• GWHT

Algorithms and Rainbow Cakes

Kelsi King

My teachers always instilled in me that failing to prepare, prepares you for failure, but preparation isn’t always a foolproof safety net. You can devote hours upon hours to anticipating an event, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you planned, and that’s kind of what happened this week. The girls who showed up on the first day were a lot younger than the girls who had enrolled. We were expecting a group that was a mixture of rising eighth and ninth graders, but most of our girls were fresh out of elementary school. We tailored all of our lesson plans to a certain age group and how they would react to certain prompts, and the way 13-year-olds think is very different from how 10-year-olds think. There’s actually scientific evidence to back this up. According to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, children between the age of 7 and 11 years old are in the concrete operational stage – meaning they have an understanding of logic but think of things in very literal and objective terms. The ability to think hypothetically in regard to ethics and society doesn’t fully develop until a person reaches the formal operational stage which begins at age 12 and continues into adulthood. So, it’s really no surprise that the girls had a hard time with the CAP (Community Action Plan) activity we had planned. It started off strong, the girls understood community and how it related to our cues, but when we tried to encourage the girls to think hypothetically, it kind of went over their heads.

The CAP activity was supposed to set the stage for the entire week and, it really didn’t pan out the way any of the G.L.O.W. mentors, myself included, wanted it to. But instead of feeling defeated, we used this as an opportunity to learn and adapt. The essence of the CAP wasn’t a lost cause; we could still teach the girls about how to solve problems and the importance of planning, but we had to break it down into its most basic components in a manner that wasn’t didactic and could capture their attention. So, I decided to teach the girls about algorithms and how to make rainbow cake. Now you might be wondering, ‘Kelsi, how does any of this relate to developing a community action plan?’ Before you even attempt to tackle any issue, it is extremely important to prepare a series of strategic steps to achieve what you are trying to accomplish, you sort of have to make your own recipe for success which is like baking. I’ll admit, the rainbow component was something I added for aesthetic flare, but the girls loved it and it helped create an enthusiasm about the summit that they maintained all week. I followed up the baking activity with a lesson on algorithms, so I could sneak a bit of STEM enrichment into our “fun time.” An algorithm is a set of rules for solving a problem that consists of a series of strategic and finite steps. I didn’t want to bombard the girls with too much information, so I had them think of algorithms in terms of creating a series of instructions for creating patterns on graph paper and trying to get their peers to recreate their desired images without seeing what the final product should look like. This activity was a bit challenging for the girls to follow, namely because I don’t think any rising middle school student is algorithm savvy, but once I broke it down into creating a series of detailed instructions, they really grasped what I was trying to communicate to them. They quickly learned that one wrong move would completely disrupt their pattern, so they were constantly revising and experimenting with new ways to achieve their desired goal. Although a bit challenging at times, we found a way to get the girls to think outside of the box while emphasizing the importance of strategic planning. It wasn’t exactly what the G.L.O.W. staff had in mind for the week, but it ended up being pretty sweet nonetheless.

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