Breaking Bread

5

Last Friday afternoon I experienced one of the most joyous moments of my thirty years in education. I took three fifth grade girls (along with their classroom teacher chaperone) out to lunch. That’s right. We walked right out the front gate of the school, into the sunlight, crossed the street, walked down the block and had a leisurely 90-minute lunch at the restaurant of their choice – regrettably the crime against gastronomy (and pizza), California Pizza Kitchen.

A few weeks earlier, I had challenged the 5th graders to write a computer program in MicroWorlds EX that would draw fractional representations of a circle for any fraction a user requested. Feeling a bit cheeky, I said that I would buy lunch for the first kid or group of kids to write a successful program. After a few class sessions dedicated to the challenge, three fifth grade girls were the first to succeed.

I know. I’m a hypocrite.

I reject behaviorism and its evil friends; grades, punishment, bribes and rewards. However, this felt different. The kids were going to join me for lunch like colleagues celebrating an accomplishment. Best of all, their classmates continued working on the programming challenge, without hard feelings, even after “winners” had emerged. Perhaps they knew that their turn would come. I routinely bring treats from my travels into the classroom. If I worked in an office, I might stop occasionally and buy Dunkin Munchkins for my co-workers. I do the same with my students. Why not?

I loved telling the girls that they could order anything they wanted and learning about their dietary habits and favorites. Conversation covered sick babies, interior decorating, roller coasters, face blindness and Khan Academy. The last two topics were introduced by a girl who matter-of-factly stated, “I watch 60 Minutes.” I was jealous of their classroom teacher who knew more about their parents, siblings, friends and neighbors than I do, but a good time was had by all. The genuine gratitude expressed by the girls (including their teacher) made it all worthwhile.

Perhaps the highlight of our lunch was watching the girls color their kid’s menus at a lunch celebrating their computer science prowess.  Once again, Seymour Papert is correct.

Below is the program the girls wrote. It required figuring out how to “teach the turtle” to draw a circle and utilized a bunch of mathematical concepts, including radius, fractions, variables and angle.

For those of you lacking the skills of a 5th grader and can’t read a Logo program, I’ve included a video demonstrating their program at work.

to Pie
 repeat 360 [fd 3 rt 1]
 end
to fraction :n :d
 cg
 setc "black
 pd
 Pie
 pu
 rt 90
 fd 172
 rt 90
 pd
 repeat :d [fd 172 bk 172 rt 360 / :d]
 repeat :n [rt 360 / :d fillit ]
 end
to fillit
 setc color + 5
 pu
 rt 5
 fd 20
 fill
 bk 20
 lt 5
 end
to mem
 repeat :n [fillit pu rt 1 fd :l / :d lt 1]
 rt 1
 bk :n / :d * :l lt 1
 end

 .

Comments

5 Responses to “Breaking Bread”
  1. Sue King says:

    What a wonderful post! This makes me realize even more why I miss being in the classroom. I used LogoWriter many,many,many years ago with 6th graders when I taught in Plano, TX. I learned as much as they did! Gary, I admire your passion and commitment to your beliefs about learning.

  2. I loved using Logo in 5th and 6th grade. Your post brought me right back to some great after-school sessions with my teachers and friends. Although it took a minute to access 20+ year old memories, I was able to read the program without watching your video.

  3. admin says:

    Thanks Richard and Sue for your kind words!

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  1. [...] wish you could have seen what happened when I challenged a class of 5th graders to write a computer program in MicroWorlds that would allow the user to enter a fraction and have [...]

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