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.


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


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 original 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. That understanding that the work students do towards what they love outside the school building has value in the school is a bridge that will create a much more authentic classroom environment.

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, 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 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

Shift: A Final Reflection

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: orangeacid via Compfight cc

As I sit and reflect after reading the final chapter of Alan November’s Digital Learning Farm, one thing comes to mind:  paradigm shift.  November gives a lot examples of teachers using forms of technology to reshape their classrooms, but really what is happening is that teachers are shifting from a traditional approach to a new hands off experiential model in which students begin to own their own learning.  November’s final example of Garth Holman and Michael Pennington sums this all up perfectly.  These two teachers through the medium of online tools have completely shifted their teaching methodology from teacher centered to students centered in which students created and took responsibility for their content and learning.  Holman and Pennington’s students creation of, and the motivation to create, their own online textbook, again,  dovetails perfectly into Daniel Pink’s motivators of mastery, autonomy and purpose.  It is important to be aware that it is good design and pedagogy that has created the awesome learning environment.  This vision combined with the embedding of technology into the design is the key.  As Kathy Schrock says in her video Connecting Your Classroom to the Future, “Technology does not drive curriculum…curriculum drives technology”.

So what are my predictions for the future? Well I think that the following video, that a fellow learner in this course Stacey Johnsen, reflected upon in her last post Digital Communication and Collaboration, speaks very strongly towards what I would like to see education become.

For me, what Pat Bassett talks about in the above Tedx talk manages to capture a lot of ideas that are constantly swirling around in my brain that I can never get a hold of all at once.  Ideas from my own reflections, ideas that I’ve read, seen or heard about. Ideas from my experience that I never have had a chance to articulate because they are fleeting.  I love hearing that education is no longer owned by the teacher.  Bassett says, “subjects will be in the service of creation”.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Knowledge to imagine and create.                     Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I love that he says students should do something with their imaginations and knowledge.   No longer will students just “know stuff”, but they will need to create – to engage in real world problems – and have real world solutions.  I want to be a part of a movement that can get beyond high stakes testing and move into “High Value Demonstrations”.  It’s exciting.

That is the education future that I want to be part of.