Yes, I know a lot about educational technology. That’s why I’m in TICAL. But when it comes to programming, to developing software and interactive website content, I am not even in the ballpark. So I must admit I was impressed when I learned that an 11 year-old boy and his 9 year-old brother successfully developed and marketed a 99-cent iPod “app” to help kids memorize math facts.
A creative school project? Nope. The kids learned how to do this by going online and finding the information needed, by themselves, not a teacher or principal in sight. The older brother “poured over college level computer-science textbooks” to gain the programming skills and the younger brother used Photoshop® to make the icons for the game.
Obviously, these two lads have a lot on the ball, but that’s beside the point. There is a lesson here for our public education system. If two bright kids can learn to build iPod apps without a teacher holding them on a tight leash, what might the kids in our classrooms learn if we loosened the leash, gave them the tools, and guided them to their own discoveries?
Quite a bit, I think. For example, give kids access to their social studies textbook online and task them with creating a written report about one of the ancient cultures such as Rome or Mesopotamia. Then have them summarize that report into a PowerPoint® presentation that they share with their classmates. We actually did this at my school. The teacher never was involved other than to provide some guidance along the way. No lecture, no worksheets. The project was not assigned for homework, yet the kids chose to work on it at home. By the time they finished, these students could tell you all about the culture they studied without once looking at their notes.
Yes, they did have to know how to go online, how to summarize information, and how to use PowerPoint®. These are ways the teacher provided support and guidance. But I think the idea is clear: today’s kids can go find information and use it in pursuit of their own learning. We need to give them the opportunity. We need to quit lecturing and worksheeting and start blogging and tweeting. We need to trade in the choke collars for a clear vision of how students learn in today’s world.