Pedagogy, tools and complex work

This post started out as a comment on Doug’s blog post this morning but I got a little carried away.  Thanks to Doug and Royan for getting me thinking and dwelling on some good stuff today!

I’ve been teaching for 24 years now so I’ve been around the block a few times.  I did not use computers myself in high school, but dabbled in a little programming during my undergraduate years.  I’m sad to say that most of my tech skills are self-taught, and aren’t that notable, but it’s definitely a lot easier now than in those pre-web days!

It might surprise people to know that before personal computers were being routinely placed in classrooms, good teachers were still maximizing technology and teaching 21st century skills.  We were pen-paling, we were publishing books (binding them even), creating voice recordings, building structures and photographing them (we spent a lot of time sending in film and picking up photos!) conducting field research, collecting data, going on field trips outside the classroom and even working in teams to produce original work!

Many of us were already bucking the worksheet and celebrating serious children’s work in the classroom, gathering resources from unusual places and inviting experts in.  It was harder then because you couldn’t just jump on the internet and find stuff, but you still had to have the desire to look for it in the first place and a knowledge of good pedagogy.  And yes, there were lots of teachers doing worksheets and ‘pseudo’ student-centred learning, just as you see happening with some of the electronic worksheet technology of today.  By now we’ve all seen iwb users that claim to be engaging kids with close exercises where the words can actually move around on the board. Wow!

What worries me about the “it’s not about the technology” argument, is that I think kids deserve to be doing more complex things with computers.   A book report done with Glogster is still a book report, and this can be a good thing or a not so good thing.  A “read an article and answer some questions assignment” on a Ning or a google doc is just that…and again can be a good thing or a not so good thing!

My experience using MicroWorlds Jr with Grade 1’s and actually watching them plan, program, problem-solve, collaborate, debug and share in Logo was exhilarating…it was hard fun!  I can’t tell you how much I hope that Ontario’s OSAPAC program takes a look at this software, as well as its versions for older students.   A wise woman I met at ISTE a couple of years ago (I wish I could recall her name), mentioned her disappointment at all the trivial things she was seeing people do with classroom computers, even after all these years.  I’m reminded again about the importance of programming as part of the school curriculum when I read Gary Stager’s passionate post about ‘really computing’…Gary says it so much better than I, but if you’ve read Papert’s stuff and you’ve had the experience of programming with kids there is a good chance you are converted too!  Peter Skillen introduced me to MicroWorlds about 7 years ago and it’s through a different lens that I’ve viewed educational technology ever since.

I stay positive and know that it’s the discussions around all this, as Doug points out, that are the key.  I don’t know how Doug does it, but even with his amazing computer programming knowledge he supports us all in our knowledge acquisition with a smile and no arrogance or annoyance whatsoever, even though he can run super-procedures around even the most accomplished among us!  Doug really does walk the constructivist walk, knowing that developing deep understanding takes time and support.

Peter’s reference to the blue water analogy is changing my thinking too.   We must push each other and examine and discuss what we see, not getting ‘wowed’ by the tools, but knowing that the technology does have important impact and has changed every part of our lives…shouldn’t it also be changing how schools work?

I’m still not seeing that yet…but I don’t think it’s the technology that will change the schools anyway, it’s the people!

One comment

  1. Nice post.

    Yes. Kids need to be doing HARDER stuff. Hard fun as Papert would say.

    I think they are not doing harder stuff for a couple of reasons:

    It may be too hard for some of us as teachers. Let’s face it, once you are past the ‘spinning squares’ phase of Logo (MicroWorlds) or its equivalent, things are difficult and time-consuming. And, some people are afraid to tread into the unknown and difficult WITH their students. Too bad. That’s where, imho, the best can occur for kids as they are working authentically and explicitly with other learners. The teacher may be an expert learner and his/her problem-solving strategies are great models to be seen by students.

    Another reason many teachers may not engage kids in these much more difficult challenges may be a holdover from the misunderstandings of Piagetian theories related to concrete and abstract thinking. Although I am a fan of Piaget’s work, I believe it has been misinterpreted and misapplied. Also, his studies were done in an era that preceded the digital era and so kids were not afforded the opportunities to play with what I have called ‘abscrete’ tools. This neo-piagetian tripe has tremendously impacted how we view kids and their abilities – although I don’t hear it discussed in those terms these days at all.

    Of course, Papert was a student of Piaget’s – so that is, of course, an interesting twist on this. 🙂


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