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Cook up innovative PD with Iron Chef

By Team ISTE
July 1, 2015
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The popular “Iron Chef” TV show challenges chefs to create delicious dishes with little time or preparation – and add some mystery ingredients – to see if they can better their competition with a delectable end product. But what if you applied that concept to ed tech professional learning?

That's what a group of educators did during at previous ISTE conferences, and now they are presenting a poster session to show you how to apply the “Iron Chef” concept to your own professional learning. 

The idea, according to Lisa Sjogren, district tech integration specialist with Osseo Area Schools in Maple Grove, Minnesota, is to have teams take unknown “ingredients” and create a professional development tool or opportunity. Teams have a period of time to work on their products before presenting them to  expert “chefs” – or tech professionals.  

The “ingredients” might include information like the topic and dollar amount of a grant, the age group of the learners involved, or a specific type of learning situation. “We might say that the grant is for $50,000, you work in an urban school and your principal wants to focus on mobile learning,” Sjogren explains. The teams must come up with an idea that meets those specific parameters. Each team – usually 30-35 participants total with an average of five members per team – is given a unique set of ingredients so no two solutions will be the same.

Take Iron Chef home

The Iron Chef approach gives participants the chance to think deeply about a challenge and work with team members who have different experiences and ideas to come up with a solution. Call it group think or crowdsourcing, but the point is that multiple chefs won’t spoil the pot; they will make what’s in the pot more delectable.

“It’s all about learning how to collaborate and network in order to solve problems,” Sjogren says.

The poster session will allow others to ask questions, get more information about the projects and pick up tips on how to run their own Iron Chef-style approach back home. In the end, it’s all about building that collaborative spirit and getting teammates excited about working together and coming up with a viable solution.

Innovative Iron Chef projects

Kristy Andre, digital learning coach for Tustin Unified School District in Tustin, California, provided a recipe for bringing Iron Chef PD to your school site or district. She suggests giving it a try at the start of the school year by having teachers collaborate by grade levels or across grade levels.

Introduce the Iron Chef approach by tasking teacher groups with creating a project around one of the ISTE Standards for Students. Tip: suggest that they start with an essential question.

The appetizer. Tell teachers that they must incorporate the standards, the 4Cs (critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity) and technology into the lesson they create. Then, give the educators time to plan and discuss their ideas. 

The entrée. Ask teachers to create a five-minute presentation about the project they have in mind. After hearing the presentations, all teachers will have a bank of lessons to use.

The dessert. Suggest that teacher teams expand on their project idea and present them to staff.  

“This would also work as an all-day professional development for your entire district,” Andre says. “Build in time for teachers to collaborate and plan and then bring in a panel of teachers who have demonstrated creative lessons in their own classrooms,” she says.