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Create learners, not widgets

Podstock 2015 is in the books. And like all previous Podstock tech conferences, 2015 was three days of learning, conversation, pinewood derby cars, tech ed, great food, giveaways, and MakerSpace goodness.

Here’s the one thing I learned from my three days:

There is no silver bullet in education. There’s a ton of wrong ways to do school. But not one right way.

The answer to great teaching and learning is never just one thing. It’s not just one strategy or program or philosophy or book or website. The answer is whatever works for you in your situation. The tool that works for you might not work for me. The website that drop dead saves my bacon every time does nothing for your kids.

I’m also starting to realize it’s even more than that. It’s not just different tools and websites. It can also be past and present. Old and new. That’s why I was so excited about the Podstock 2015 Steampunk conference theme.

STEAMpunk is, well . . . it’s a bit hard to describe. Basically it’s modern technology – iPads, computers, robotics, air travel – powered by steam and set in the 1800s. Sounds wierd but so much fun. And it fits our thinking at the Podstock conference about STEAM and STEM and Makerspaces. Steampunk takes the best of both worlds, old and new, and combines them into something completely different.

Nathan-steampunkClassic Steampunk keeps the traditional stuff that’s good. Adds the new stuff that’s good. And together it’s awesome.

You add a cool “steam-powered” robotic arm to TV crime fighter Richard Castle and you get television Steampunk.

That’s what’s so cool for me at Podstock. You always get the best of both worlds: Teachers who care about kids, who are passionate about learning, and use practical research-based strategies combined with the new software and hardwire goodies that support high levels of learning. Combining experience, skilled teachers with new technology and tools.

It’s educational SteamPunk.

But any quality learning experience should also generate a few questions. My questions for the week:

So what? Why should we even worry about becoming Educational Steampunk experts?

I think combining old and new is incredibly important. Here’s why.erin and jake copper mt

My own kids started out loving school. Most kids do. These are my own kids – two months before my daughter started kindergarten. A week or so before school started, the school had something called Kindergarten Roundup. You know . . . kids show up, find their cubbie, check out the classroom, meet the teacher. At the time, we lived a few blocks away from the school. As we get to building, I grab my daughter’s hand to cross the street. As soon as we’re on the other side, she rips her hand out of mine and runs ahead.

You’re too slow dad. I’m gonna be late for school!

I think most kids start out school that way. They can’t wait to get to school. And I don’t think most kids finish school that way.

Why do kids start out so excited about school? Because at the beginning, it’s a lot like what many have already experienced. Coloring. Hands on. Active play. LEGOs. Doing stuff with other kids. Lots of choice.

But traditional school – the sit in rows, worksheet packets, test on Fridays, no recess cause we need more reading remediation, no authentic learning kind of school – sucks the fun right out of the process. The scary thing? By the time most kids get to middle school, they’re done.

By the time my daughter was in 8th grade, she’s not ripping her hand out of mine because she’s late for school. I’m dragging her out of bed to get her there on time.

Several years ago, a group of kids from around the country created a website called Students 2.0. The point was to share what school is like from a student’s perspective. One of the co-editors was a 10th grader from Vermont named Arthus who wrote:

One by one, we file past the teacher-turned-prison-guard. As each of us passed, she engages us in a confirmation ritual.

“Work?” Check.
“Book?” Check.

That is the last word uttered for one and a half hours. For this period, we must sit silently with heads in books and work, where our mouths are conveniently positioned to be incapable of questioning.

And then he added:

We are the widgets in the machine of school.

Every time you time you walk into a classroom, every time you work with kids, you are busy creating the future. How cool is that?

The scary flip side of that coin is if all we’re doing in our classroom is finding ways to make better widgets, what’s the point? If all we’re doing is making widgets, our kids will be leaving our schools either mentally or physically. That is not the future we should be creating.

That’s why we should be worrying about being educational Steampunk experts.

My hope is that you’ll pull an Educational Steampunk. Keep what has always worked for you, your passion, your love of learning and be willing to look for – and actually use – new tools and strategies that might be just a little be uncomfortable.

Because what we’ve been so far isn’t working anymore.

Because we all know that this whole thing is not really about us. This is all about finding ways to prepare your kids for their future.

One of the last things Arthus shared was a statement that we all need to embed into our teaching world view:

I don’t want to be a professional student; I want to be an amateur learner.

I know it’s summer. I know you need some time to decompress. But it’s time to start the brain moving again. What will your educational Steampunk costume look like?

Start here for some ideas:

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great article, I am going to reference it at some point in one of my blog posts!

    July 21, 2015
    • glennw #

      Thanks for the quick comment! Appreciate you stopping by.


      July 21, 2015

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