Spoiling the Bunch

Apple, Inc. just confirmed Dr. Papert’s opening paragraph from Teaching Children Thinking.

“The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.”

– Seymour Papert <strike(1980)(1970)*

Apple’s Classroom App

Apple is on the wrong side of history with its Classroom App. Everything about the app screams distrust. It’s heavy on content delivery (as if learners don’t construct knowledge), control (did I say you could tap that icon?), management (apparently, computer literacy is dead), locking out students (Johnny went to the Wiki one too many times), and shared devices (let’s call it collaboration!). Read the Getting Started with Classroom, it’s all there.

Alfie Kohn put forth a compelling case for being skeptical about announcements like this one in his post about The Overselling of EdTech:

There’s a jump-on-the-bandwagon feel to how districts are pouring money into computers and software programs – money that’s badly needed for, say, hiring teachers. But even if ed tech were adopted as thoughtfully as its proponents claim, we’re still left with deep reasons to be concerned about the outmoded model of teaching that it helps to preserve — or at least fails to help us move beyond. To be committed to meaningful learning requires us to view testimonials for technology with a terabyte’s worth of skepticism.

The less we trust students the fewer opportunities they have to develop the very agency over their own learning that we aspire for them. Our skeptical eye is much needed in these days of edu-preneurship, edtech startups and the dreamy influence of Silicon Valley giants.

*UPDATED: Gary Stager pointed out (below) that the quote is from 1970 though the paper I cited is from 1980. This further emphasizes that Apple and most other computer hardware/software companies don’t know history and continue to ignore research on learning.

Without Sense of Hierarchy

“You realize how there’s no ceiling and how everyone is going to be able to contribute to everybody else’s learning no matter where they came from, when they got here or where they were at.”

In this short (1:35) video reflection, Angela Jochum, an ICT Integration Coordinator at the Frankfurt International School, shares her experience at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014. The phrase that stays with me is when she talks about on there being “no sense of hierarchy.”

Join us this July 11-15 at Constructing Modern Knowledge!
Her reflection illustrates the absence of a hierarchy that is prevalent in many educational settings. A hierarchy constructed of perceived, and often intentional, divisive levels between the “smart” kids and “dumb” kids. Unfortunately this is plays out in classrooms (and teacher lounges) around the world where kids are ranked and sorted by grades and test scores. Angela’s is describing how CMK is wholly a different experience.

At CMK, people from various educational institutions (i.e. – schools, museums, etc.) come together for four days to do projects they’ve never done before. CMK participants often feel a bit uncomfortable the first day. Angela experienced the notion of learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. From what I recall, her self-selected project group also consisted of a kindergarten teacher and a AP physics teacher all learning together to do things each of them had never done before.

CMK attendees experience something that is not like a most conferences where attendees shuffle from hall A to hall B listening to one-direction presentations. They hear wacky and whimsical ideas that seem to have no place in serious professional learning. They wander the plethora of learning kits, google what an Arduino does, peruse volumes of books, and wonder what the point of it all is. Oh! They listen, chat and dine with stellar educational heroes too!

Everyone learns at CMK. Largely, it is about experiencing what it is to be a learner again. Learning from and with others.  In doing so, we can begin to empathize with our children, our students and fellow teachers in the modern landscape of learning.