The title of this article is a question, because I admit my ignorance of the answer. I’ve not been paying much attention to THE conversation, since I have finally accepted my status as retired. Wahoo! But I am working on another book, so my mind is still in our righteous endeavor, even though my PLN has evolved.
The book I am working on will be a history of technology in education, as I have witnessed it – so programming is on my mind. You see, that’s what we called it back in the 1982, programming. So I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when I saw so much of the edtech discussion, at the recent Raleigh NCTIES conference, devoted to coding.
But are we (and I’m asking this question seriously) missing the point of a skill that has been so important to me, not to mention a pure personal joy? You see, what has made coding so important is not necessarily its practicality, though I have been able to support the educational endeavors of many teachers with my tools. It’s not even the bread it has put on my table, though I am enormously appreciative of that.
I often tell the story that on that first afternoon, after spending my first couple of hours teaching myself how to program (uh, code), I got on my hands and knees and I thanked every algebra teacher I had ever had. There was finally a practical use for those mystical techniques for manipulating numbers.
But there was a major difference between how I was using Math and how I was taught Math – and it is a difference that strikes right at the heart of what we’re doing wrong in education. You see, I immediately understood, though I may not have been able to express it, that I was using Algebra as a language, in order to instruct the digital environment (Radio Shack TRS-80 computer) to behave in the way that I wanted. If you can communicate with a computer, then you can use it to learn and express.
We learned Reading so that we could read our textbooks and other more authentic sources of knowledge. We learned to Write so that we could articulate our growing knowledge. Maybe we should learn Coding in order to learn the language of numbers, so that we can learn from our own thoughts and express our ideas in endlessly creative ways.
..instead of teaching Math and teaching Coding.
Of course, I’m not the first to suggest such a radical idea. It was during those earliest years that some very smart people (Seymour Papert & my friend, Gary Stager for two) were already suggesting and putting into action this very idea with the Logo programming language.
I received two surprises last Friday at the annual NCTIES conference in Raleigh. The first was being honored with ISTE’s Making IT Happen award. This really wasn’t a surprise for me because they needed my coat size before hand. But it was an enormous career-gratifying honor.
The second surprise was something a bit strange – a phenomenon that I have noticed in my conference experiences across the United States. You see, in some regions, when you receive an award, you walk up, take the object, shake a hand, thank the organization, pose for a photograph and walk back to your table. North Carolina is a perfect example of this practice.
In other regions, say New England, you take your object of honor, shake a hand, but are also obliged to “say a few prepared words” to the audience – words of understated but eloquent humility in the case of New England.
So when the Outstanding (Tech) Teacher of the Year “said a few well prepared words” after her award on Friday afternoon, I calculated that I had only the “carefully prepared words” from two more honorees left in order to come up with something Warlick’esque to say.
I did, though I bungled it badly behind the microphone. So I thought I would try to say it more eloquently here.
I started teaching in 1976, and in these 40 years as an educator, one fact has become clear. We live in a complicated world. Despite what some would have you believe, there is complexity in our world and in our individual lives – and that complexity is beautiful.
Our problems are not simple and they deserve better than simple tried-and-true solutions. They are complicated and they require creative and complex solutions – solutions that also provide new and wonderful opportunities.
The best uses of technology in our classrooms help us and our students to understand and appreciate today’s complexities and to imagine the opportunities that they offer. But we must continue to understand, as true educators, that simplifying and streamlining education will fail, not to mention the fact that it insults our children.
..because the most beautiful aspect of this exquisite complexity is that it invites us all to be different – and we can continue to permit our children to exercise their differences as long as we are willing to simply say, “Surprise Me!”