Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND
Yesterday, Kevin and I (Chris) got back into the “research van” and drove over to Madison with the intent on talking with the Tech Team about their experience with Etoys so far. We learned one of the main features that the students (4th and 5th graders) all seemed to enjoy: the ability to create moving objects, even though only one or two students started to play with these programming features. The other students who had not started to play around with those features noted that even though they had not reached that level yet, they liked the idea that they could learn.
Interestingly, our observations of the tech team while they worked on their projects in Etoys seemed to indicate that it was very difficult for them to overcome differences in the interface and navigation, as well as creating their objects. Ultimately, we learned that Etoys in Sugar is not the first activity to introduce to students, since it’s one of the more complex programs. The students were able to learn the basics relatively fast, but when it came time to start programming, Kevin and I couldn’t help too much, so invariably we were all left scratching are heads. Yet, despite these difficulties, most of them expressed interest to continue working on their stories.
I think these findings start to unravel Negroponte’s claims just as other critics are doing. Notably, I just read an article by Kentaro Toyama called “There Are No Technology Shortcuts to Good Education” reposted by the OLPC News (and found at edutechdebate.org). Toyama discusses his argument that technology is no substitute for good educators, and one of his major claims against Negroponte’s claim of just give the tech and the kid will do the rest is that
Computers can help good schools do some things better, but they do nothing positive for underperforming schools. This means, very specifically, that efforts to fix broken schools with technology or to substitute for missing teachers with technology invariably fail.
With what I have seen so far, I agree. It would take some very special students to achieve their potential on their own without guidance. I do not think these students would learn programming on their own without the proper help and scaffolding. Yet, I think Sugar and its activities can bring computer programming into schools.
I think computer programming is an important and new kind of literacy. I think we need to develop savvy programmer-users, instead of passive users. With all of this in mind, here comes the large challenge of keeping ahead of these kids with this new tech and new ways of learning. Hopefully we can work on developing some relationships with some folks in the Computer Science department, so we can begin to develop some of our own activities to share with the students at Madison, because they are ready to learn!