Of teaching & cooking

by | Monday, May 04, 2009

Elizabeth Helfant over at Digital Learning Environments Blog has an interesting posting titled The Pancake principle. She makes a connection between technology integration and making pancakes, and offers three tenets of the Pancake principle. This posting is inspired by her posting and tries to take the analogy between cooking and teaching a bit further.

The first tenet that Elizabeth puts forth is, and I quote:

Risk-taking and doing things for the first time are like making pancakes. You have to remember that the first one is never going to turn out right but the ones after that are usually awesome. The fact that the first one fails does not deter us from making pancakes.

The second is (and this is where the TPACK framework comes in):

The basic batter is the same, but you can always tweak it.

I loved this tenet because it has been on my mind quite a bit recently while working on a paper that we recently submitted to Tech Trends (the flagship journal of AECT). This piece, co-authored with Matt Koehler (no surprise there) and Kristin Kereluik is titled (connecting really well with Elizabeth’s second tenet) is The song remains the same: Looking back to the future of Educational Technology.

The third tenet that Elizabeth presents is

Pancakes come in a wide variety.

This is actually something we wrote about quite recently in our piece published in Learning & Leading with technology (Too cool for school: Using the TPACK framework).

As you can see, I loved the analogy being made between cooking pancakes and technology integration. In fact I have been guilty of making a similar analogy as well – not necessarily to the specific task of cooking pancakes and technology integration but rather to the more general task of cooking as being analogous to teaching.

Of course the three tenets Elizabeth points to are there but there is one more I would like to point to. And this has to do with the difference between good cooks and those that can just make do (I am more of the latter than the former). The way I usually speak of this is by distinguishing between algorithms and heuristics. So a bit of a digression may be in order.

An algorithm is defined as a step-by-step procedure that has well-defined starting and ending points and is guaranteed to find a solution. A classic example (in the realm of cooking) is a recipe. Start with a set of ingredients, follow the steps blindly, and at the end of it you will have a dish ready to eat.

In contrast, heuristics are less stringent. They are like thumb rules or guidelines, which if followed, should result in a good solution. In the domain of cooking this means a more creative approach based on guidelines and broad rules of thumb. So good cooks are not slaves to the recipe. If they don’t have a certain ingredient that the recipe requires they don’t give up (which is my typical response, which explains why I am not a good cook). Good cooks improvise and through that they push the boundaries of what the dish can be. So in some sense what they come up with more than what they started to create.

So this understanding of heuristics is at the heart of good cooking (and good teaching – to bring the analogy full circle). Good cooks, and teachers, understand that there is no one perfect solution, but rather lots of good ones. There are no best practices, just lots of pretty good practices (I had written earlier about this idea of Best practice v.s. Pretty Good Practice).

Good cooks and teachers understand that failure IS an option, and that’s ok. It is only through failure that we learn.

Clearly these same ideas apply to technology integration as well. What this analogy between cooking and teaching does is emphasize the value of creativity and risk-taking even while under-emphasizing following rules or recipes blindly. There is an art to cooking and teaching – and it is time we gave some value to that. It is only in this manner that we can truly take advantage of the potentials of these new technologies.

A few randomly selected blog posts…

STEM teaching & leadership for urban educators

STEM teaching & leadership for urban educators

The MSUrbanSTEM project was one of the best projects I have ever been part of.  We worked with 124 Chicago Public School STEM educators over three years, in an effort to develop their teaching and leadership in the STEM areas. We have written about this...

TPACK newsletter #5, Oct – Nov 09

TPACK Newsletter, Issue #5: October/November 2009 Welcome to the fifth edition of the TPACK Newsletter, now with 568 subscribers (representing a 15% increase during the last two months!), and appearing bimonthly between August and April. If you are not sure what TPACK...

TPACK Ambigram

I have been wanting to create a TPACK ambigram for a while now... what would be better than combining my two greatest loves - technology integration in teaching WITH ambigrams! Finally after some subtle prodding by Matt Koehler I have finally done so. This is a...

Of garbage cans and psychological media

This has been a day of sad news from Stanford University. I blogged about the passing away of Dr. Nalini Ambady (see blog post here). I will digress a bit before I describe the second piece of news because the connection to me (and my work) is much more salient. Back...

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

What better way to wish everybody Merry Christmas than with a custom ambigram. The design above, reads Christmas when reflected in a mirror (a wall-reflection) or from either side of the page. For instance imagine printing it on a glass door - it would...

Miami / Globe Video Update

Miami / Globe Video Update

I had posted earlier about the work our design initiatives team is involved with at Miami Junior-Senior High School. Essentially the entire faculty and leadership at the school have taken on the challenge of re-imagining the 7/8 curriculum through an integrated...

Bits to Atoms, A Fab lab

I had heard of Neil Gershenfeld's work on the Bits to Atoms Project at MIT but thought of these Fabrication Labs as being too expensive ($500,000+) or esoteric for everyday or classroom use. But one fine day I got an email from Glen Bull from Virginia informing me of...

Education in an evolutionary perspective

I just discovered Peter O. Gray's blog on Psychology Today, titled Freedom to Learn: The roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning. This is an awesome blog and really worth reading. Here are two of his posts that I strongly recommend. The first states...

Designing the futures of STEM education

Designing the futures of STEM education

“What knowledge is of most worth?” is a question asked over a 100 years ago by the English philosopher, Herbert Spencer. His unequivocal answer was—science. This question (and his answer) resonates even today, though the context within which it is asked, and how we...

1 Comment

  1. Recipes for Science

    Wonderful to see such an example. I recently came across an interview with a college professor who uses cooking methods and principals as a teaching tool for presenting advanced chemical engineering concepts. Interesting!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *