I’ve been sorting, digitizing, filing and discarding handouts and brochures from conference events I’ve collected the past few months, and ran across a “Talking Points” handout from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) titled, “Why should young women consider a career in Information Technology?” The handout itself is available as a printable PDF file, and their accompanying website includes info from the handout as well as additional links. I found the following suggestions in response to the question “How can a young woman prepare now for a career in IT?” most interesting. NCWIT suggests the following, which are equally applicable for young men as well as young women:

  • Get creative with computers. Explore computer programming with Scratch or Alice (available for free at scratch.mit.edu or alice.org).
  • Keep taking math classes. Math skills are important in many jobs. Taking these classes will help her keep her options open.
  • Take computer science courses. If they are not offered at her school she may find them at a local community college.
  • Study art, language, science, and music. IT employers look for well-rounded employees.
  • Join after-school computing or technology clubs. Also look for summer computing camps. They’re fun, and she will learn new things.

In reference to the first recommendation, “get digitally creative,” the NCWIT website also suggests the program SiMPLE to make games, change photographs, produce special effects, and more. The SiMPLE website describes the program as:

a Free beginner-friendly programming language for kids (and adults) who are looking for a new way to have fun with their computers.

To this list, I would also suggesting adding “Begin and continue building an online digital portfolio which communicates projects, skills, and experiences reflecting digital creativity.” Part of managing an online identity, in my view, is proactively and safely creating virtual spaces which accurately reflect what we know and can do. I’m really looking forward to H. Songhai’s presentation for the 2008 K-12 Online Conference titled, “What Did You Do In School…?” I’m expecting he’ll build on some of the ideas he shared in the January 2007 video “Perspectives on classroom blogging video.” I previously just published this video on my own blog, but to share these ideas with a wider audience I’ve gone ahead and published this to blip.tv:

I resonate with all the ideas shared in this video, but particularly those from H. Songhai about our need to help our students create meaningful artifacts from their school careers which reflect what they have done and know, as well as what they CAN do in authentic ways. Bob Sprankle discussed this idea as well in his 2008 BLC presentation “Podcasting with Purpose.” Bob tells the story of finding his 4th grade report card and wanting more information about what his grades actually meant. Bob recommended Frank Smith’s “The Book of Learning and Forgetting” in this context, which I have not read yet. I’ve added it to my own Amazon wish list!

This past weekend as our family trekked across part of I-40 returning from the XIT Rodeo and Reunion in Dalhart, Texas, we faced again the “consume or create” challenge which digital screens present in our schools, in our homes, and even in our cars thanks to portable digital devices. My eight year old daughter primarily uses our laptops and iPhone/iTouch computers to watch movies and listen to music. Although I’ve introduced her to Scratch and digital art programs like TuxPaint briefly, she almost always self-selects a consumptive or interactive computing program rather than a creative one. (She does love PhotoBooth, but she and her sister reach a creative ceiling fairly quickly with that program.) This is something we are going to keep working on… I need to spend more time in all of these programs myself to get more familiar with them as well as model how they can be used in fun and creative ways. She doesn’t have a peer group outside our family currently to support and encourage her in using these types of programs in creative ways. Our experiences with stopmotion filmmaking this summer at a fine arts camp were great, but that learning community was short-lived. I hope we find other ways to follow the good suggestions from NCWIT in the months and years ahead.

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  • http:/www.stager.org Gary Stager

    Why Scratch or Alice?

    I recommend The Book of Learning and Forgeting. My students have been reading it since it was published in the 90s. Frank Smith is one of the great thinkers of our era. It’s nearly impossible to discuss literacy with people unfamiliar with his work. His books since Learning and Forgetting are worth reading as well.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    I assume they recommend those programs because they are free and therefore readily available, and permit students to create projects using programming environments which develop logical reasoning and problem solving skills.

    Glad to hear you also recommend Frank Smith’s books.

  • http:/www.stager.org Gary Stager

    Wes,

    I really wish we would stop making educational decisions based on things being free. Alice and Scratch are quite different and have different intents. They may or not be good environments for learning computer science or controlling computers.Free doesn’t shed much light on important educational issues.

    Here is a 2003 article I wrote about Frank Smith – http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-2882276_ITM (my article archive on the DA site is having unfortunate issues)

    I regret that many of the discussions of new literacy and media literacy are not rooted in a sound understanding of old-fashioned literacy and ignore the work of folks like Smith, Britton, Goodman, Graves and others. There is so much fundamentally wrong with many of the discussions of new media in the Web/School 2.0 community that civil dialogue remains difficult.

  • http:/www.stager.org Gary Stager

    Here is a 1998 review of The Book of Learning and Forgetting by one of my grad students.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R3IFNS9SNLIB0B/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Thanks for sharing those resources, Gary. I agree that “it’s free” shouldn’t be the overriding factor when it comes to digital curriculum and software tools, but with limited educational budgets free tools do seem to get more attention in many cases than commercial ones. When free tools are powerful and robust (Audacity is one of my favorite examples for creating audio tracks for digital stories) I am a big advocate for them. I have only dabbled with Scratch to date and haven’t used Alice at all, so my ability to share personal experiences and insights on these programs is limited. I have seen and heard Mitch Resnick present about Scratch, however, and it certainly offers a great deal, especially for a free program.

    The elementary public school my children attend here in Oklahoma is not using any free or commercial software programs with students to learn programming, digital storytelling, or any type of media creation at all. I do not think our circumstances are unique in Oklahoma, sadly. I’ve recently made contact with the chair of the education committee for our Oklahoma Creativity Project, and encouraging the uses of programs like these is one specific thing I hope to propose to that group.

  • http://www.sylvan.k12.ca.us John Patten

    Hi Wesley…

    Another excellent tool for learning (programming) to create tools (applications) is Revolution (http://www.runrev.com). I’m surprised I don’t ever hear more people who are into students/teachers creating tools talking more about this application???

    This tool is the modern version of the *Card (Hyper, Super, Meta) applications. It goes a long way to teach programming fundamentals without requiring individuals to memorize a cryptic programming language. I put a few examples on one of my Mahara views here: http://tinyurl.com/5sewda
    One other nice thing about this app, once you create your tool you can easily save in formats that will work in Windows, Linux, or Mac OS with a few clicks of the mouse :-)

    Cheers!

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