dehydrated apple slice

Today my food dehydrator broke.  It just quit.  It would not dry my fruit.  I think most people would find this an annoying aggravation, as with any appliance that goes belly up without notice.  I had this perspective as well, but I also saw it as an Internet search extravaganza!  My mind raced with questions:

Had this model quit on other people?

Were there known issues about this model?

What usually breaks on a food dehydrator?

What could I try in an attempt to fix it?

What were typical troubleshooting steps?

Was I under warranty?

Ultimately, did I really need to spend money on a new one?

Long ago, Winston Churchill split dealing with a difficulty into two camps, pessimist and optimist in his statement,

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

I ask you to think about this in relation to yourself and your students?  How do you view hardware, software, and social issues that come with increased use of emerging technologies? (ISTE Coaching Standard 3e) …printers that won’t print, applications that suffer a glitch, students who don’t think something through before they post it online.  Are these instances met with trepidation or curiosity?

 Are these instances met with trepidation or curiosity?

Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t pleased my dehydrator wasn’t working, but it wasn’t the end of the world.  My day didn’t stop.  My mood for the day didn’t swing.  I didn’t hand the problem to someone else.  I turned curious.  Would you?  Would your students?

A popular term today is learned helplessness.  According to Seligman’s Learned Helplessness Theory,  “Learned helplessness occurs when people or animals feel helpless to avoid negative situations. Martin Seligman first observed learned helplessness when he was doing experiments on dogs. He noticed that the dogs didn’t try to escape the shocks if they had been conditioned to believe that they couldn’t escape.”  You may say that it is ridiculous to compare humans to dogs.  However, Andrew Miller (2015) contends that one-right answer classroom environments and “flying in to be the superhero” when a student makes a mistake or says an incorrect answer are doing what Seligman describes.  Students start to shut down and wait for the teacher or other students to do the learning for them.  Instead, he advocates for questioning strategies that promote critical thinking and metacognition and an environment with learning resources at their disposal for before, during, and after unit use.  He says, “work with students…to create a culture where the answers are everywhere.”  Meaning, they aren’t afraid to speculate, explore theories, ask questions, and take ownership of the solution.  He contends, “Questions are powerful tools for helping students own the process of learning.”  

Have you seen the Stuck On An Escalator video?  It’s a humorous example of learned helplessness.  The riders feel unable to take ownership of their own problem and construct a solution themselves.

This week in module 3 of the course Digital Learning Environments, I’m answering the following question: What activities can we have students complete in class that would promote collaboration, problem solving, failure, persistence and appreciation of this as a process?

I developed an answer based on a session I attended at the Kitsap Google Summit in June called Breakout EDU by Patti Harju and my subsequent experience using it with adults and children.  I feel that students need to be provided intentional planned opportunities without adult interference for a fixed amount of time to completely own the learning where they depend on their own background and content knowledge, collaboration, reasoning, communication, critical thinking, creativity and persistence to solve multi-step problems.  I think Breakout EDU does just that.

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Here is how it works.  The teacher obtains a wooden box that can be locked with multiple reprogrammable locks.  He or she creates or locates premade games.  The teacher hides or provides the clues to the students and presents the locked box.  The students must use the Internet, background and content knowledge, collaboration, reasoning, communication, critical thinking, creativity and persistence to solve the puzzles and figure out the combinations.  The goal is to figure out the combinations using the provided clues.  If the locks open for them, they know they were successful.  In fact, knowing what clues go with which puzzle/lock is not made clear.  The students must figure it out on their own. Each clue exists as a part in a larger interdependent multi-step process. No answers are ever provided. Hints are available, but they are not answers and oftentimes are questions themselves. The overall multi-step process becomes clearer the more puzzles student complete.  At the end, a debrief is conducted discussing the process. This is an excellent opportunity for teachers to meet ISTE Teaching Standard 1c, “Promote student reflection…to clarify students’ conceptual understanding and thinking, planning, and creative processes.”

persistence problem solving thinking critically text based gif

What have I learned as a Technology coach through the investigation of this module’s question and my use of Breakout EDU?  Having hosted a Breakout EDU session a few times now, an introduction to Internet search skills and strategies is beneficial.  Most students and teachers aren’t strategic, persistent, or astute as they search online.  Is my observation of students supported by data?  Yes, according to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project Online Survey of Teachers (2012)  “How do teachers rate the search skill-level of their students? Sixty-two percent were “excellent,” “very good,” or “good” at using appropriate and effective search terms and queries when researching.”  Breakout EDU requires searching and it is the perfect environment for authentic use of the search techniques and strategies.  I’m currently creating two Breakout EDU kits that will be available for checkout to my teachers.  This should add to the variety of digital tools available in my district to students and teachers for technology-rich learning (ISTE Coaching Standard 3b).  As a technology coach, this module has led me to understand that my role is one more of modeling mindset, curiosity, and problem solving than anything else!

Works Cited:

Boyd N. (n.d.). How seligman’s learned helplessness theory applies to human depression and stress course.  Study dot com.  Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education. (2011). ISTE Standards for Coaches. Retrieved from

International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). ISTE Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from

Kristen, P., Rainie, L., Heaps, A., Buchanan, J., Friedrich, L., Jacklin, A., Chen, C., & Zickuhr, K. (2012).  The pew research center’s internet & american life project online survey of teachers. Based on a non-representative sample of 2,067 middle and high school teachers.  Retrieved from

Miller, A. (2015). Avoiding learned helplessness. Edutopia. Retrieved from

Curtis, L. (2016).  Breakout EDU Suncadia. o (CC BY 2.0)

Curtis, L. (2016). 21st Century Skills. (CC BY 2.0)

Levine, A. (2014). Snacking on Last Year’s Apple. (CC BY 2.0)

Motivating Success. (2012). Stuck on an Escalator – Take Action.  Retrieved from