Amplifying Student Passion: An interview with two connected kids

This post is the the final project for An Introduction to 21st Century Teaching and Learning for my MEd at UPEI in Leadership and Learning.


Introduction

There is a constant concern as an educator and a parent as to whether or not we are managing the internet generation’s use of technology effectively. We are worried about screen time, ruining a generation of kids with smartphones, while at the same time educators grapple with the reality that the world has transformed into a knowledge economy (Gilbert, 2007), while the classroom is still geared to create citizen’s for an industrial world.

This project is an attempt to show that children are learning and pursuing their passions all the time, and the technology itself can amplify those passions and inadvertently

Amplifier

Photo Credit: morten f Flickr via Compfight cc

create opportunities in which young people are practicing 21st Century skills.

As educators we need to be able to harness these opportunities and focus them into the work we do with students.

The Original Idea

The inspiration for this project was Seymour Papert’s idea that students will appropriate technology for their own use. I wrote the a line of inquiry that stated: Children and youth appropriate technology to fit their interests and passions; educators must develop their students’ awareness of metacognition to build life long learners.  I also stated the following goals:

  • Attempt to show what student centered knowledge creation could look like.
  • To explore Papert’s idea of appropriating Technology more deeply.

Finally I stated that I wanted to demonstrate that when kids “appropriate” (Papert, 2009) technology for their own purposes they inadvertently are practicing 21st Century Skills.

In order to demonstrate this I have conducted interviews with my ten and half year old twins, Thomas and Lucy, about their use of technology.

A quick note: I have had a long standing interest in educational technology and how it can be used to shift our educational paradigm. One aspect of this interest is that I have never shied away from my kids to using technology. Furthermore, my wife pursues her passion for food and culture through a large network that she has built on the internet. Needless to say Thomas and Lucy have grown up in an environment where connectivity and use of a device in daily life in common place. 

My Theory

In James Cameron’s 1984 film “The Terminator” we see the underlying evil taking the form of an artificial intelligence called Skynet. Skynet has taken over and destroyed humanity, and is further cementing its dominance by going back in time to eliminate human elements that could threaten its control in it’s present. Great movie, but I fear that it played a role in setting up society’s mistrust of technology’s impact on humanity, and saying that we always must be asking:

What will technology do to us?

Seymour Papert calls this need to put technology in the forefront “technocentrisim”(2009).  Papert states it is a ” fallacy…referring all questions to the technology” (2009). In education we are often still in that technocentric place “where we think technology will determine how we think” (Papert, 2009), and as a result subvert life as we know it.

I think as educators we can do better.

In my interviews with Thomas and Lucy I attempt to show that when children use their technology outside of a structured school environment, they “appropriate” (Papert, 2009) the technology to amplify what they love doing. As Papert points out, technology has different effects for different children (2009). The passion determines the choice of application, not the other way around. As teachers, we need to recognise the informal learning that our students do and transfer it into the classroom. Knowing that student passion exists, and the lessons learned informally have value in a child’s overall learning experience is key to create a much more authentic classroom environment. Thos e passions need to be acknowledged and built on.

Here’s what Thomas and Lucy experience:

In my interviews with Thomas and Lucy I found that they were clearly using their devices and digital applications to build on what they already loved. I also found that they were engaging in “hard fun” (Papert, 2009). You can see, as Lucy spends 20 minutes producing a 12-15 second Muscal.ly, and Thomas works over a year long timespan to build a multi dimensional city in Minecraft, that they are doing the “work that will harness…[their] passion…to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline”(Papert, 2002).  Through this informal work Thomas and Lucy are developing the ability to collaborate, problem solve, research, plan, organise and network. All of these skills are at the core of the 21st Century learning conversation. The key is for teachers and parents to recognise that this learning is happening and validate it as authentic and important. As educators we need to teach students to recognise their learning, by thinking about their thinking, reflecting, and processing all that they do so that they can recognise their ongoing learning process. This idea is mirrored in Papert’s words, “What you ought to be learning at school is that you don’t need to be taught in order to learn.” (2009).

The final piece in my puzzle is thinking that by blending George Siemen’s connectivism (2004) with Papert’s “appropriation”(2009), a learning environment can be created that will amplify student’s outside learning while guiding them to the idea of of knowledge building (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2002, p 1370). A classroom model leveraging these theories to engage learners to build a connected knowledge base that is bigger than each individual’s capacity, and is linked and bonded through layers of connections in the digital landscape would be in my mind a strong model for 21st Century learning.

Reference List

Previous thinking that may or may not have influenced this writing:

Let’s See What Happens – A train Wreck Story

If I had a Magic Wand

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Bedtime Conversations with a Minecraft Expert

Cross posted on Holtspeak’s COETAIL Advenure

This evening as I was putting my son to bed I had a question for him.  “Did you know there are horses in Minecraft and you can ride them?”  “Yes”, he says.  “But I need a saddle to ride one and I can’t craft one.”  He then proceeds to tell me that I need to find a zombie spawner.  Often beside zombie spawners you’ll find chests full of stuff.  This was my best option to find a saddle.  “Well”, I said. “I also need to make a lead to lead the horse anywhere.

Slimeball Screenshot by Holtspeak

Slimeball
Screenshot by Holtspeak

The crafting instructions say I need string and a slimeball to make one.  Where do I get a slimeball?”  “Dad!  You have to spawn slime, and then kill it to get a slimeball! If you want string just kill a spider.  You know how spiders have string inside them?! Right?” “Ok, but spiders are hard to kill, and I always end up dead when one finds me.”  ” No, Dad!  Kill one in the daytime, they are way easier to kill and don’t do as much damage.”

At this point my wife called from the other room that it was late and time to turn out the light.  My source had been cut off!

Harnessing the Power of the “Share Button”

Students were thrilled to have someone see and comment on their work! Photo Credit: andrewrennie via Compfight cc

Students were thrilled to have someone see and comment on their work!
Photo Credit: andrewrennie via Compfight cc

I believe the power and significance of the student as a Global Communicator and Collaborator is summed up in the following quote;

“Everyday I have to decide if I will write for my teachers or publish to the world” Eighth grader talking about whether she will do her homework, or continue her work as a writer on www.fanfiction.net – from pg 71, Alan November “Who Owns the Learning”

This week I discovered such a student in my own class, though he is not at all at the scale that above eighth grader has achieved.  My fifth grader created a 20 page Google presentation about the properties of Minecraft blocks. I discovered his work purely by accident when I noticed a friend of his looking at the presentation during our time in the computer lab.  I asked the friend about the work and discovered that this student had created the presentation on his own initiative out of the love of the game.  I asked his friend how useful such information was since I am not really familiar with Minecraft.  His friend replied that a new user of Minecraft would find the information invaluable.  I asked who it had been shared with.  The reply was just this friend.

The Minecraft block presentation is definitely an example of a student creating their own tutorial, and it also connects into the Daniel Pink’s motivators of quality work, autonomy, mastery and purpose. (This student, much like the eighth grader quoted above, didn’t always hand in the most high quality work for me).  When I praised him about his initiative, and the quality of his work I could see he was thrilled.

As I was having making this discovery, my fifth graders and I were in the computer lab working on our Photo Stories (the project I initiated for this course).  Coincidentally I had a group at that moment who were finished.  We uploaded their presentation to YouTube, and then embedded it in their blog.  A few minutes later I heard an excited exclamation, “We had six views!”.  They found it incredible that someone had looked at their work.  At that moment I realized the potential of global communication/collaboration, and most importantly feedback through the internet, and the possible pool of motivation available if students tapped into it .  So I sat down at a work station and tweeted their work and asked for comments.

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A few minutes later a friend of mine in Canada, Jean-Paul, commented and re-tweeted.  Right away their was an email that said they had a comment. They were over the moon!

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I have done a lot of experimenting using technology in my class, but I’ve never actively tried to create an audience for my students work.  I find the idea of trying to get my students noticed overwhelming.  However, I have now seen first hand how motivated students become when they receive one comment and a fist full of views.  The potential is unfathomable.

So, going back to the student who created the Minecraft Block presentation, the next step for him is to get his presentation out into the cyber world and reap the potential benefits.  I have already casually suggested a few things, and plan to follow up with him.  His initiative to create the resource could potentially be rewarded exponentially.

For me the challenge now is too design global collaboration into my regular instruction, and to actively promote, and teach my students to promote, their work online.

So please click on one of the links below and leave a comment.  Make a fifth graders day!

Rethink Plastic

Say Hello to the 4th “R”, RETHINK

Our Fourth “R”: RETHINNK

Save our Earth, Buddy! Rethink!