Frankly, I’m feeling a bit deprived…Crossing the Curriculum Chasm…and Steve Jobs Poignant Words

As I sit here rapidly approaching the half-century mark in my piddly little existence on the planet, surrounded by all manner of technology that didn’t exist 25 years ago, much less back when I was 8 years old (that would be 1970 for all you folks trying to do the math), I marvel at what kids can do today. I just watched episode three of “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show”…found here…and I am totally blown away by what she is doing.

We’ll get to the production aspect of the video in a bit…

Focus with me for a moment on the tools she has at her disposal to “Have fun, play around and get out there and make something.” Here’s a list…

An Arduino robotics controller – $35

A laptop computer – $500(I’m being generous here, could probably get by with a $200 unit)

An LED – I dunno, a nickel?

A potentiometer – $.035?

 

When I was eight my list consisted of…

Lincoln logs

Matchbox cars

 

It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford the items Sylvia has at her disposal today, it was because those items simply did not exist! Well, the potentiometer did but where would I plug that into my Lincoln Logs? Oh sure, I built stuff too and learned physical aspects of things like structural engineering and natural laws like gravity demonstrated by driving my matchbox car through one of the support legs of my Log Mahal and watching the entire structure crash to the ground. But the concepts of open-source, voltage, hertz and square waves eluded me until much later in life…some like twenty minutes ago when I watched Sylvia’s video!

I came across Sylvia’s show via a brilliantly written blog post by Gary Stager…found here… I will admit that I have read a number of Mr. Stager’s blogs, followed many of his twittersations and even sat next to him in a couple sessions at a Laptop Institute a few years back…and I will further admit that many of the things I’ve read from/by him elude me and seem well beyond my grasp…through no fault of Mr. Stager mind you, it is simply a different plane than the one on which my brain operates.

But this one I got. I am particularly fond of this line, “Tens of thousands of district tech directors, coordinators and integrators have done such a swell job that after thirty years, teachers are the last adults in the industrialized world to use computers.” I landed in the education business nine years ago and have scratched my head ever since trying to figure out why this statement is true. It is true. But nine years later, I still don’t know why and much of my hair has fallen out. But I work daily to try to overcome this fact, the computer fact, not the hair one.

But what is missing from this most excellent blog post Mr. Stager is the, “What the heck do we do about this?” aspect. Yes, we are putting more computing power in the hands of teachers and trying to make sure they know how to use them. But how do we change what fundamentally happens in the classroom? You do a masterful job of detailing the short-comings of the current educational environment but stop woefully short of plan of action for a curriculum course correction. What is happening in many classrooms even today is a “high crime”…but let’s talk about how to fix it!

You are correct that teachers are not incapable imbeciles…but even the best, brightest most effective teachers often need help crossing the curriculum chasm, the yawning fissure between what their curriculum map and scope and sequence says they have to accomplish in a school year and allowing their students to, “Have fun, play around and get out there and make something.”

I don’t have all the answers. But I do think it’s more than gathering a bunch of educators to engage in projects…this is going to have to be a top-down driven change for it to stick. Again, I’m short on answers but long on desire to find the answers and even longer on a desire to implement the answers…because of something Steve Jobs said a few years ago that I was reminded of with his passing on Wednesday(I’ll end with this).

Now back to the production of “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show.” My buddies and I were big into making 8mm movies back in the day. We didn’t have our drivers license but we had state-of-the-art movie making gear, circa 1975…which consisted of movie cameras with a crank, that’s right a crank-no batteries…a tripod and a bar with four light sockets, a handle and four suntan lamp-like bulbs. Oh and we had a splicer, a literal cut and paste device for editing the film.

We scripted scenes, we hung out of the windows of moving vehicles for the right action-shot camera angle and we spent hours in front of the splicer putting it all together…we even dodged the police when our kidnapping scene appeared a bit too authentic to some of the neighbors who obviously didn’t notice us stopping every 10 minutes to crank the camera!

My point? We spent countless hours on the tedious and mundane non-content-related aspects of production due to the lack of technology associated with the time of the cosmos in-which we were living. And the product we produced was still, at best, a silent movie. We could produce a full length feature film today in the amount of time we had to wait for the film to come back from the Fotomat!

 

A show of hands please, who’s old like me and remembers the Fotomat??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where would my buddies and I be today had we had today’s technological tools? And a more important question I think, where can the eight year old Sylvia’s of the world be forty-one years from today if we spend every ounce of influence we have helping them become as creative as they can possibly desire to be?  And do it during the school day, as a part of their learning objectives and not only on their own and for the more motivated students who would do things like this on their own time.  I am in total agreement with Mr. Stager, it’s time for a fundamental change in the business of school.

I try to find comfort in the fact that I work around kids every day and do my best to open up the doors to the vast resources available to them today and teach them how to exploit those resources to “suck out all the marrow of life”…without going into a seclusionary lifestyle on 14 acres somewhere in the woods. I also try to find comfort in the fact that what I’m experiencing, the sense of my childhood technological deprivation, is pretty much the way life works. Steve Jobs said it with an eloquently in-your-face statement to the 2005 Stanford graduates at their commencement ceremony when he was talking about his bout with cancer and coming closest, at least at that point in his life, to facing death. He said:

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”

He goes on to point out to the graduates that their time is limited, and not to waste it. My time, from where I sit rapidly approaching the half-century mark is arguably even more limited so I best keep running the race, that I might finish strong and help some kids finish even stronger!

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About Darryl Loy
I am into all things technology…especially education technology. I am currently Director of Technology for a private school in Dallas Texas…previously 13 years as Associate Head of School for Operations at a private school in Fort Worth Texas.

4 Responses to Frankly, I’m feeling a bit deprived…Crossing the Curriculum Chasm…and Steve Jobs Poignant Words

  1. Hi Darryl,

    Thanks for writing about my article. I’m glad it got you thinking.

    I THINK we are in agreement on the larger issues, that things need to change in order to build upon the gifts the kids bring to us in their heads, hearts AND backpacks.

    As I said in the article, there isn’t anything Sylvia is doing with the “toys,” tools and media of HER time as the Little Rascals did 70-80 years ago. What’s different today is that school has beaten the ingenuity out of kids (or tried its damnedest to do so) for a couple of generations now. I hope mighty eight year-olds can save us from ourselves.

    It’s funny. I’m currently working in a school (overseas) where every kid from first grade has a Macbook, with open-ended creativity software. They also have access to robotics materials. Outside of the Elementary School office I’m currently sharing, the principal has left a bucket of Lincoln Logs. Kids casually play with them ALL DAY – before and after school too. Parents and toddlers waiting to take kids home play with them.

    I brought Cuissenaire Rods with me so that 2nd graders can program their own versions using MicroWorlds, a current generation of Logo. By doing so, they better understand the mathematics of the manipulatives by expressing their form and function in formal precise mathematical language while “teaching” the turtle. Some of the kids “play turtle” at recess. “Harold and the Purple Crayon” becomes inspiration for a turtle-based or Animation-ish-based story. “Anno’s Counting Book” is a chance to use iPhoto, cameras, Pixie and MicroWorlds. “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” inspires first graders to create their own multimedia version of “If You Give a Dolphin a Donut.” All of these materials – old school and digital – enhance each other.

    Even if the process of making films when you were a kid was tedious and the result poor, I suspect that you developed a whole lot of affective skills and habits of mind that serve you to this day.

    If you were at the Laptop Institute, I suspect that your school can afford to educate the Sylvias of today without jeopardizing the budget for lacrosse or standardized testing. Schools and educators have a great deal of latitude in how they behave, in what they teach and how they teach – especially independent schools. If the “brand” chosen hampers student creativity and suppresses kids’ participation in the world of today, that may work in the short-run, but will ultimately fail.

    A wise mentor of mine once taught me that you should never make educational decisions based on price, but lets address the cost of the “stuff” Sylvia was using. If you CAN’T honestly afford her bag of tricks, your school can STILL embrace the spirit of the sort of learning adventures she embraces. For me, one of the most important parts of my article is when I say that a kid with her knowledge, skills and talent will be forced to take a moronic keyboarding class four years from now because her teachers lack imagination, knowledge and, I’ll say it – pride. There isn’t a kid out of diapers who “can’t tick the boxes” of the ISTE standards without having ever set foot in school, yet we labor for 12 years to get kids to “use the Google” “properly.”

    If your school truly can’t afford to do what Sylvia suggests, I’ll make you a deal. Throw out all of your standardized testing, drill and practice software and keyboarding tools. In return, I’ll buy your school a site license for MicroWorlds EX, a multimedia programming environment kids could use and learn with for a dozen years of schooling and beyond. I’ll trade you a few million interactive whiteboards (Sylvia doesn’t need one) for a copy of Scratch. Fire your network personnel, and I’ll run a free workshop for your teachers on how to teach with computers. EdTech may suffer from a poverty of abundance.

    PS: Check out what teachers CAN do – http://bit.ly/quIsSX

    Best,

    Gary

    • Darryl Loy says:

      Thanks Gary! FWA is a bit of an anomaly among our peer school here in the big city of Fort Worth and most likely many other schools all around the country. We are the only K-8 school in Fort Worth and the only school in the area, K-8 or otherwise, with a one-to-one laptop program. So while I appreciate your offer tremendously, we can afford and do use many of the tools you mention here. We have a MicroWorlds class, we have a Tech Club elective where our more tech-savvy kids can absorb even more tech skills regarding everything from advanced tech support to in-depth use of other digital software tools. Several of our students were recently invited to participate in a STEM program taught by instructors from West Point. We have a unique program we call Mid-Winterim where, for the week following the student’s return from Christmas break, we set aside all traditional curriculum and offer classes on Lego Robotics and the like. So we have our toes in the digitally creative pool…but I’m ready to see everyone dive right in!!! Certainly we are in agreement on the larger issues at play here and I deeply appreciate the passion with which you pursue real change in schools. Again, I sincerely appreciate your generous offers to help make a difference here at FWA. However, firing my network personnel would be quite counter-productive as I am they! (Being a small school, we all wear lots of hats around here) But I commit to you, and more importantly to our students, that I will continue to push fundamental educational transformation from the top down in the name of ingenuity revival!!!

  2. So, I’m not sure what we disagree about 🙂

  3. Darryl Loy says:

    I agreed with everything in your post….I was just looking for more meaty solutions to the problem…something like, “Do this, then this, then that and viola!! We have cured all educational ills.” Sadly, you disappointed me in that regard… 😉

    Seriously though, I am intrigued by your workshop, we have several folks who I believe would benefit greatly from that kind of experience…I will float that as an additional PD option next summer.

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