A delightful way to teach kids about computers

I really enjoyed this TEDx talk by Linda Liukas. In it she shares her passion for coding, including how she realised she has been coding her whole life through, for example, learning the patterns of a language or learning to knit.

She says that we need…

to not see computers as mechanical and lonely and boring and magic, to see them as things that they can tinker and turn around and twist, and so forth.

 [ted id=2417 lang=en]

The kids of today, they tap, swipe and pinch their way through the world. But unless we give them tools to build with computers, we are raising only consumers instead of creators.

We often hear in education that we need to be creators and not consumers of technology. That means that we need to give our students opportunities to be creative and not just do the same kind of stuff all the time. Our students need the chance to think. They need to be questioned to help stretch their thinking. They need to be given the tools and support to make some of their dreams and ideas become a reality.

Programming gives me this amazing power to build my whole little universe with its own rules and paradigms and practices. Create something out of nothing with the pure power of logic.

Are we moving our students backwards?

My son’s kindergarten captures his learning through photos and stories on Storypark. A new story was published the other day about him publishing his first book. He drew pictures and told the story to the teacher. They then put a cover on the 7 pages and bound it with a binding machine. The teacher didn’t do it. My son did it. He learnt about the binding machine, how it worked and then he bound his story, guided by the teacher.

A few weeks ago he worked with his teacher to make a hat for kindy. I don’t know all the details, but he chose the fabric and helped the teacher operate the sewing machine to stitch it together.

He was given some responsibility in making his hat. He was given responsibility for putting his story book together. I also know that he gets to use a hammer and nails to build things. He gets to use scissors to cut things up. He’s 4.

When I was teaching in a face to face high school a few years ago, I was told that I need to store the exercise books of the Year 9 and 10 students. These are mostly 13-14 year olds. Has something happened between kindergarten and high school that has suddenly made these children less responsible? Or perhaps they are not actually less responsible? Could it just be a perception by some people? Do our students simply live up to the expectations we have of them? If we think they cannot be responsible for their own equipment, then perhaps they will stop being responsible.

I wonder if it’s the system? In kindergarten they are given some freedom, choice and guidance. In school (not all schools/classrooms) they are taught. I don’t think this is happening as much any more (but I may be wrong) but I believe there was a stage where before you got to do any of the interesting stuff, you had to do things like copy the instructions off the board. Why? Did it really matter if the instructions were written in your neatest handwriting in your exercise book? Did it affect what they were supposed to be learning? Why don’t we let our students learn by doing without having the mundane stuff get in the way?

We need to give responsibility back to our students. We need to encourage them to think, to question, to use their brain! We need to encourage them to be creative and if they come up with ideas, try to help them to bring those ideas to life!

Reality, imagination and creativity

We all know it, but children need to be given the opportunity to use their imagination; to dream and to create.

In this TED talk, Erik Johansson shares about his creativity and shows some of the amazing photography (and editing/mashing) he has done. We need to allow our children, our students to use their imagination and be creative. We must not let the structure and rigidity of formal education (and perhaps in particular, assessments) get in the way of creativity. And don’t forget about the fantastic opportunities that technology gives us to help our imaginations run wild!

Creativity is important in teaching…

This is not a new idea by a long shot! Creativity helps teachers stay fresh. Creativity helps motivate students and keep them on their toes – they won’t know what’s coming next. Creativity could be the difference between a student engaging in a lesson or becoming (staying?) disengaged through boredom.

The problem is… I’m not creative.

A colleague said to me the other day that I’m good at starting with someone else’s work and editing it – making it better… but if I start with a blank page, I don’t know what to do.

She was right. I couldn’t write about a topic like the original author had, but I could work with something that had already been started.

Does being creative make a great teacher? – I would say that it definitely could (if the creativity is focused in on teaching and learning).

Does not being creative make a poor teacher? – I would argue that, no, it doesn’t have to.

There are many creative teachers in the world. Many! Teaching is about sharing knowledge, skills, understandings, character and more. Many of these creative teachers also share their ideas, resources and skills with other teachers. And so they should! We all know that we shouldn’t ‘reinvent the wheel’.

One thing that makes a good teacher (there are many!), is that they don’t give up. If they try something and it doesn’t work, they might try it again after tweaking it, or they will try something else. They find what works for them and their students.

My advice (for what it’s worth), is that if you’re like me, and don’t feel particularly creative in your teaching, then do more of what you’re doing now! Find education/teaching blogs and read them. Learn from them. Be like a sponge and soak up everything they’ve got to offer. Jump onto twitter and follow some of the 1000s of teachers that are sharing and reflecting on what they’ve tried with their students. Get along to education conferences and soak it all up as well as getting to know others who just want to learn so that they can be a better teacher too!

Now, for those of us who don’t feel creative – we’ve got other things to offer! Figure out what they are (if you don’t already know) and give back!