Deeper Thinking: Using Mashed Potatoes to Fight Student Pushback

The Future’s in the Air

Every time I roll out a new activity or program to increase the depth of knowledge for my students, they are never as excited as I am. None of them. While there are a range of reactions, to a student they are either thinking or voicing the fact they would rather just take a quiz. Please, Mrs. Steinbrink? Just give us a quiz!You see, my high school students have been programmed or conditioned to read a chapter, do a pile of homework, and take a quiz or test. If not that exact recipe, then it is pretty close to what they are used to doing every day, every hour, for several years. Then they walk into my world, and that changes. Yes, I still have to give tests, but I do a lot of other assessment types too, I have ditched homework (even before I met Matt Miller on twitter), and my priority for students is that they: learn to think, embrace their creativity, stop taking themselves so seriously, understand that failing is a part of learning, and develop resilience.

I Can Feel It Everywhere

To that end, I’m always looking for ways to help them deepen their learning, and thanks toDenis Sheeran’s Instant Relevance, I see learning in everything and every place now. While making mashed potatoes for my family’s Christmas dinner, an idea emerged. Showing my students how I want them to be thinking, that they should always be thinking, why that has value to them, is just the ticket to reduce the push-back. Doesn’t hurt that mashed potatoes, mine particularly, are my favorite comfort food and teens will eat anything at anytime. And, thanks to my new philosophy of WWDD (What Would Dave Do-as inDave Burgess and Teach Like A Pirate, I knew I had to cook, and more specifically, to mash potatoes for my classes. Just talking about it would not be enough. I have told students that I want them to go deeper with their thinking. Now I will show them. As I make my special mashed potatoes that students will then get to eat, I will explain the beauty of deep thinking.

Blowing With the Wind of Change

I will already have the potatoes ready to be mashed, so the cooking, peeling, chopping will be finished before students enter the classroom. I won’t really need a kitchen for this, since I’ll only need a table, hand mixer (yes, a hand mixer), and my own potato mashing ingredients. I plan to talk in a story telling way, describing the whys, ins, and outs of my favorite food, and the way I have refined how I make it so that it is up to my standards. It must please me first, after all, since it is my product. That, my friends, is another important point for students. They should develop their own standard of work and then hold themselves to it. We need to get out of the One and Done mindset as educators, allow students to keep refining their product or retake that test, until their own standard has been met. Through that process, if you keep challenging and pushing them, your standards will also be met. Let’s do this.

Take Me to the Magic of the Moment

When I first started mashing potatoes, my favorite food, I would make a mess. I was always scared to put too much milk in them, so I erred on the side of caution, and, well, didn’t use much milk. My potatoes, as a result, were a bit dry to mash with a hand mixer, even with the right amount of butter and sour cream. To combat the problem of potato bits flying everywhere while I mashed them, my first solution was to cover the counter with kitchen towels and remove anything I wanted to keep potato free. While that makes clean up easier, it didn’t really fix the problem. I’ll draw students in to analyze and predict my thought processes and my potato problem.

On a Glory Night

My next solution to this problem was to use the large plastic lid from the bowl I use to mix the potatoes in as a shield. That is actually better than my first choice of hand towels covering things I didn’t want potatoed (yes, I just verbed my favorite food, and the word verb). So now most of the potato bits sprayed onto that lid, as long as I held it in the right place while mashing with the blender in my other hand. (After each segment, I will have students discuss this, the difference in level of thinking, and the importance of going even deeper in our thinking.)

Where the Children of Tomorrow Dream Away

Now, being who I am, I am never satisfied. There’s always a better way to do things, and I’m continually reflecting and evaluating, especially where my very favorite food is concerned. So, I took one more step in my thinking. I looked at the potatoes, and then conquered my fear of too much milk. Maybe the potatoes were spewing bits as I mashed because they were too dry. So I added more milk, a bit at a time, and not only did I make my potatoes even better, but the mess in the kitchen has decreased dramatically. I do still use the lid, though it isn’t as heavily potatoed. I seldom even get mashed potatoes on my shirt now, which saves me the time it takes to lick my shirt clean too.

In the Wind of Change

During all of this, I will make my community famous (not quite world famous yet) mashed potatoes and then feed my class. We will eat my creamy, well-seasoned, heavily buttered, glorious mashed potatoes. We will discuss levels of thinking and why it is a really good thing to go deeper sometimes, and how that can benefit more than just ourselves.

Section titles are from the chorus and part of a verse from Winds of Change by the Scorpions.

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