Are we leaving kids behind? Are we “dumbing down” the potential of education with technology? Gary Stager thinks we are.
He starts his blog post in a familiar style, where he’s on his horse to complain that things today aren’t done the way they were back in his day…
> When I started, we taught children to program. We also taught tens of thousands of teachers to teach computer science to learners of all ages. In many cases, this experience represented the most complex thinking about thinking that teachers ever experienced and their students gained benefit from observing teachers learning to think symbolically, solve problems and debug.
I was prepared to remind Dr. Stager the times have changed, and… but, he has a point.
> Teachers with post-graduate degrees are being compelled to receive iPad training. My 95 year-old grandmother figured it out all by herself. No tax dollars were harmed in the process.
> I am sorry, but social media is not a school subject. There are conference workshops on using Twitter and masters degrees in educational technology that culminate in a rap about hashtags. If social media is any damned good, it needs to be as complex and reliable as a dial-tone.
The comments on his blog post really ripped at this point, as they took his post to be a social media vs. programming rant. But it was never that. He’s simply questioning why we spend so much time on the communications tools du jour and not on richer (and maybe harder) pursuits, like programming.
So what is computer literacy to you? Stager wants it to be defined the way A. Luerhmann coined it in the 1970s and 1980s: learning technology to solve problems.
I fully endorse this definition. I also believe the tools Stager marks as second class pursuits for educators aren’t necessarily second class. Well-known author Will Richardson commented as much, asking Stager and others not to forget the power of social media.
I believe social media can be used to solve authentic, real world problems. Computers can be used to create beautiful art and music. Computers can be used emotionally harm and belittle our “friends.” Let’s face it, computers can do a lot more today, in all their forms (from watches to mobile phones, to new tablet computers). Our own teacher Jennifer Gates used social video to attract the attention of a student-motivated school wide project.
I have been championing the use of Scratch now for a number of years. When I see the deep problem-solving and inventive thinking that can take place with a simple-to-use programming environment like this, I get excited. Because kids are using it. It’s motivating, and it can be a rewarding experience.
So, I’m all for replacing time we spend teaching PowerPoint (or Keynote) for teaching students how to write simple, basic programs that can help solve real or even imaginary problems. Computer science is at the core of today’s STEM movement. That’s why I’ve spoken-out for the need for a teacher endorsed in computer science at Goochland High School to our STEM advisory committee.
I just hope I’m endorsing this for the right reasons. I am a product of Seymour Papert’s LOGO in schools and I spent my elementary years studying BASIC outside of school. While not an active programmer today, as others in Stager’s post wrote, the experience has stuck with me.
I think a great place to start, as any teacher can do, is to think about opening the laptop cart, or bringing iOS devices into the classroom… and not focus on what students might create with the technology (although I wouldn’t be terribly bothered if we always did that). Instead, focus on the problems we’re challenging students to solve.
A fun place for teachers to start on their own MacBooks is the Automator app. You can poke around and drag-and-drop to make simple Mac applications that tie together features from other apps…