Saturday, November 9, 2013

What's Old is New Again: Teaching Coding (Programming) in Elementary Schools.

As a teacher who uses Scratch and MicroWorlds software in my school on a regular basis I am always looking for programing / coding tools.  On facebook I ran into Play-i, a new company creating a robot toy to teach the very young student how to code:  Play-i "Delightful Robots for Children"  I really like this product and from what I can see it's absolutely on the right track: A) Teaching coding (when I first started teaching we called it programming -- what that means today is nicely explained in this Edutopia article 7 Apps for Teaching Children Coding Skills | Edutopia),  B) Constructivist learning (Hands on Exploring, Discovery, Empowerment), C) Problem Solving strategies that aren't bound to only one right way to do things, D) Debugging, (answers aren't a straight line, and when you're moving from point E to F, or V to W, it's there where you make the really amazing discoveries).
And they really seem to have done their homework, the two robots that they show in their video seem really on the cutting edge.  Of course this idea is not new, Seymour Papert created a robot to run his Logo programming back in 1967 (The History of Turtle Robots) and it reminds me of how I started my tech-ed career in 1983 thinking, every school in the world will be teaching programming / coding and having robots before we reach 1990.  Well that was a little optimistic but if Play-i can get us back to that original idea of Papert: Mindstorms, Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, (still a GREAT read) I want to get on that train.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Finding Myself in a Sea of Choices

To be engaged in the world of tech you really have to be quantum, or as close as possible, being everywhere at the same time.  This year I feel I've spun my wheels more than ever before, but I'm realizing it's not as much because I'm not doing my job (or better put my jobs: technician, classroom teacher, tech coach to classroom teachers -- though that part of my job hardly exists), it's because my jobs are so often pointing me to a place where I can't really get anything done deeply.  I'm spinning my wheels because as soon as I get going in one direction, the volume of other tasks I need to complete sways me in another direction.  Schools are asking more and more of teachers, and though I believe in the notion of forever learning, getting to be the best you can as an educator, much of the asking of teachers right now is so scattered it allows for no deep learning, nothing beyond, get it and move on, NO true introspection, so that as Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows, warns, we're getting good at finding the answers, not understanding them.  Maybe school's aren't meant to be places where we go deep.  It is an institution: The students are forced to be there; The leaders are constantly asking for proof that the inmates are meeting standards; and since it's based on a capitalist model, not a scientific one there is a notion that we must always pull some sort of higher profit out of the commodity.

More and more I feel I am running into teachers who are frustrated with their jobs because they don't get to get into the marrow of the subjects they are teaching.  We talk about teaching to the test and how that limits us, but within the administration of that testing notion is also a control of the teacher.  Not only can a teacher not go deep because of the time constraints that come with teaching to the test, but teachers are now administered to enter data, follow pacts, stay within the guidelines of the units, that teachers just as the students they teach are being forced to do their teaching one way and one way only: To push for a result, get it, and move on.  This is the great irony of the place teachers are now in: So much work to do that it feels like being lost at sea, having to constantly choose between the lesser of two evils, but in the end being pushed so much into a model that has been deemed to get the best results, the choices of teaching, the natural art of understanding that there is no one answer, but a sea of choices, all worthy of introspection, that the only thing that can get done is to follow the guidelines and move on to the next student.  As I write this the image that keeps coming up in my head is Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times.  I guess because my sea of choices make for very little choice at all.