Learner as Hacker

Bud The Teacher posted a great blog article last week, Centering on Essential Lenses. His references to lenses reminded me of a bulletin board I use to have in my classroom that said something to the effect that, “This classroom is your microscope on the world.” Not being much of a bulletin board guy, it usually stayed up all year and for some years my classroom was a telescope.

I especially liked Hunt’s references to DIY and hacking, and I agree about many people’ misconceptions of the word, hack. I use the word a lot and often to the widening eyes of the person or people I’m talking to.  I usually use it to describe a cleaver, sometimes elegant and often disruptive fix to a problem or unattained goal – and it always refers to a particular person – the hacker.  

Photo of Steve Jobs, taken by Ammar Abd Rabbo
I guess it’s our nature to villainize the people who disrupt business as usual, though we also often adore them (see right).  But do we talk about hacks and hacking in our classrooms.  Do we teach children where and when to use a comma as if the concept was written on stone and delivered from “on high,” or do we explain it as a clever hack that solved some particular problem of communicating in print?

I’m a big-time hacker.  Most of my toys, growing up, were the result of fashioning various shapes of scrap wood I found my my Dad’s workshop, using straightened nails, into the toy gun, or truck, or boat that I wanted.  Programming code is my primary language of hacking today, though I still do it with my hands, recently hacking the plans of an adirondack chair I downloaded (have I said lately how much I love the Internet), because I couldn’t find the cedar planks in the widths called for by the “Materials List.”

I talk and write a lot about learning – that “Being educated today has more to do with your ability to learn than it does with what you’ve been taught.”  ..and learning is often the practice of hacking.  It’s about tricking Google into reveal exactly the information you need and examining the information, pulling together its aspects to determine its validity and value and reshaping it to fit with other similarly fashioned bits of information.  Then fitting that new knowledge into an old condition and even hacking that condition so that it fits your solution.  

Learning today should rarely be about being told something, though a well-told story is a wonderful thing.  Learning today should be about hacking.

I taught my students about inventions and inventors, but I should have told the stories of how he or she did that, about how he hacked those filaments and electricity into something that would ultimately result in this…

Those stories need to be told, admired and emulated and they need to be an integral part of our classroom conversations.

“How did you learn that?”

“How do you know that’s true?”

“How would you find out why?”

“How do you think she came up with that conclusion?”

“What information do you think we would need to find that out?”

Practice it this summer.  Hack some new knowledge.

“Bon Voyage!”