When the new school year started a few weeks ago many children in our primary schools were given a new pen, a pencil, a ruler and an assortment of exercise books. All of these deemed to be the essential tools the children would need for the coming years learning journey. How many, I wonder, were also given an iPod Touch? Or even given an iPod Touch instead of the pen, ruler and exercise books? When I started primary school in 1955 pen and paper were the tools of the day. Is this still the case today? Are they the tools we adults use in our daily lives and jobs?
So why not give each class of youngsters an iPod Touch. ‘Hang on a minute’, is the cry I can hear coming from many teachers, ‘That’s easier said than done. Have you thought about the cost and then there’s the problem of them getting broken and what about ……’ and so the excuses begin to tumble out. One problem, though rarely mentioned, is the fact that these devices scare so many of our teachers. They don’t know what to do with them and what’s worse they know the children probably do!
So, instead of giving all the children an iPod Touch, why don’t we start by giving all of our teachers one? Let them discover for themselves the power of this learning tool and the myriad of apps that go with it. Give them time to play and learn. They can then share their issues, their successes, their discoveries safely with one another. Then, when they are ready, start to involve the children. Teachers are, after all, learners as well and this learning tool will help them on their own learning journey.
There are a number of teachers and schools, across the whorl, taking this bold step. Have a look at Tony Vincent’s great list of ‘Dos’ & ‘Don’ts’ with regard to classroom sets of iPod Touches. Much of this advice would work well for a staff set of these devices. A great blog called, ‘I Teach Therefore I Pod’ by a teacher called Harry Walker is well worth looking at. Or you might want to look at an online community of teachers/schools using iPod Touches in which case visit, ‘The iPod Touch Classroom’. If you have now decided you fancy having a go with an iPod Touch here are some educational apps to get you going.
I was given a great book for Christmas called ‘Program Or Be Programmed’ by Douglas Rushkoff. It turned out to be one of those books you can’t put down and then feel the need to go back to again and again. In it he gives us ten commands for the digital age. Ten commands that I feel most of us will ignore, but will do so at our peril. In the book’s introduction he says,
… as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed.
He goes on to suggest that the very technology that we are coming to rely upon more and more is shaping our world and is doing so without our explicit cooperation.
… as such technologies come to characterise the future of the way we live and work, the people programming them take an increasingly important role in shaping our world and how it works.
We are bombarded with software and apps designed to make life easier for us, to lessen our stress levels. One of the ten commands that Douglas Rushkoff speaks of is ‘Time’ and he says we should learn not to ‘always be on’.
Instead of becoming empowered and aware, we become frazzled and exhausted. We have no time to make considered responses, feeling instead obligated to reply to every incoming message on impulse. We reduce the length and complexity of our responses from paragraphs to sentences to txts, making almost everything we transmit sound like orders barked over a walkie-talkie in a war zone. Everything must happen right way, or better, now. There is no later.
In our schools we need to think not only about the ever-growing need to make better use of the technology that is now available but also how we use it. At present we teach children how to use software and apps in the belief that this will equip them for the modern workplace.
Instead of teaching programming, most schools with computer literacy curriculums teach program. When a kid is taught a piece of software as a subject, she’ll tend to think of it like any other thing she has to learn. Success means learning how to behave in the way the program needs her to.
How do we create more programmers in our schools?
My 5-year-old nephew was visiting us today, first day of the half term break. He was keen to tell me about his new game for his Wii – Lego Batman. He was extremely pleased with himself because he had got to Level 5 but was having difficulty getting to Level 6. He then gave me a detailed and animated account of the game so far and more importantly what he thought he needed to do next to get to the next level (something to do with battle shields, I think!)
His resilience shone through as he catalogued what he had failed to do so far and what he intended to do next to overcome these failures. His problem solving skills were evident as he explained, in minute detail, what he thought he needed to do to get these battle shields and how he had come to this conclusion. His language skills were great as he recounted the adventure so far. He was obviously learning a great deal and having tremendous fun.
I then felt sorry for him, though I didn’t say so. Next Monday he goes back to school. Will he have this much fun – I doubt it. He certainly wont be problem solving at anywhere near this level nor being asked to recount such a complicated story. Those developing resilience skills will not be challenged to anywhere near the same level. His learning will ‘power down’ until he gets home again.
……it’s obvious that we are in the midst of a huge period of invention and innovation. Not so much by us, the Digital Immigrants, but by the Digital Natives for themselves. Our kids have recognised in this new digital technology an incredibly powerful tool, and they are making the most of it, using it in ways we can’t even imagine. So why not let them reinvent school?
Now, is that a frightening thought or an exciting one?