Why Education Reform Will Work This Time

This is a remarkable piece of video from 1998 unearthed by Gary Stager. In it, Ryan Powell, then a GenYES middle school student, interviews Seymour Papert and John Gage about the model of students learning technology in order to help teachers in their own schools. Both of these heavyweights of educational technology say some really interesting things about the model, including Dr. Papert saying that it’s the best thing the US Department of Education has ever funded! Pretty nice to hear that.

As further background, Dr. Papert is the father of educational technology, a colleague of Jean Piaget, and an internationally renowned educator famous for the theory of constructivism. His advocacy of student laptop programs extends around the world including the XO laptop for developing nations, and he invented the Logo programming language for children. John Gage, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, started the NetDay movement to wire schools and originated the phrase, “the network is the computer.”

About halfway through this clip, Dr. Papert talks a bit about why he believes that education reform can happen now, even though decades of reform efforts have not had much impact.

He says there are two things that are different now. One is that school was designed to fit the previous “knowledge technology” of chalk, blackboards, paper and pencil. These technologies match quite well with the prevailing pedagogy of the last century, which relied on instruction, teacher as the center of all knowledge, and delivery of content. So criticizing it was a bit idealistic and theoretical. But now we have new technology that directly enables construction, connection, and distributed expertise. These new knowledge technologies tip the balance and as a result, new pedagogy can become reality.

The second factor is what he calls “Kid Power.” The technology amplifies the voices of people who are traditionally without voice or representation in our society.

For more explanation of Papert’s view on why technology will power education reform, check out this speech: Chlld Power: Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century.

In Gary’s post about this video, he also recalls some of the early days of Generation YES, when Dennis Harper had this “crazy idea” of kids being at the center of changing education with technology. Seymour Papert on Generation YES & Kid Power : Stager-to-Go

By the way, Ryan is now a college graduate serving in the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa with his wife Kimberly.


Does your tech room say “stay out” to girls?

Science Notes 2009.

Professor Sapna Cheryan led her student into a small classroom in Stanford University’s computer science building. Star Wars posters adorned the walls, discarded computer parts and cans of Coke clustered on a table, and a life-size bust of Spock perched on the desk. “Sorry about the mess,” Cheryan said. “Just ignore that stuff, it’s not part of our study. Here’s your questionnaire. Let me know when you’re done.”

The student took a dubious look at her surroundings and raised her pencil to answer the question: “How interested are you in computer science?”

Cheryan, now a psychologist at the University of Washington, has placed students in situations like this for nearly five years. She has found that women rate themselves as less interested in computer science than men in the “geek room” described above. But in a room decorated more neutrally with art posters, nature photos, and water bottles, their interest levels were about the same.

A few years ago one of our GenYES advisors told me that he was very proud of the fact that his student tech support team was over 50% female. But it wasn’t always that way. He said that it took time and effort to change the culture of the team, but the thing that made the most difference was that he remodeled the “tech room”. He took down the video game posters, brought in a couch, and cleaned it up. His advice to other advisors was that this little thing mattered. He wasn’t sure at the time it was a big deal, but now he’s sure it changed everything.

What does your classroom or clubroom say about who belongs there? And if you aren’t sure, ask some students.


Student-built computer/projector cart project

This terrific idea just came in from Don Kinslow, a GenYES teacher at Parkview Elementary in Chico, CA. His students built carts with computers and projectors, ready to go for classroom use.

Aaron the Cart Quality Inspector
Aaron, the Cart Quality Inspector

Here’s his story:

Step 1: I had cancelled a regularly scheduled GenYES meeting the week before we went out for Winter Break because many of the students told me that they had other obligations in preparation for Chanukah and Christmas. To my surprise, several students (Karla, Rosa, Aaron, Monique, Ana Cristina, Evangelina and Rebeca) showed up anyway begging to do something GenYES-like. So, I gave the okay. The students formed teams to work on this really fun and exciting project.

Step 2: Each team received a box with a computer cart to build, a refurbished computer, an LCD projector, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, speakers and a 25 foot long power strip. I showed them a cart that I had already built and prepared with all the technology devices. Then after observing my cart, they got to work…or was it play?

Step 3: The teams opened their cart box, read the instructions and started putting together what must have seemed like a 3D puzzle. Once the carts were built and ready for the technology devices, Rebeca and her GenYES friends decided to name their carts as if they were newborns. So, instead of Cart 1, Cart 2, and Cart 3, we got Mia Pink, Banana 2, and Roly Poly. Next, the teams got to work on setting up the refurbished computer, an LCD projector, a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, speakers and a 25 foot long power strip on the newborn carts. This part was more challenging for the teams. Even though they had my example to work from, the quantity of cables to connect was difficult for a few of the students. So, Aaron, a 6th grader, who seemed to have more experience with this type of task, took on the role of Quality Inspector.

Step 4: With the computer carts finished and test run, GenYES students took them to their new classrooms and introduced Mia Pink, Banana 2 and Roly Poly to the receiving teachers. Of course, the teachers were super excited to get their new carts!

This is a terrific idea, and not simply because the teachers got equipment pre-configured and ready to plug in. It also gave a strong message to the whole school community that students can and will be responsible partners in using technology. These students built something of value, not for a grade, but for pride, and learned a lot while doing it. And yes, the names the students gave the carts are cute, but there’s more than meets the eye here as well.

Giving students ownership of their own learning is more than an abstract idea. In an institutional environment where everything is bland and uniform, having an identity stands out. Ownership can be simple and concrete, like the idea of giving the carts names or decorating them. Suddenly, they become more than just the object by itself. They start to represent the children – and are special, just like the children themselves.

If you doubt this, just ask these kids if Mia Pink, Banana 2 and Roly Poly are better than the other carts without names!


See you at PETEC

Well, I’m heading back to the other coast once again to attend the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo & Conference in Hershey, PA. I’ve never been to this conference before, so that’s always fun!

Chris Champion of Cumberland-Perry AVTS is doing a session called, “My First Year with a GenYES Student Tech Team” on Monday 2/9 at 10:15AM. I’m really looking forward to being in the audience for this one!

We are hearing so much about GenYES students from all over the country stepping up to the plate in these rough financial times to help their schools keep a vibrant technology vision alive. GenYES We Can!

Love to meet more PA folks – so email me or send me a Twitter and we’ll get together!


Paradise Valley Mediafest

I’m heading to Phoenix, Arizona tomorrow morning to visit one of our Generation YES districts, Paradise Valley, a fast growing suburb of a fast growing city. Paradise Valley is hosting a Mediafest tomorrow night to showcase their district’s technology efforts.

The 2008 PVUSD MediaFest will showcase technology and how it impacts — and adds value to — the classroom, as well as to thank parents and citizens who supported the Paradise Valley Unified School District’s capital budget override.

There are 17 schools in this district doing GenYES, where students are responsible for helping teachers with technology integration. These students are a big part of how PVUSD defines successful technology integration now and in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing the students in action.

The smart thing they are doing is making sure that the parents and citizens of Paradise Valley can truly see that the money they gave the district was well spent. This Mediafest will show how technology can be used for appropriate, academic purposes by students and how it’s making a visible difference in every classroom, grade level and subject area.

I think the ONLY way to convince people that technology belongs in the classroom is to show them what it looks like, and make it so good that it’s undeniable.

Plus, thanks to Twitter, I’m having dinner with some people I’ve never met in person before! Very cool.