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

 

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

fantastic elastic brain

One of my student’s parents made a request for me to talk more about mindsets with my first grade GT class.  I’ve been sending information home to the parents about fixed and growth mindsets, and infusing my own language with “growth mindset” phrases, but I haven’t done any explicit mindset lessons for the K-2 crowd.  I went to work hunting for something that might appeal to 6 and 7 year-olds without overwhelming them.

There isn’t much.  I’m going to add that to my list of “Books I’m Going to Publish in the Future Because Apparently No One Else Has Thought of Them Yet.”

I did find this gem, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by Dr. JoAnn Deak.  The illustrations are colorful and cartoonish – appealing to younger students.  The book is a bit longish, so you may need to split it up into a couple of sessions.  It gives a simple explanation of the basic parts of the brain, but the best pages deal with the elasticity of the brain.  There are relatable examples of skills that we learn over time, and the importance of stretching our brain by taking chances and trying hard.

There is a $4.99 app for the book, but I haven’t downloaded it, so I can’t give you a review.  It appears to be the book in electronic form with some additional interactive features.

The book was published by Little Pickle Press, which is “dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.”  You can find other books and interesting resources on their site, including a lesson plan to accompany Your Fantastic Elastic Brain.

neurosculptor

illustration by Sarah Ackerly for The Fantastic Elastic Brain

 

 

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.” :) )

The Return of Robot Turtles

This is going to be the Phunnest Phriday ever because I get to share some awesome news with you!  If you recall (though I certainly wouldn’t blame you if you don’t recall), I posted about a game called “Robot Turtles” last December during my Gifts for the Gifted Series.  I debated whether or not to write that post because I had obtained my own “Robot Turtles” game through Kickstarter, and didn’t know when (or if ) it would ever become available to the general public.

I am happy to announce that “Robot Turtles” is now available for pre-order at the great price of $24.99, and it’s being produced by one of my favorite sources of learning toys, ThinkFun!

“Robot Turtles” is a game that was designed by Dan Shapiro to teach children the basics of programming skills.  I have used it with students as young as six years old, and they love it.  You can read my detailed description of the game here.

The new version has a few modifications that will make the product even better, including improved durability and instructions.  In addition, the first 5,000 pre-orders of the game (which will start shipping this June, 2014), will get a “Special Edition Expansion Pack.”  This pack will include: more focus on the “Function Frog”,  32 fancy Gemstones, and 10 Adventure Quests.  I am particularly excited about the Adventure Quests, as these will offer some new ideas for setting up the board, and are bound to motivate the players to think of even more quests to add to their collection!

If you are a teacher, you might want to consider purchasing this game for your classroom.  Once I taught my 1st graders how to play, they quickly took over, and it can be used as a center for hours of fun.  In addition, a group of my 4th graders picked it up on their own to play during indoor recess the other day, and were very disappointed when their time ended!

Families will enjoy this too, and it will make a great, unique birthday gift for children in elementary school.

Whether or not Computer Science, including Programming, should be a part of school curriculum is a hot topic of debate in the world of education these days.(Great Britain has already decided to include it.)  But one thing you can never debate is the value of children learning and problem solving while they are having fun.

Hello Ruby!

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas

Illustration from Hello Ruby by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit her Kickstarter page.

If you are a regular reader, you probably know two things about me – that I am a fan of Kickstarter, and that I am a proponent of teaching kids how to code.  One of my more recent Kickstarter acquisitions was the Robot Turtles game, which is a board game that introduces young students the basics of programming.  My first graders loved playing it during “Hour of Code” week, and it was easy to transition them to other programming games like Kodable once they had that foundation.

Kickstarter apparently knows me well, because one of their recent e-mails highlighted a new project that will also help to introduce students to programming, “Hello Ruby.”

The name of the main character of the proposed storybook, Ruby,  comes from Ruby on Rails, which is described as “an open-source web framework that’s optimized for programmer happiness and sustainable productivity.”  I must admit that, though I’ve heard it mentioned quite a bit in coding conversations, I know absolutely nothing about it.  It sounds intriguing – and completely over my head.

Linda Liukas, who co-founded “Rails Girls“, a non-profit with the goal of encouraging women to embrace technology, wants to help dispel the mystique around programming by creating a children’s book and workbook to introduce the topic.  Ruby is the main character.  According to Liukas, “Ruby’s world is an extension of the way I’ve learned to see technology. It goes far beyond the bits and bytes inside the computer. This is the story of what happens between the ones and zeros, before the arrays and the if/else statements. The book and workbook are aimed for four to seven year olds.”

The drawings are whimsical and appealing, just like Linda Liukas.  If you watch the video on her Kickstarter site, you will find it easy to understand why, even though she only requested $10,000 to back the project, over $175,000 has already been pledged – and there are still 25 more days to go.

I can’t really recommend a product that I haven’t actually used, but I will tell you that I have backed this project because it looks very promising.  For those of you who are not familiar with Kickstarter, there are various levels available for you to pledge, and the money is not taken from you until the end of the funding period (and only if it is fully funded).  Also, if the funding surpasses the original request, there are usually “stretch goals”, which allow backers to receive a bit more than they originally expected. Liukas has already listed the stretch goals for “Hello Ruby” on the site. Also, you should note that delivery of this particular product (if you pledge at a level to receive something) is expected in August of this year.

It’s exciting to back Kickstarter projects – to get in on the ground floor of the creation of something that has the potential to make a great impact.  During the process, you receive e-mail updates, and get to learn more about what has to happen in order for a dream to become a reality.  If you haven’t done it before, I encourage you to take a look at the Kickstarter site.  It’s a great feeling to contribute to helping someone to transform their ideas to tangible products that could effect the world.

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas

Illustration from the accompanying Hello Ruby workbook by Linda Liukas.  Click here to visit the Kickstarter page.

It’s Like a Box of Chocolates – but Not as Caloric

Chocolate Fix Logic Game from ThinkFun (for 8+)

Chocolate Fix Logic Game from ThinkFun (for 8+)

Since I only see most of my students once a week, I have to think ahead when it comes to holidays.  It suddenly struck me that we are in the middle of January, and I haven’t given thought to Valentine’s Day, yet.  So, I culled together a bunch of resources to offer to you in advance.

And finally, I came across this last one, and almost leapt out of my seat.  If any of you participated in the Global Cardboard Challenge this year, then you know how much the students love making new things with boxes!  In fact, I had a parent e-mail pictures of her son this weekend as he fashioned a large box they had received at home into a mini putt-putt course.  According to her, he said, “After GT, I don’t see cardboard the same way.”

So, if you are looking for another Cardboard Challenge to energize your kids (or didn’t get the chance to participate in October), here is a cool idea for a Valentine’s Day Box Project from Amanda at One Extra Degree.