Best Practices for Teaching and Learning: Inspiration from David and Frances Hawkins

From the Hawkins Centers of Learning (HCoL) website:

Frances and David Hawkins were a husband and wife team of teacher and educational philosopher, whose work transcends time and place.  She was a teacher, deeply observant of children’s learning processes.  He drew upon her observations and writing to develop a philosophy of education, ranging from the specifics of the adult/child learning relationship to the higher domains of public education policy. Together, their writings informed a generation of education professionals, and programs, worldwide.

The ways children learn have not changed since Frances and David wrote during the latter half of the 20th century. Because their teaching approaches and theories are independent of transient technologies, they remain as cogent and universally applicable today as when they were written.

David began his career as a scientist and philosopher. Following his position as official historian of the Manhattan Project, (which developed the atomic bomb), he became extremely concerned with the forces that scientists had unleashed, and turned to education as a means of humanizing society. Among his intentions was to provide a framework in which children could develop sustained curiosity and excitement about nature and science.

David based much of his writing on a few central tenets: that children learn most deeply when they are following their natural curiosities; that teachers are best able to engage in the child’s curiosity-based learning when they too have engaged in like experiences; that children are naturally prepared for early science and math learning regardless of social class advantages, and that early literacy in science and math is the gateway both to most other subjects, and to an ethic of lifelong learning. His works are passionate proposals for curiosity-based learning, how adults can engage in it with children, and why educational systems should support it.

Read more here.

Hawkins Centers of Learning is an organization dedicated to extending the work David and Frances (who are now passed away), and bringing their work into the twenty-first century. The work of these two important educators has been hugely influential in my teaching (and learning) career, and I would like to dedicate space to sharing some of their big ideas and examining how their thinking can impact learning to code.

Messing About

Messing About is a three-phase cycle of teaching and learning proposed by David in his 1965 essay “Messing About with Science”, which I highly recommend, and can be found here. The three phases are:

Circle Phase: A time for unguided exploratory play and exploration of materials and ideas. The hands-on component is important here. For example, to learn about gravity, leaners might be offered a variety of ramps, tubes, balls, and wheels, and encouraged to explore the properties freely.

Triangle Phase: In this phase, a direction is chosen and explored more in-depth. For example, learners might create a goal of building a ramp that a ball can roll down continuously, but contains curvature so the ball’s path can end directly underneath where it started.

Square phase: In this phase, the ideas explored can be unpacked and discussed. For example, learners who explored rolling can reflect on challenges they faced and successes they experienced. They can discuss the scientific principles encountered and make plans for further explorations.

Messing About (1)

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Pre-Coding Part 1: A Quick Look Backward, or “What the Heck is Pre-Coding?”

Copy of Pre-coding (3)

When I started my personal project to learn to code almost five months ago, I wrote a blog post titled Why Coding? Why Now?, dated October 6, 2014. I listed out my main motivations for wanting to learn to code, and I want to revisit one of them today: To dissect what “pre-coding” is. I want to spend some time processing what I have learned about coding since this project began, and to pull out some thoughts about what types of skills, ways of thinking, and mindsets precede understanding computer programming. I want to use this blog to continue to explore these ideas, but first I want to look back to October 2014 and revisit my words surrounding this topic:


What is Pre-Coding? (Written in October, 2014)

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Click here to learn more about the Catherine Cook School

In 2013, I attended a conference in Chicago entitled “Technology in the Early Years”, hosted by The Erikson Institute and Columbia College in Chicago. We got to visit an amazing school called the Catherine Cook School. This school really embraces utilizing technological tools to enhance children’s learning.  A conversation with a preschool teacher at this school was a pivotal moment in motivating me to learn to code.  The teacher explained why using a visually linear calendar with children (depicts months as a single line of days, rather than blocked into a rectangle of weeks) provided support for “pre-coding” skills.  

This was really interesting to me, because I had heard of linear calendars, but never discussed in this way.  Some prekindergarten classrooms at Boulder Journey School (The school at which I work) use them.  For preschoolers who are just beginning to learn about time, it is often more logical to present days visually as a single line rather than in seven-day blocks. This does not mean you never get to the traditional blocked, stacked weeks calendar, but it is a more natural progression of learning. However, at this moment in 2013 I was simply amazed to hear someone make a connection between a single line of symbols and supporting a child’s ability to understand computer code later in life.  

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An example of a linear calendar, image source: http://bit.ly/1Epfela
A traditional calendar…This is the way we usually represent days and weeks, but why? Image Source: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/calendar.html
A traditional calendar…This is the way we usually represent days and weeks, but why?
Image Source: http://www.1plus1plus1equals1.com/calendar.html

A slight diversion for those of you who don’t know:  “pre-” is what preschool teachers do (and it’s REALLY important!) Preschool teachers do not deliver formal reading instruction. They incorporate pre-literacy skills into what they teach. For example, understanding that letters have sounds, groups of letters are words, words have meaning, words can be grouped together to make sentences, etc. Children need to know all kinds of things about reading before they actually learn to read, and that is one thing preschool is for. Research shows that if children do not have opportunities to learn all this stuff, it is much harder for them to learn to read and is likely to make school harder for the rest of their lives.  Pre-math skills are just as important. Continue reading