The Gift

1076955_vibrant_giftA few weeks ago at the Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 institute in Manchester, NH, I needed to make some copies. I walked down the quaint main street of this lovely New England town and found the local copy store.

Inside, the machine wasn’t working so the owner came over to help. We started talking and he asked me what I was doing in Manchester. I told him I was at a workshop with teachers learning about how to use computers in school. He immediately said something to the effect of, “That’s funny! Why don’t you have students teach the teachers, the kids know everything about technology already!”

We both laughed, sorted out the copying mess, and I walked back to the hotel meeting room where teachers were intently building robots, making movies, programing, creating art, building webpages, and more. Suddenly, it struck me. How wonderful is it that society actually believes that children are competent at something. Here in Everytown, USA, a random guy in a random moment confirmed a commonly held societal belief that children are competent human beings, in fact, MORE competent than adults. And better yet, competent at something important.

We see it in commercials where the exasperated parents hand the new, incomprehensible cell phone to their five year old to figure out. We hear ordinary people joke about getting their grandchild to set the blinking 12:00 on any appliance. And we all know that TV commercials and marketing professionals are very adept at mirroring the “norms” of society. Mention some problem using technology and more likely than not, someone will say, “Ha! You need to find a ten year old!” It’s always good for a chuckle when you tap into commonly held beliefs.

Of course this isn’t a sophisticated or deeply thought-out conclusion. There are underlying contradictions, simplifications and outright myths. The “digital native vs digital immigrant” slogan is a symptom of buying too deeply into this belief.

But what irony and what opportunity this is! What a gift that society actually thinks that children are competent at something, anything, especially something that is so vital for the future. When does this ever happen?

How can advocates for using technology to enhance learning leverage this gift to advance the cause?

I don’t think the answer is to lean on this myth or use it to justify NOT teaching students about technology. My main criticism of the digital native/immigrant metaphor is that it is used in just this way. (See my post Digital natives/immigrants – how much do we love this slogan?)

I DO think we need to find ways to build on this gift, to acknowledge that yes, indeed, kids do know a lot about technology, and that school must take that natural talent and nurture it into something MORE valuable for the student and for society.

So thank you, Madison Avenue, for helping portray children as competent individuals. Now, what can we do with this gift?


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Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009

Wow, I’ve had this post in draft mode for way too long and it’s getting way too long as a result! This may turn out to be a couple of posts.

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2009 was July 13-16 in Manchester, NH. This is the second year for this event, and my second year being on the faculty.

First of all, the event once again exceeded my expectations, both in content and the attendees. The things that happened there and the conversations I’ve had fueled a lot of new thinking on my own part. There were also some things that I wished we’d had more time for.

At CMK, there are few presentations, so that the bulk of the time is spent working on projects and thinking about how these kinds of project experiences, especially using computers, translate back to the classroom. But two presentations stood out to me and invaded my thinking throughout the event and beyond.

Deborah MeierDeborah Meier was one. She was warm and grandmotherly, smart, and her presentation was amazing. And when I say presentation, it wasn’t a powerpoint. It was just her, standing in front of us recounting her own journey to becoming a progressive educator with insightful, interesting anecdotes that perfectly illustrated her points. Her appeal for a community-based approach to education and its connection to building our democracy was compelling and reinforced much of my work in regards to student voice.

I was glad that I re-read her book, The Power of Their Ideas on the plane ride to Manchester. It reminded me of how subtle ideas can be so powerful when executed with passion and care. Her talk reinforced how much work it takes over long periods of time to make things you care about sustain and grow.

Lela Gandini was the other speaker that brought it home for me. Dr. Gandini is the United States liaison for the dissemination of the Reggio Emilia approach, a revolutionary learner-centered approach pioneered in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Her presentation was complemented by amazing visuals of the Reggio schools and the work of children. The schools are constructed with deliberate care to provide space, light, and to support a creative learning environment. The attention to detail and the constant working towards making it better was fascinating.

Reggio is also built on having teachers carefully listen to children, document and discuss their work, and take direction from the interests of children to build a rich, layered learning experience. There is a lot of attention paid to the integration of art using rich materials to draw out children and help develop the child’s sense of self, and their place in the community and the world.

The juxtaposition of Meier’s focus on student voice as a part of creating a stronger democracy and the Reggio focus on listening carefully to student ideas to guide learning opened my eyes once again. They both were saying similar things, yet in subtly different ways. There were so many factors that go into creating these kinds of learning communities, not the least of which is the importance of engaging adults who are willing to be open to learning themselves and sublimating their own desire to quickly impart knowledge into a desire to guide children as part of a life-long learning journey.

Next post will be more about the attendees and the awesome project work we all did during the week. You may have also noticed that there seemed to be very little in this post to do with technology. I’ll talk about that later too. For now, though, just a few resources about these two remarkable women and “the power of their ideas.”

An online bookstore collection (by Gary Stager,) including books by Deborah Meier and books about Reggio Emilia.

More to come…


Tinkering School

Once a year at the TED conference, invited speakers from all fields and backgrounds gather to give short talks about their subjects of interest. The conference website holds a treasure trove of brilliant, moving examples of storytelling about things that matter.

In this 4 minute video, Gever Tulley talks about his Tinkering School. This is a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, especially in regards to technology. My post a few months ago, Technology Literacy and Sustained Tinkering Time was about how looking at technology through the lens of tinkering makes more sense than approaching it through checklists and skill acquisition charts.

But I think this TED talk is nice because it shows kids doing things, and he talks about what is necessary to facilitate this kind of learning — time, materials, and openness to the serendipity of both success and failure. Time is such a key element. Time to think, time to change your mind, and time to work through frustration.

In the comment page for the video, there is a a lively discussion of how computers fit into this world of “stuff” for kids to mess around with. Some people look at computers (and video games) as taking children out of the “real world” of making things with hammers and nails, but I know that computers are not in opposition to children tinkering. Children, especially with open-ended, creative software tools can flow seamlessly between creating virtual and real things that have meaning to them.

This fits in perfectly with my work next week at the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. I’m looking forward to 4 days of tinkering with all the cool materials and software we bring in. According to Gary Stager, who leads the institute, teachers often see student frustration as a failure, and want to “help” students through it as quickly as possible. He says that teachers simply need to fine tune their reactions to differentiate between “mouth up” and “mouth down” frustration. No one wants to just leave a student stuck forever in an endless loop of problems. But to rescue them too soon means they never develop the problem solving skills they need. At CMK, the teachers learn that lesson by going through it themselves, tackling complex projects that have natural cycles of success, frustration, and more success.

Here’s a video from CMK last year, made during the event by one of the participants, that shows some of this in action.

By the way, there are a few places left, so sign up and come on down. What better way to spend a week than going to technology tinkering school!


Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge 2009

Ever question why technology seems to have gone missing in so many math and science classrooms? What happened to the “compute” in computing? Wondering what STEM really looks like?

Yes, technology, math, and science can be friends!

Constructing Modern Knowledge is organizing a one-of-a-kind educational event for January 22, 2009 at Philadelphia’s Science Leadership Academy. Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge is a minds-on institute for K-12 teachers, administrators and technology coordinators looking for practical and inspirational ways to use computers to enhance S.T.E.M. learning. Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge is a pre-conference event for Educon 2.1, an innovative conference and conversation about the future of education.

The presenters represent high-tech pioneers and seasoned veterans at the forefront of innovation in math, science and computing. Read more about them here.

Come to Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge and stay for Educon 2.1!

  • Early-bird registration (before December 15) – $100
  • Regular registration – $130

You may register for both Constructing Modern Math/Science Knowledge and Educon 2.1 with one click.