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My Networked Learning Project is finished. Five weeks, five apple pies. (And thank goodness I’m not weighing myself, I probably gained at least five pounds too!) How did it go? What did I learn? Is the learning process to acquire a new skill using only YouTube and help forums a valuable one worth repeating?

What did I learn about pie-making?

In the video below I review my original goals, describe the sources I used, and demonstrate some of the skills I’ve learned.

More importantly, what did I learn about learning?

At the start of the project I thought it was stupid that I wasn’t going to use my expert source on baking, America’s Test Kitchen. Imagine my surprise when I finally got around to reading their instructions and found that I had reached almost the exact same conclusions about the best techniques! (I even think that their version isn’t as good as mine since the lemon zest they recommend gave the filling a slightly perfumey taste.)

My experience has shown me that there isn’t a “shortcut” to learning a difficult skill. As Brian Shaw commented on my ChefTalk thread, “There is a reason why the best pies are baked by Grannies — it takes practice!” (Shaw, 2013). This reminds me of Bransford et al, who point out in their review of studies on brain research and learning that “it is important to be realistic about the amount of time it takes to learn complex subject matter” (2000, p. 56).

Furthermore, not using an expert resource helped me develop confidence and gain a deeper understanding of how to make an apple pie. Now I don’t feel like I am simply executing a recipe blindly. I know how to adjust different ingredients and use different techniques, and if I want to deviate from the written recipe I have the confidence that it will turn out okay.

Will I continue to use this approach to learning?

The answer is a big yes! Last weekend at a quiz night hosted by a rival school my team lost by a HALF POINT. What did I do the next day? Googled “trivia forums”!

Will I recommend this approach to students?

This is a bit trickier. One of the most important elements of good teaching in middle school is to provide students with lots of support and exemplars. That creates an inherent tension with the freedom to pick any topic and the wide open nature of using YouTube and help forums. So how do I take the core principles of this type of project and scale it down?

This is a question I am still grappling with. To use a baking metaphor, the ideas are in the oven. We’ll see what comes out in January!

References

Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (Eds.). (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

Shaw, B. (2013, November). Pie Crust: How to move from beginner to intermediate [Online posting]. Retrieved December 9, 2013, from http://www.cheftalk.com/t/78440/pie-crust-how-to-move-from-beginner-to-intermediate

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