Cooking with TPACK

I just today had one of those moments that made me really, really happy to be doing the work I do.

In the summer of 2011, I took a chance on the development of a creative introduction to TPACK (Koehler & Mishra, 2008; Mishra & Koehler, 2006) for MAET students that I knew, if done well, would be fun, memorable and might even support students’ understanding of the complexities of teaching with technologies. If done poorly, however, I knew that it would be an epic fail, memorable for all the wrong reasons. (Oh — and +1 risk because Punya Mishra was my boss.)

I named the activity Cooking with TPACK. The premise was simple. By having students do a familiar kitchen task with familiar tools that were or were not especially well suited to the task, I would leverage metaphorical thinking as a bridge to more abstract understanding of TPACK.

Before students walked into class, they selected a kitchen tool from among those laid out on a table – a whisk, a wooden spoon, a can opener, a butter knife, a vegetable peeler, a teaspoon. Next, students selected a random number from a hat. The number corresponded to a center that had been set up in advance. Students worked in pairs. At each center, there were ingredients, a bowl or plate of generally inappropriate proportions for the task, and instructions. Make a fruit salad. Slice bread. Mix yogurt and honey. Make whipped cream. The trading of tools was not allowed [insert firm teacher voice here].

IMG_1848The students set about their tasks and immediately, the laughter began. Cutting plums with a whisk is pretty funny. The juice squirts all over and the end result is a bit of a mush. It was easy for students to understand the obvious lesson about the repurposing of tools. Though difficult, one can slice peaches with a teaspoon. Everyone was envious of the student who picked the knife — except that she had to make whipped cream and it was of little use. If the bowl is too small to accomodate all of the yogurt, you have to think differently about the task. That particular realization brought about a great conversation that focused on the context in which all of our “tool use” occurs.

In general, the conversations that ensued about TPACK were incredibly charged and powerful. By deconstructing the parts of the framework, we constructed an understanding of its meaning, and also of its implications for teachers using technologies in classrooms.

IMG_1894Technology — that was obviously the tool, but also the ways that a tool can be used. As the students deduced immediately, you can have the right tool for the task, or a tool that you have to repurpose to get the job done. When repurposed, some tools work better than others. It’s also surprising how they never noticed all of the ways to use a vegetable peeler.

Content — that was the task. Make a fruit salad or whipped cream.

Pedagogy — that was the technique. This was the set of possible methods one could use to accomplish the task. And for the fruit salad group, they also had to think about pedagogies/techniques for each of the fruits that laid before them on the table. Do you cut a banana the same way you cut a plum or an apple? These questions became obvious as the activity progressed.

Reflecting on their experiences, students considered the interactions of all variables and, in the end, came to understand that characteristics of the task/content, tool/technology, and the pedagogy/techniques constrained options but also afforded creative solutions. They recognized how the food itself (i.e., the students) possessed different properties that required different techniques/pedagogies but would also have benefitted from different technologies. That plum would have been way less mush had it been cut with a knife rather than a whisk. The banana on the other hand, didn’t mind the whisk so much.

As they ate the breakfast they had just made for one another, they considered the aesthetic quality and the taste of the food. Maybe it didn’t look the way fruit salad usually looked, but did it taste as sweet? Their minds and tummies were full.

Two years on, I’m so pleased that this activity has now been adapted for online, on-campus and overseas students in the MAET program — and most of all, that students and teachers all seem to have embraced the spirit of the fun that inspired the idea in the first place.

So, what was that happy moment?

Well, a quick search today on YouTube of “cooking with TPACK” returned more than a dozen videos of teacher colleagues engaged in this activity from their home kitchens.

[happy dance]

Dream. Come. True.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 3.22.46 PM


Koehler, M. J., Mishra, P., & AACTE. (2008). Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology (Ed.), Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp. 3–29). New York: Routledge.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9620.2006.00684.x

On finding a writing partner

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that doctoral students in education are a bit of a self-selecting group. As a rule, we’re generally people who like school — a lot. And when I say we like school, I mean really. Consider the obvious. We like school so much that in addition to having become teachers as young adults – a choice that would ensure we got to spend all of our adult working lives in schools, we each had an epiphany that would allow us to be even more schoolish. We each decided, as grown ups, to enroll in a doctoral program so that we could read about teaching and learning all of the time, write about teaching and learning all of the time and teach about teaching and learning whenever we weren’t reading or writing. And — here’s the real kicker — we decided to become doctoral students knowing full well that (a) we would be paid very little to do this work, (b) that it would take years (if ever) to return to the salary we made as teachers and (c) of course, that after all of this extra school love, we might never actually get a professorship.

It’s crazy what we do for love, isn’t it?

You might be wondering where I’m going with this?

As psychology students we also know that people like things that they’re good at. The truth is that part of why we love school so much is that we’re good at it too. We know the culture of school. We know the system and how to excel in it. We like its values — hard work, creativity, responsibility, collaboration — but not too much collaboration because independence is also pretty essential. I mean, nobody takes the ACT with a partner, right?

So, one of the great surprises of doctoral study comes when professors tell us to “find a writing group”.

In these moments, in doctoral seminars around the College of Education, you can almost hear a collective gasp. Politely, we all nod our heads. In our minds, questions swirl.

“What if everyone in my group thinks I’m a terrible writer? What then?”

“How can I be sure to get good advice from other people whose writing I’ve never even read yet?”

“I have so many questions myself. How could I possibly help other people?”

Plus, part of what has made us good students is that we’ve been able to navigate the expectation of “independence” in schools very, very well. We were told early and often that we only cheat ourselves if we don’t learn to do things on our own. Who were we to question this?

In graduate school, we should because, oddly, at the top of the schooling ladder, working too independently can prevent us from thinking our best thoughts.

Eventually, we all reach our own limits and realize that the thinking that would earn an “A” can only take us so far in the quest to contribute to the world’s knowledge about variable X. Another epiphany comes when we look around and realize that the only people who can help us think harder than we have ever thought before are our peers.

And so, doctoral student colleagues, as we become scholars, I offer this post as a nod to the people who have helped me to think better and write smarter over the past four years — my peers. Like you, I love school and I have been adept at navigating school independently. However, as I find myself teetering near the top rung of the schooling ladder, I realize that it’s my peers who now steady it from below — each one with an idea, or a recommendation or a suggestion that will allow me to step with greater confidence into the stratus of a dissertation and a lifetime of researchable questions.

Embrace your ZPD and find a writing partner who may not know more about your topic, but who brings you fresh eyes, a critical mind and questions that will help you to think better.

Thanks to my writing partner, Selena Protacio, who always reads and responds with care and wisdom. Thanks too, to stalwart colleagues Kristen Kereluik (who has provided so much feedback on ideas that I’ll forever be in her debt) Autumn Dodge (who has read really terrible drafts and still found good things to say about them) Paul Morsink (who can find holes in any argument and help me think of solutions), Laura Jimenez (who inspires me to work harder), Leigh Graves Wolf (who knows just when to share an idea that will take me in a new direction) and Kristin McIlhagga (who listens and gives encouragement). Thanks as well to countless other classmates and advisors (professors included) who have looked at this, that and the other thing, always with a generous heart and fresh mind.

P.S. There is some debate in the world about collaborative dissertations. Hmmm…would it be better than a dissertation you write yourself?
Crossposted at on September 13, 2012.