Finishing off day 4 of a Spring Break Scratch Camp today, these words from Jim Klein (on Miguel Guhlin’s blog) resonate with me deeply. At Scratch Camp, STEM teacher Chris Simon and I are providing opportunities for kids to become MAKERS, coders, creative collaborators, and citizens with AGENCY who are not merely passive content consumers. Together, as “Scratchers,” we are creative, digital content creators. THIS is the kind of “digital shift” we need to see in our schools, not simply “flipped classrooms” where teachers record video lectures in advance for students to watch at home. As educational leaders we need to be advocates for empowering students, not further deadening their curiosity and creativity with the SOS (same old “stuff”) schools have been forcing down students’ throats for decades. My passion for these ideas is a big part of my motivation to create the “Mapping Media to the Common Core” framework and digital literacy project. Project idea #11 in the framework is “Simulation or Game.”

In his post Jim wrote:

What will it take for us to believe in kids? To honor their expertise? To accept that we don’t have to know everything about technology for our students to use it effectively? When will we understand that our students don’t need a list of steps, a stupid template, a wizard, or someone else’s idea of design to build something great? I, for one, don’t want to see 30 copies of the same (perfect, by someone else’s standards) thing as evidence of mastery. I’m not impressed by the beatifully designed whatever that a student used a canned app to create. I’m far more impressed by the ugly thing that mostly works, but was created from scratch with a healthy dose of critical thinking and problem solving.

I fear that giving in to the Borg (Apple and similar corporations), building dependency on other people’s software and “ecosystems”, and limiting our kids in the name of not being disruptive is leading us down the same path we have gone with skilled labor. We barely think about plumbing, carpentry, metalworking, and shop in schools today, finding ourselves content to simply leave a check for the plumber/carpenter/mechanic when we need something done.

And yet we are facing a shortage of skilled labor the likes of which we have never experienced in this country, which is driving costs of some of the most basic needs higher and higher. The same will soon be true with computing. The number of computer science students continues to decline, yet demand for computing resources continues to increase.

Please take a few minutes and read the entire post by Jim, as well as the catalyzing post by Miguel, “Only Human – #Ubermix = Yesterday’s Solution?” This series of idea exchanges started with a tweet earlier this week:

If you haven’t already, watch the full nine minute version of the video “What Most Schools Don’t Teach” from code.org. Then find ways in your home and community to become an advocate for kids as well as teachers as CREATIVE DIGITAL MAKERS, not just passive consumers.

When it comes to the learning revolution, “there’s not an app for that.” Sure, there are a ton of apps those of use fortunate to have a tablet or smartphone today have and use, but “shiny new apps” are just tools, they aren’t the learning revolution. Plenty of alleged “educational reformers” would be very happy to see passive students using digital screens for CAI out of the 1980s. Those are NOT the “schools of the future” I want for my children or yours. Schools where students are empowered to be creative and to make (among other things) digital apps ARE the ones I want. They are the schools we have the opportunity to co-create TODAY as educators and leaders “in the system.”

If you and your students have iPads to use at school and home, great! CREATE lots of digital content with them and SHARE that content on the OPEN WEB. I agree wholeheartedly with Jim on this point, however. The iPad today is NOT sufficient as a digital tool to empower students to invent the future. If it was, why would I be working on a MacBook Air laptop right now instead of my iPad2 which is sitting on the table in front of me? My iPad and iPhone are incredibly powerful tools, and the apps I own make me as a user an even more powerful communicator. The capabilities of tablet digital devices ARE increasing, but they are NOT on a par with laptops yet. If we really believe in students as well as teachers as CREATIVE MAKERS (which we should) then we can’t settle for JUST providing them with handicapped devices.

My own kids don’t ‘just’ need an iPad for learning today. They have to have laptops. Why? Because no one can CREATE and SHARE everything we need and want to create and share on “just an iPad.” iPads and other iOS devices are great. I LOVE them and wouldn’t want to trade 100 Android devices for a single iOS device we have in our house. (OK, maybe I’d trade an old iPhone 3G for one…) My point is that as a creative communicator, I’m not being limited to JUST creating on an iPad. Our kids and teachers shouldn’t be either.

GIVE US LAPTOPS AS LEARNERS. Don’t compromise on this issue.

Do you agree or disagree? Have a challenged you in your educational technology comfort zone?

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On this day..

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  • http://twitter.com/CourtlandFunke Courtland Funke

    I teach computers in a primary building where we use iPads often as creative tools. Are they as powerful as a laptop or desktop? No, but for the creative needs of a K-4 student, they get the job done. When we pay for apps, we try to focus on the ones that give us the most creative freedom and allow our students to express what they’ve learned in different ways.

    I’d love to teach Scratch during the regular school year but it’s too time consuming right now with my once a week schedule and other responsibilities are placed on the lab throughout the year. For now, I’ll have to settle for my summer enrichment classes where my students regularly teach me new tricks and continue to amaze me.

    Of particular interest to me was Jim’s comment, “What will it take for us to believe in kids? To honor their expertise? To accept that we don’t have to know everything about technology for our students to use it effectively?” This is something I’ve been trying to convey to teachers for the last couple of years. We need to approach technology in schools the same way we do gifted education. It’s a hard concept for some to grasp but you can’t choose to not teach something just because you don’t understand it.

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  • Craig Michael Patrick

    I wholeheartedly agree that the iPad is not yet where it needs to be, but I see the device (and its Android counterparts) as an iterative computing experience that’s in the larval stage. Functionally, mobile processors are not yet where they need to be to fulfill your criticism of creativity, but they’re certainly well on their way. And small victories along the way are certain (i.e., see the app ‘Paper’ for iOS, etc.)

    That said, tradesmanship does seem to be a dying field, doesn’t it? For instance, I’m an artist working in higher ed, with only a technical degree. But my skillset and experience (largely due to apprenticeships and tradesmanship) has allowed me to build a niche for myself that your typical degree does not really support. When I applied to go back to school and finish my BA, admissions contacted me concerning my transcripts. “Humor? You had a class called ‘Humor’? What IS that,” announced the incredulous woman on the phone.

    “This conversation,” I said. “This conversation is ‘kinda precisely’ what that is.”

    The perception here is that because it’s a DIFFERENT structure or an UNUSUAL structure outside of the norm, does it therefore even HAVE structure and what’s the perceived VALUE of that structure (and for the record, yes, humor requires a very broad architecture, one component of which is empathy, which translates to a vast number of professions. And you know, we can all use more laughs these days, don’t you think)?

    But you know – I suspect there was tremendous incredulity at the outrageous notion that the world was round, not flat, too.

  • http://wfryer.wpengine.com Wesley Fryer

    Sorry to hear about your challenges with higher ed course recognition… that’s an interesting animal to be sure. What an institution gives credit for, in my experience, is a highly variable thing and personal/subjective biases often do enter in although they theoretically should not.

    I agree that we’re in a “larval stage” with tablets and the creative possibilities are likely to just keep getting better. There are definite circumstances, with videography projects I call “quick edit video” needs, which are met far better with an iPad than traditional gear. That said, I think it’s still important to look at our capabilities TODAY and not tomorrow when we look at the kind of device we’re putting in the hands of both teachers and students.

    I saw a great interview with Google’s Larry Page last week on AppleTV, on the WSJ channel from the “All Things Digital” conference. What he said about the processing power of smartphones and the cost, based on the continuation of Moore’s Law for at least the short term, is going to continue to change the game. As smartphones (both iOS and Android) become increasingly ubiquitous, I think many of the features which tablets and smartphones excel at (like quick edit video) can be done with those devices which are student-provided. Laptop computing can then be a mixture of both BYOD and student-provided devices, depending on the setting and situation.

    I still maintain most schools have the money for 1:1 and the capacity to find the required funding, it’s just a matter of priorities.

  • http://wfryer.wpengine.com Wesley Fryer

    I agree, that statement by Jim was very compelling for me also. We need to broadly raise our expectations for what students can do and what they are capable of.

  • Craig Michael Patrick

    Very much agree. Absolutely. Priorities are definitely a point of contention.

    I’d also posit that technology is it’s own challenge in education. Upgrade cycles, specifically in mobile, iterate in about a 2-3 year cycle at this point (I’m assuming, and please chime in if you feel I’m off here), driven largely around cellular providers’ (when one thinks mobile, one thinks cell phone, and cell phones roll the same OS as their tablet companions) contracts. Financially, that must be a monstrous burden on the education system.

    Consider: iOS is on an annual upgrade cycle. According to Apple’s unspoken but forced obsolescence policy, the iPad 1 can no longer be upgraded to new OS’s. That’s just under 3 years. Android is on a similar path, but it’s already enjoyed a largely fractured culture of old OS’s locked into antiquated devices.

    It’s an amazing race (no pun intended). But I suspect you’ll be able to edit those videos soon enough, given the upgrade cycles.

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