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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A coding resolution for the new year (deja vu?)

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Image Source: http://coachtoddreed.com/2013/make-this-new-years-resolution-stick/

I have not traditionally been a person who makes New Years resolutions. I do believe resolutions are important, as the act of declaring some kind of promise with the intention of self-improvement is a wonderful practice. I simply believe it can be worthwhile to declare resolutions throughout the year.

This being said, I have recently come to realize that perhaps there is something I have overlooked about the practice of declaring resolutions for a new year. There is something important about the time between Winter Solstice, marking the shortest day/longest night of each year, and the first day of the Gregorian Calendar, January 1. This stretch of roughly eleven days can easily cause disruptions in one’s mental and physical health. Cold, darkness, holidays, travel, and an increase in social obligations cause typical routines to shift. For teachers of all kinds, the stretch between semesters can provide time for rest, but can also necessitate more time spent finishing work from Fall semester and planning and organizing for Spring semester. All of this can leave us feeling disconnected and anxious, creating a need for self-renewal.

January 1 isn’t necessarily the day when I feel my energy needing a specific renewal effort, but I do always feel that need at some point in January. My typical formula for self-renewal includes more yoga, more tea (less coffee), less sugar, and more quality time with friends and loved ones. This year, I am adding an additional variable to my formula: more coding. More specifically, I’m re-committing myself to the resolution I made almost 4 months ago to learn to code. Continue reading

15 Things We Learned from “Hour of Code” 2014

This year’s Computer Science Education Week, December 8 – 14, 2014, was exciting. Millions of children and adults around the world tried coding and engaged in conversations about computer programming’s role in schools and society.

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As the dust settles, I am left wondering:

What did we learn?

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An Hour of Code with Young Friends, Part 1: Hacking and Open Source

I recently completed with my first Hour of Code experiment with a young friend. I intentionally did not explore too much beforehand, wanting to experience the learning process alongside the girl (I will call her Z). I was curious what I would learn by watching a young digital native engage with coding.

Zen

Z is 10 years old, and currently a fourth grader at a Waldorf school. Waldorf schools discourage children’s use of technology at school and home. Her family takes an inspiring approach to this recommendation. They choose to not completely swear off technology, but rather to have regular conversations about when and why technology can be appropriate. Thus, Z does not use computers or watch media at school, but she engages in these things very minimally and very mindfully at home. This provides an interesting context for coding with her: She is technically a digital native, but does not actually engage with digital media herself very often. Here’s a little bit more about her:

  • She loves animals, and wants to be a vet when she grows up.
  • She is endlessly creative and self-motivated, loves art, theater and making all different types of things.
  • She insists on solving real world math problems in her head when they present themselves (before adults can tell her the answer).
  • She is compassionate and thoughtful. As long as I’ve known her, she has used gift-getting holidays as opportunities to raise money for animal charities.
  • She loves reading, and has been known to read a novel per day.

We began by watching the Hour of Code Video Introduction together, which got her excited about being one of “10 million” students to try “An Hour of Code” (and the number is currently much higher).

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Barbie Reflects on Her Impact: A Story About Possibilities

This is my last post about Barbie, I promise! I just couldn’t resist using to Feminist Hacker Barbie site to look at the bright side before this whole internet controversy dissolves away. At the end of the day, this book gave us the opportunity to start a meaningful dialogue about gender roles, so let’s keep talking about it! (This is for Alex…thanks for the idea!)png-12 Continue reading