Is your school using technology as a marketing gimmick? (Part 2)

Lego Mindstorms EV3 - a common member of school robotics clubs

Lego Mindstorms EV3 - a common member of school robotics clubs

In Part 1 we discussed two types of gimmicks: 

  1. A school which does not having a pedagogical strategy for their Digital Technologies curriculum and therefore prioritises the purchase of a 3D printer before setting up a computer room with at least one computer per student.
  2. A school which does not deliver their coding classes in an authentic learning environment, instead resorting to online coding courses in a classroom environment.  

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic drivers for learning 

There have been a few children's workshops advertised as teaching children to “build a mobile app.” This has likely evolved out of news stories of 10 year olds building their own iPhone apps and making a profit. I have also received requests from parents to teach their child how to build a mobile app.

Jumping on to the mobile app development band wagon

Jumping on to the mobile app development band wagon

Issue: 

Learning to code and then building a mobile app is a long and arduous journey. It is the equivalent of a child saying, “I’m going to compete at the 100m sprint at the Olympics” or “I’m going to perform the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt at the Sydney Opera House.” It’s not impossible, but it is a long journey. 

So for a child to a) learn to code proficiently and then b) build a mobile app this is going to happen one of two ways:

The child starts on this mammoth journey, with nothing but the end goal of building an app. This could potentially become extrinsically driven i.e. “I am only doing this because I want to build an app and sell it” rather than for the journey to be intrinsically driven i.e. “coding is so much fun and I just love learning how to do new things everyday”

Or the other option is: 

A proficient programmer helps the child build the app, but ends up doing most of the work. The child walks away with an app that “they build” but has not fully understood the concepts required to build it. 

Solution:

My idea of the ideal outcomes of a coding club are:

  • To inspire a curiosity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths)
  • To inspire interest in building, breaking, creating, problem solving, experimenting, collaborating and exploring
  • To love every step of the learning journey 
  • To learn how to learn, technology is evolving and we don’t know now what skills are needed in the future
  • To develop projects that are driven by play and curiosity 

These educational outcomes are founded on building intrinsic drivers in lifelong learning. Studying stops when exams are over. But lifelong learning is fun and a necessary skill to be economically agile in a fast-changing, digital environment. 

Please feel free to email me your ideas if you disagree or have additional ideas.

All hardware, no (or maybe a little bit of) software 

Does you school have a robotics club but no coding club?

Issue:  

There are two parts to robotics - hardware and software. Coding or computer programming is required to write the software to control the hardware, the robots. Without software, robots are just expensive but useless lumps of metal and plastic.

Robotics clubs may already include a coding component in their program, so this is something to question. Perhaps the intent of the robotics club is to play around with the mechanics and electronics, and the software gets “hacked” together just to make it “work”, i.e. the fundamentals are glossed over and potentially the software gets written by teachers or select students. The intended outcomes are an understanding of mechanics and electronics and an interest in robotics in general, but excluding the software development / computer programming element. This is not necessarily bad, it just requires recognition of the intent of the club. It would be similar to a student taking woodshop class without ever spending any time at the drawing board planning the design and figuring out which materials and tools would be required to execute the project.

Solution: 

It may be that the robotics club (and school) chooses only to focus on the mechanics and electronics of robotics and to exclude the software component. That is a working solution, not all clubs can be everything to everyone.  

Another option is to also provide a coding club or to include coding fundamentals as part of the robotics club program. 

We solve “real world issues” 

Do the teachers use jargon and buzzwords? Do they understand what those words mean?

Issue:

There are so many buzzwords being thrown around: agile, algorithmic thinking, computational thinking, solving “real world issues”, “future-proof”. But what do these terms even mean? 

Solving “real world issues” is actually a bugbear of mine, this term annoys me to no end. But I’ve left this story for another blog post. 

Solution:

Simply ask your teachers to explain anything you don’t understand in plain English. There is no need to be embarrassed if you do not know. 

Once they’ve explained the technical jargon, ask them what the learning outcomes are. What’s the point of “jargon term x”? How will this be useful to your child? 

Technology is just a tool. It cannot fix a bad educational program or bad teaching. Technology can enhance education outcomes, support exploration and problem solving, encourage a growth mindset and a lifelong love of learning, and support an environment of authentic learning. But in the hands of the untrained, technology is just a marketing gimmick. 

Have a chat to your school about what programs they are delivering, which technological or digital tools are they using and what the educational outcomes are. All of this is a work in progress. It is a very new area for teachers and we as a community can work through this together to achieve great learning outcomes for our children. 

Computer games are not a "real world problem" but teach transferable complex-problem solving skills.

Computer games are not a "real world problem" but teach transferable complex-problem solving skills.