Using Origami to Foster a Growth Mindset

origami

Have you ever tried to teach origami to a large group of first graders?  It can be a challenge, to say the least.

Every year, when my 1st graders study Japan, I attempt an origami project.  Every year, I do it differently.  And every year I berate myself for doing it wrong.  No matter how slowly I give instructions or how many times I demonstrate under a document camera, there are several students who end up frustrated while other students grow increasingly bored with the repetitive instructions and having to wait while I help others make a valley fold.

Last year was a little better when I let the students use iPads and sites that showed videos of origami folding so they could work at their own pace.  But many of them immediately chose projects that were too difficult and gave up after finding themselves overwhelmed.

You’re probably shouting all kinds of helpful teacher advice at the computer right now, including, “Give up the origami project, you fool!  It’s not like they need to know that as a real-world skill!”

That is very true.  But perseverance can be a good skill (until it becomes stubbornness).  And learning from mistakes is a good skill.  Being aware of your own ability level and how far you should push yourself is a pretty good skill, too.

As I’ve been learning about the advantages of a growth mindset this year, I’ve been trying to share this with my students.  It’s become part of our daily vocabulary in some of the grade levels, but I haven’t approached it that way with my younger students, yet.  I decided to use the origami lesson to help me do that with my 1st graders. (Here is a great growth mindset chart that you might like to include in your classroom.)

Last week, I asked the 1st graders to think of an activity that was easy, medium, and hard for them.  For each activity, they drew a picture to represent it.  For example, if reading is easy for a student, she might draw a book.  If math is hard, he might draw a multiplication sign.

Then we all made a simple origami rabbit.  I asked them to think about how the activity compared to the ones on their “Levels of Difficulty” sheet.  We talked about how it was easy for one student because he has a lot of experience with origami, and that it was perfectly fine that it was hard for another student because this was her very first time doing origami.  We stapled their projects to their sheets.

This week, I read Your Fantastic Elastic Brain to them (which they loved – perfect level for them!).  We related it to the origami experience and discussed how important it is to stretch your brain, and not just stick to the things that are easy for us.

Then I gave them some origami sites, and they worked in partners to do whatever project they chose.  I reminded them that if they should choose a project based on their experience.

“If you’ve done lots of origami before, should you pick an easy one?”

“NO!”

“If you’ve never done it before last week, should you pick a hard one?”

“NO!”

I told them that I was not going to help them, that they would need to figure it out on their own, unless they needed help with a word.

I let them go, and held my breath.

“This one is too hard,” one of the students said after a few minutes.

“Let’s keep trying,” his partner said.  “I think we can do this.”  They unfolded and re-folded several times.  After 10 minutes, they did it.  They were so proud!

A student working by himself nearly did cartwheels around the room once he figured out his project.

Similar stories played out all around the room.  There were some sighs of frustration, but no giving up and no tears.  I was able to walk from table to table, giving encouragement, praising perseverance instead of frantically trying to get everyone to the same place.

At the end of class, the students couldn’t believe time had passed so quickly.  There was a unanimous vote to continue working on origami next class.

In a way, I felt like I’d just completed my own origami project. It only took me about 5 years to finally get it right.

Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met

Origami Elephant created by Sipho Mabona, picture from My Modern Met

 

This is Your Brain on Engineering

GoldieBlox, the company devoted to encourage more females to develop interest in STEM, has had its controversies.  But I think they’ve done an excellent job with their latest PSA, a video that parodies the “This is Your Brain on Drugs” campaign.  The ad creatively shows the use of its toys to highlight the entertainment value of engineering and design.  However, it also sprinkles in some sobering facts about the relatively low participation of our gender in engineering careers.  I like that GoldieBlox offers explanations, resources, and links about each of these facts on its site.

For more information on STEM resources for girls, you might want to visit my recent post on Women Role Models, or this one that gives several links to books, games, and sites.

How “Why’s” Can Make You Wise

Student Survey

When I introduced Genius Hour to my 3rd graders this year, they were really excited about creating “missions” about anything that interested them.  The week after they set their goals for their projects, they came into class and I announced that we were going to switch gears.  We have been working on a unit on Systems Thinking, and I had a new idea to actually apply that unit to a real life problem in a real-life system – our school.

“What do you think are some problems around our school?” I asked them.  They brainstormed a list.

(There are 4 students in my 3rd grade GT class, by the way.  I’m telling you this for a couple of reasons: so you won’t think that I’m an extremely brave teacher for trying this experiment and so you will realize that my “class” probably needed to get some more perspectives on this question.)

“Do you think we should get some other opinions?” I asked the students.  They agreed that might be a good idea.  So, I showed them how to make a Google Form to use to survey the school, and we sent it to the staff to share with the students.

This week, we took a look at the summary of results.  Almost half of the respondents had agreed that the biggest problem at our school is the noise in the cafeteria.  The two girls in my class decided to take that on for their Genius Hour project.  The two boys chose to work on the problem of garbage on the cafeteria floor.

One of the boys had either misunderstood our discussion before Spring break or was so enthusiastic about it that he decided to create a solution before we even chose our problems.  He came to class yesterday with a game he had designed in Gamestar Mechanic to teach kids why leaving food on the floor was not a good idea.

Cafeteria Problem

“So, do you think the reason they are doing that is because they just need to be educated about the consequences?” I asked him. He nodded.

We had just finished reading a chapter of Billibonk and the Big Itch,  where the main character learns the importance of getting to the root of a problem so you’re not just treating the symptom.  I asked the students to use the method that Frankl suggests to Billibonk in the story – to keep asking, “Why?”  Frankl recommends doing this 5 times, or until you just can’t do it anymore.

Through a series of “Why’s” the girls decided that the reason for the noise in the cafeteria is related to people talking loudly for attention.

The boys came to two different conclusions about why there is so much garbage on the cafeteria floor.  One of them ended up believing it is due to disrespect for the adults in the room, and one of them feels that it is actually due to a lack of self-confidence.  The boy who designed the Gamestar Mechanic solution realized that this was not going to solve the problem he had just identified.  Of course, he is still determined to use Gamestar Mechanic to fix it :)

I have absolutely no idea where this is going next.  Now that the students have done their best to identify the causes of the problems, they are going to use some other Systems Thinking concepts to try to develop solutions.  This is a grand experiment for all of us!

While I was writing this post, I was attempting to multi-task, and listening to one of the videos from yesterday’s Learning Creative Learning class.  During the video, Mitch Resnick stated how important he believes it is to “solve problems in context of a meaningful project that you’re working on.”   That is exactly what we are attempting to do, so I hope that it is a good learning experience, no matter the results.

Here is a great article by Mitch Ditkoff for the Huffington Post that reinforces this idea of continuing to ask, “Why?” with a real-life example. (Be sure to read it before you share with students, as it does mention insects mating – with other synonyms for the word, “mating.” :) )

Video Story Problems

Video Story Problems

This resource was shared by Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher).  I am always looking for new ways to bring relevance to math, and I love this idea.  The Video Story Problem channel currently has 195 videos created by teachers and students.  If you go to this post on “The Tech Savvy Educator” you can get more information about the motivation for producing these videos, and how you can get involved.  There is even a form for students to plan their own Video Story Problems to submit.

Below is an example of one of the Video Story Problems that you can ask your students to view that proposes a challenge to figure out some awesome discounts at Kohl’s.  (If you are unable to view the video embedded below, try clicking here.)

Video Story Problem – Shopping at Kohl’s from Ben Rimes on Vimeo.

If You Build It

I had the fabulous opportunity to view an “edufilm” a couple of nights ago at the SXSWedu Festival.  The film, If You Build It, is a documentary about an ambitious endeavor taken on by the founders of “Project H” to guide a group of high school students through a year-long course that would culminate in them creating a building for their economically-depressed community.

Watching If You Build It is guaranteed to inspire you.  Emily and Matt, the two Project H founders who undertake this challenge in the film, will absolutely convince you of the need for project-based learning in our schools.  Their passion and faith in the curriculum they create despite all of the hardships they endure (including giving up their entire teaching salaries) cannot help but provoke more educators and communities to consider the need for more relevant learning experiences in our educational system.

The students in the documentary will make you laugh and touch your heart.  The documentary does a great job of revealing how this project effects each one of them, and its overall impact on this small community in Bertie County, North Carolina.

If you have the chance to see this film, I strongly urge any adult who is interested in the future of education to view it.  Here is a list of planned screenings in upcoming months.  If the film is not coming to a theater near you, there is a procedure on this page for trying to get a community screening.

Project H (which stands for Humanity, Habitats, Health, Happiness, Heart, Hands, and more) has other endeavors, as well.  Since the days of If You Build It, the company is now located in California.  They continue to work with students through high school courses and camps.  Currently, they have a Kickstarter campaign for a new library called “X-Space” designed by their Project H students.

X-Space Kickstarter Project

X-Space Kickstarter Project. Click here to donate!

Cubelets Update

Cubelets

Last November, I published a post about an interesting product by Modular Robotics called, “Cubelets.”  It was included in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series, which I try to do every November and December.  (You can find a collection of these here.)

Cubelets are a bit pricey for a birthday gift, but they make a wonderful addition to the classroom.  If you can get a grant for the large set, I highly recommend it.  Even the smaller set is great for a pair of students to use.  You can find a detailed description of how they work on my previous post.  You can also purchase Cubelets separately.  After some experience with them, I would definitely suggest that you order at least one extra Battery Cubelet with any set you purchase.  Every robot you make with the other cubes needs a Battery Cubelet to power it. The best ratio is to have at least 2 Battery Cubelets for every 4 students.  It makes a great center activity or station in a Maker Studio if you cannot afford more than one set.

S.T.E.M. and Maker Spaces are hot topics in schools today.  Cubelets are great for both.  You can combine the cubes in hundreds of ways, and they are fascinating to use for building all types of robots.  I love listening to the invention ideas and problem solving conversations that arise when my students use them.

You can now purchase “Brick Adapters” for your Cubelets that will allow you to use them with Legos.  That’s going to be the next item in my shopping cart!

Modular Robotics is also about to start shipping their new MOSS product this April, 2014.  I backed MOSS on Kickstarter, and can’t wait to get my kit.  There are 4 mobile apps expected to be released soon for this system.  You can learn more about it here.

I got really pumped a couple of days ago when two of my 3rd graders made a drawing robot out of the Cubelets.  It was completely their invention, and we were so excited to watch it work! I’ve embedded the video below.