Camping, Caine’s Arcade & Adult Influence

Camping this past weekend.

The kids (ages 7-12 plus my husband) were wondering about plastic, water and heat.  A red solo cup, if filled with water, would it melt over the camp fire?  Or would the water keep it cool enough to maintain its structure?  At what point would it melt?  droop?  puncture?

How could they resist?  So the cup was filled, placed gingerly on the campfire grate and they watched.  One kid would throw out a prediction.  Another would throw out an explanation for what they were observing.  My husband asked a question now and then.  It was very slow science.  The cup held.  Then approximately 5 minutes in, the rim began to droop a bit.  Then it stopped drooping at the level of the water.  More explanations and observations.

ieSonoma speaker Nirvan Mullick, Caine’s Arcade filmmaker

Listening to this man tell the story of Caine’s Arcade adds so many layers.  A kid with time on his hands and a dad that didn’t mind handing over some space, many empty boxes and tape (lots of tape).  It’s such a sweet idea, such a throw back to my own mom kicking us out of the house until dinner time.  The things we created/built/pretended in the vacant lot in our neighborhood!

Nirvan’s organization, The Imagination Foundation, holds an annual Day of Play on the anniversary of the Caine’s Arcade Flash Mob.  Schools and organizations all over host a day of creation, building and play.  What a lovely project.

But this is where my ideas were challenged.  A colleague said, rather bluntly, “As soon as adults get involved, it’s ruined.”  The camp fire experiment wasn’t ruined.  Caine must have asked dad for an extra hand now and then or help with cutting an overly large box.  Nirvan Mullick had to wander in to be Caine’s first customer.  Adults were all around.

Sugata Mitra (also at ieSonoma) said of his “hole in the wall” experiments and self-organized learning environments (SOLE), (I paraphrase) We know something is happening based on the outcomes of the children but as soon as we get close enough to investigate the why and the how, it goes away.  We can’t get close enough to understand that part.  So adults do ruin it?

The campfire example is enlightening (ha ha).  A kid had the idea.  A kid prepared the materials.  Kids hypothesized outcomes and explanations.  An adult handled the dangerous part then got out of the way.  Occasional an adult threw out a question then got out of the way.  And the whole event ended with further what if scenarios in line with the cup of water and camp fire experiment.  No adult ended with a lecture on heat transfer.  No chapter of required reading ensued.

But from an educators point of view, was the camp fire experiment enough?  What did they learn?  If it were not a camp ground, would one of the kids have googled some additional information?  Just like Caine figuring out how a calculator can serve to validate a fun pass, might our camp fire scientists have continued their work around thermodynamics using other resources and ideas?

I do see how adults can ruin learning.  I certainly have been that adult in my own classroom.  Before I figured out I was talking too much, it’s guaranteed I squelched quite a few ah-ha moments just to hear myself talk.  Ugh.  But even as a coach/guide on the side/facilitator of learning, the ruin vs. enhance opportunity is tricky.   And how do you catch yourself before it’s too late?

Obviously I’m going to have to do some more thinking on this one….

Pondering teaching, learning & leading all summer long… Love it!




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