through conversation and through readings that employers want employees who can think and process like this, and who understand that there is not one right answer in a complex world.  It seems like the workplace now favors the people who are able to comfortably be able to sit with uncertainty and make some use of it.  Anyway, it does seem like education should not only prepare us to become citizens, but it should prepare us for 21st century work.  A counterargument to that might be: well, not everybody is going to be a CIA employee, so not everybody needs to know these skills.  That is what I used to think, and what made me think that a technical education for some students may be a better high school track.  On the other hand, it cannot hurt to have teachers using strategies that elicit critical and creative thinking in all students.  I think this is incredibly important for all students because we are all a part of the same democracy, which is given the task of sifting through vast amounts of information everyday.  We are faced with numerous small and large choices on a daily or weekly basis, and I think as a population we could gain from thinking more critically and creatively no matter what our occupation.  For instance, people might be more well-informed politically if they were able to think through the information they read, as opposed to taking every piece of information at face value.

 

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APC in action

This weekend both of my brothers came back to Vermont.  One lives in San Francisco and the other lives in Germany so it’s been great to see them.  The brother who lives in Germany actually owns and runs an energy auditing company in Vermont. One of the things he has been working on over the past year is an invention that would not only help his business, but that he could sell to other contracting businesses to enable them.  This invention is a smaller and more portable version of a foam sprayer for insulating homes and businesses.  This machine is also a lot more affordable for contractors, which is something important for my brother who is an environmentalist trying to making it affordable for home and business owners to enhance the energy efficiency of their buildings.

At dinner last night of course we got on the subject of my brother’s machine.  Surprisingly, he suggested that we all try to come up with a name for this machine, since he is considering getting a patent on the invention.  While it was a bit unstructured, it was sort of reminded me of the APC strategy.  I almost tried to be a teacher and suggest that we just come up with a big list without nay saying any of the ideas.  But, it was a family dinner and I didn’t want to kill the mood or creativity.  So, we came up with a huge list of ideas, everybody contributing and my brother’s girlfriend started writing them down.  Some were really silly, some were kind of bland, and some were apparently already in use by other companies (and therefore were not added to the list).  Here were a couple of the ones we came up with:

  • foam alone
  • ifoam/ufoam
  • foamette
  • foam time
  • Mini foamer… the “M-effer” (that one had a VT accent on it)
  • bat foam
  • foam mobile
  • solo foam
  • spray n’ foam
  • home foam
  • where my foamee’s at
  • foam caddie (the one my brother and grandfather liked)

It was cool to do a similar exercise with a group of people of all different ages.  Some people threw out ideas that were plays on pop culture references that others didn’t really understand.  In these instances, we all kind of agreed that despite the idea being funny, if not everybody “gets it” then it’s probably not a good idea for naming an invention.  We also kind of agreed that it had to be short and somehow descriptive of the machine.  In a way, this limited the possibilities, but it also kind of expanded the possibilities for ideas that were suitable.  We all kind of narrowed our focus into a certain category, but then broadened them again within that category.  It was pretty cool, and then my brother went onto the patent website to check if the ones he liked were in use.  Fortunately, he now has some good options!

 

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Applying Plus, Minus, Interesting

I like this strategy. I like it because it goes beyond the pros/cons list that I tend to make very quickly in my head while making a decision.  This way of thinking adds complexity to any choice by creating an “interesting” column where one can add related information or questions that one might otherwise leave out of a pros/cons diagram.

When thinking more about PMI I came to realize that I was teaching a variation of this strategy this past year.  I was a long-term health and personal fitness substitute at a local public school for about a month this past spring.  One of the things we talked about were decision-making strategies that students can use in making difficult choices.  This is important for teenagers who will be faced with a lot of difficult choices in their four years in high school, and beyond.  I was teaching the predetermined curriculum, so I didn’t think much of it. We kind of breezed through talking about how to use these strategies to think through a possible decision.  However, the students were not given practice in these strategies.  They were not given any examples and asked to write down how they would go about thinking through a particular issue or decision.  In hindsight, I would have added a practical component to this lesson where students would be given practice in both writing and thinking in this way.  I’ve heard that students who are given practice scenarios for tough decisions are better able to make good choices in the future when faced with difficult situations (which often include peer pressure).

Anyway, that was just a thought I had about how I could have used this strategy in the past.  In the future, I can see a lot of ways that students can use PMI in the social studies classroom.  For one, I could see it used as a way to introduce or review content information, or as a way to assess a student’s understanding of a particular historical figure, event, or era.  For instance, I could ask students to make a PMI chart to show what they know about Truman’s decision-making process in dropping the atomic bomb in WWII.  They could pretend they were Truman and do an APC to think through all possible solutions, and then they could use a PMI as a way to show what they know about the pros, cons, and questions that Truman may have posed in considering the atomic bomb as a solution.  This not only allows students to show what they know, but it enables them to see the complexity of the situation because it was not a black and white decision, there were many complicating factors in WWII and beyond.

As for my own PMI, I think most of my day-to-day decisions should first start with a sort of brainstorm, or an APC (alternatives, possibilities, choices) and then move into a PMI to really think about a possible solution from a couple of angles.  For instance, I could do this about what I will make for dinner…

APC: pizza, pasta, chicken salad, burgers, grilled chicken and veggies, chicken parmesan, couscous and sauteed veggies, etc.

Then I would use my PMI on at least one of the options:

Pizza:

Plus: delicious, can use lots of veggies from the fridge, could make some for leftovers, vegetarians coming over can have veggie pizza, meat eaters can have sausage pizza, it uses up the open sauce, not to difficult to cook

Minus: not as healthy as some other options, have to make dough ahead of time, I may eat the leftovers later tonight, not all pizzas can cook at once, have to clean up pans with crusted on cheese

Interesting: Could I use the veggies in a more healthful way? What types of pizza might be more healthful? When will I make the dough? Is pizza that bad for you?

 

That was just a quick version, it took about a minute.  It definitely spurred me to think of how else I could “use up” the raw vegetables I have sitting in my fridge.  I feel like I could use this strategy in my head for most things, but use it on paper for more difficult decisions.  Furthermore, I think I could use it in class as a way for social studies students to conceptualize the material and its complexity, and to practice positive thinking strategies.

 

 

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Creative Writing

So my boyfriend and I are moving to a new city.  I’m doing a flip off some cliffs just outside of the city in the photo above. It’s hardly a city, but compared to where we live in Vermont, it definitely is an upgrade.  Or, a downgrade if you ask me (or him), but we’re following his dream, and his dream happens to be located in Marquette, MI.  We’re going because he wants to earn a MFA in Creative Writing and to teach at the college level.  I envy him because I can’t even get a job right now, and he is willfully giving one up.  Anyway, back to the point.

I wrote him a small note expressing my nervous excitement at moving to a new place with him.  We’re both originally from Vermont, and so it is a big move for us (physically and in terms of our relationship).  I explained how I was excited to see where things went, and to explore a new area with him.  It’s always easier to say those things in writing. Especially because you have time to craft exactly what you say, whereas I often just blab out incoherent thoughts when I try to speak about such things.  As an aspiring social studies teacher I think this is important to note that students need to practice both speaking and writing clearly.  After reading my note he shared a short story he had written back when we first started dating.  It was beautiful.  It was full of emotion and I realized how talented he is.  I wonder what mix of practice and innate ability it takes to be able to express oneself in this way.  It reminded me of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, because some people can be incredibly talented or competent in one way, and struggle in other areas of their lives.  For instance some writers might not be able to hit a baseball, but they could beautifully describe a scene at a baseball game.

While we were in Marquette this past week we looked for an apartment.  My boyfriend had a “good feeling” about this one woman that we spoke with over the phone.  He half-jokingly and half-seriously constantly reminded me of his “good feeling”.  We saw the apartment and then the woman said she would check our references and that some other people were interested.  She told us she’d get back to us.  I had an inner freak out over the next few days while we looked at a couple of terrible places and awaited a call from the woman.  I was worried that we’d leave Michigan with no place to live, but my boyfriend kept reassuring me, “Don’t worry, I have a good feeling about this one.”  Again, this keys into my impatience at uncertainty, and my constant compulsion to judge or cap a situation before necessary.  It’s that “but” impulse in me that I wrote about earlier this week.  I am that kid in school that needs a “right answer”.

On the last day of our trip we heard from the woman.  We got the apartment.  My impatience was unnecessary and made me worry for no reason.  I think one key trait of creative people is patience.  Perhaps my boyfriend’s creativity when it comes to writing is enhanced by his ability to constantly redraft and pour over one sentence or paragraph.  It takes a lot of patience and energy to be a creative writer, as it does to be competent in other creative avenues.  I finally figured it out!  Patience.  It’s definitely something I could work on in order to improve my creativity in any situation or in any of my intelligence competencies, but it is a hard thing to practice since I am incredibly impatient.  I think I would be the one in those delay of gratification research videos to eat the marshmallow.  I believe patience is key to enhancing creativity because if one is more patient one is willing to consider more options.  I need to keep that in mind as I navigate the job market (again, like one of my earlier posts about possible jobs).  I think about how this would inform my teaching, and I think working on patience is incredibly important for many reasons.  For example, patience with all students allows a teacher to maintain high expectations for all despite setbacks and or failures of lessons or activities at engaging all students.

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Sudoku

Wow… I did my first Sudoku puzzle on the airplane yesterday (see photo below).  This was an interesting test of my creative and critical problem solving capacity, and my ability to learn from my mistakes.

I took notes on my process in trying to solve this puzzle.  The first thing I did was kind of go at it haphazardly. There was no real method, but I just tried to solve what some individual squares could be based on what they could definitely not be.  I tried to do this on the easy puzzle (the one on the left) before realizing that this was definitely not a good tactic.  I lost sight of why I chose certain numbers, and I tried to solve some of the individual boxes first (as a whole box) before really considering that in solving an individual box I might be incorrect when it comes to the whole puzzle.  It was like my critical problem-solving skills were undermining my creative skills, or my ability to see the whole puzzle as important and dependent on the little parts.

Anyway, I gave up on the easy puzzle (or “gentle” as it is called in the magazine) because I got so far into it and I knew I was wrong, and I got frustrated at the fact that I would have to erase it all and start over.  I probably should have done that, but this was also at around the time in my flight (I was on a plane) when my boyfriend asked me, “Do you want a tip?”  “No!” I replied.  I wanted to figure it out on my own, despite the fact that any good learner should take advice or help from others. I also saw him solving a Sudoku in his classroom once, and he had written out the whole puzzle on his whiteboard and written all possible numbers for every square within that square.  I guess I sort of had my hint already.

After giving up on the first puzzle I moved onto the “moderate” puzzle.  This was definitely challenging, but this time I took the whole puzzle into account.  I filled in every individual square with all the possible numbers that this square could be based on the printed numbers that the puzzle gave me (for that row, column, and box).  I tried not to take any shortcuts, and to suspend my judgment on what a particular number might be until I was done with this process.  I did a pretty good job of this, and then looked at whole rows in order to see if there were any squares with numbers that did not appear anywhere else in that row or column.  Unfortunately, when I thought I saw an answer I occasionally filled it in before completing this methodical process for the whole puzzle.  Big mistake, I got within 2 squares of correctly completing the puzzle!  Ughhh!  How frustrating, but it makes me understand that I need to be more patient with problem-solving, and need to use that creative thinking to really avoid making judgments or deciding on solutions until I have exhausted all options.

This was definitely a good exercise in that it reminded me of how frustrating school can be for some students.  I had no trouble with the mostly critical thinking that school demanded of me.  However, many creative thinkers probably hated and got equally as frustrated with critical thinking demands (or lower order thinking demands) in school when it takes them a little bit more time to completely think through a problem.   For instance, it took me over 3 hours to try to solve these problems and I did not even end up getting the answer!  It must be so difficult for creative thinkers in classrooms whose teachers privilege critical thinking!

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Multiple Intelligences

When I was in elementary school my class was shown a drawing on an easel that looked like the above representation of multiple intelligences.  I remember this vividly.  While we had the same teacher for “core” subjects throughout the day, we had a variety of teachers for art, gym, library time, etc.  One of the classes we had was kind of a mixed bag class.  I think the point of this extra class was to develop social skills and to talk about life skills.  I cannot remember the name of the class, but one day we were led into this little windowless room for this class period that day.  Our teacher showed us this drawing and explained the multiple intelligence idea to us.  She then went on to ask us how we viewed ourselves as learners and the things that we were good at.  We brainstormed a list of activities or abilities that could fall under each of Gardner’s categories.  Beyond that, we never really referred to these intelligences within our core classrooms.

 

When I think back to this time in my life I realize that this was in the early 1990s when Gardner’s theory was being put into practice in schools like the Key Community School in Indianapolis.  It was trendy, and educators were attempting to grapple with the applicability of this theory for reforming education.  Coincidentally this was the same time that states and the federal government began to focus on standardized testing as a way to measure schools and their success.  I think about the fact that this idea was introduced to us, but that it was not explicitly referred to within our core subject areas.  This is just lazy, but I realize that it is not within every town or city’s power to completely reform a school to be based around these intelligences.

 

I wonder if the multiple intelligences idea permeated the classroom without my notice.  I do remember doing a variety of activities, but most of the things that we did were grouped by subject.  I would have loved interdisciplinary approaches like the Boston Arts school, where students are made to study core subjects in conjunction with other competencies like music or art.  We never did that, and I realized that it took until college for me to make cross-disciplinary connections and assumptions.  Is it possible in standardized curricula to create more classes that are interdisciplinary?  Isn’t most work interdisciplinary, and if so, why is school so sectioned?

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