What Are We Doing?

What are we doing to help students prepare for the ever changing world they are plunging into? Over the past week I’ve read several articles, blogs and attended the 21 Century Learning conference here in Hong Kong with this question in mind.

In “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project” I read the section on messing around. As I read about the importance of allowing students to have the opportunity to explore their interest with technology, I reflected on what brought me to the footsteps of technology back in 1981.It was a total mistake. I came to school early thinking I was going to jazz band in 7th grade. I didn’t get the call that it was canceled so I sat in the hall. The school librarian saw me and asked if I wanted to help her take some boxes to her office. It was a Commodore 64. She told me that she had little interest and knowledge of what to do with it and wondered if I could get a group of kids together to help her learn how to use it. Inadvertently she had given us the “Free Ticket” to mess around. This built my interest and confidence in the use of technology.

The report says, “messing around can function as a transitional genre that leads to more sustained engagements with media and technology.” What adults sometimes consider as “wasting time” or “not learning” are actually the students attempts to personalize what they are doing. After reading this report I let my students (4th grade) have 10 minutes to create avatars that they can use on their websites, emails, and so forth. It was interesting to see how much or how little they wanted it to look like them. It also lent itself to a great discussion of presenting yourself to others online. The students were eager to use their new avatar to update their online image. I have noticed several students accessing different sites more frequently since adding their own avatar.

I want to find more opportunities to give the students time to “mess around and tinker” with new programs and technology in the classroom. I want them to explore tools that they might use to show the understanding of a concept or explain an idea. They can explore different uses of technology they already have in their possession and find new ways to use them that I wouldn’t come up with. I know that I won’t be able to give them the Google model of 20%, but they need some exploration time that’s low stress with flexible goals. This will help develop more confidence and self initiative.

At the 21CLHK conference I had the opportunity to listen to Sugata Mitra. He posed the question, “Do teachers get int he way of learning?”. It made me think about how many times have I intervened to speed up a process because PE is in 5 minutes or have I given students the enough times to fail before assisting them.  What’s more important, the path or the product? I hope to let the students take the reigns more for their learning. I want them to develop the problem solving, adapting, and seeking skills they’ll need to be successful in this ever changing world.

Wired All Around Me

I’ve recently read a section from “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project“* about “Hanging Out”. It talks about the shift of the definition due to the implementation of technology.

As I read the article I was sitting at a café in one of the most WIRED cities in the world, Hong Kong. I would periodically pause from my reading to see its findings laid out around me.  The report describes how some kids use it as soon as they awake to communicate with friend or significant other. Some use technology as the center piece to gather around and be social (video games, web searches, youtube). Across from me is a group of four guys in their 20’s. They’re sitting in a circle playing a linked game between their PSPs while joking and having a good time. The girl across from me as been slowly sipping her latte while chatting with a friend in Japanese on Skype. The couple in the corner have a Y jack for headphones in their Ipad as they watch a movie together.

I count 47 people in the room. 28 are using technology in one form or another. Almost all have cellphones out or at the ready to read, share, and send texts. It is a new era of hanging out.

If hanging out through the use of technology is becoming the norm for a growing number of people, why are so many educators stopping it in the classroom when it could be used as a valuable resource for our students to gather information and collaborate worldwide?


*The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning  |  November 2008