Part 2 of 2 by Renee Di Pietro, Gifted Support Teacher, Penn-Delco School District
Students from all backgrounds get stuck on what they believe themselves to be “good at” and “bad at” in terms of certain skills or subjects. Technology and computer sciences can sometimes help students to throw that mentality out. When you get them to give it a try, these are always the first words out of their mouths: this is not as hard as I thought it would be. They stutter it in disbelief at first and then you see their minds going. They are in it, and they are learning. Everyone stays focused and it’s because it’s right in front of them, hands-on.
The word “yet” is the most important word in education as many educators have learned from people like Mary Cay Ricci. You might not have gotten it “yet”, or perfected it “yet” or be as “good” as you imagine you must be, but it’s only today. That doesn’t mean that tomorrow, or next week, or a year from now you’re not going to be there; technology seems to help students understand that their linear learning can go as fast or as slow as they need it to be. I see them grasp it and accelerate their pace as soon as they get out of their head and stop worrying if they can be good at it or not.
Good teaching should instill healthy doses of challenge, failure, and build resilience for students and I see technology helping my students become risk takers without being overwhelmed. Though technology doesn’t always work and actually rarely does go perfectly the first try, the students keep at it, even struggling through until they get there -- and there could be what feels like infinite steps at first, and they need to figure out “how to fix” the problem.
I find students eagerly take the guidance and encouragement without the answer and they go back to the details when instructed to, and then dive in. It makes them great at honing in on their own organization of their work. For example, an 8th grader may need a fine tooth coding check on his lengthy computer code to get his photo to appear on his website, or a 6th grader may need to go back to their sketch and engineering details to make a Rube Goldberg machine work. That is the best thing, that everything is not working right away and that the students experience a problem and work to solve it. That is the real world.
This is why technology and hands-on learning is the best way to get them ready for their futures. The experiences of coding, engineering, robotics and of being a true “maker” also allows my introverted students not dread the front of the room; with technology we can put it right on their desks and in their hands and have their products be their outcomes. You’ll hear us routinely discussing:
“What are real world problems that exists in your neighborhood, community or school? What is a unique solution that has not been tried yet to correct this challenge? Great, let’s make a phone app concept for that with a proposal essay and video commercial, and submit to this student competition (Verizon App Challenge).”
“You’re finished writing your story and poem? Can you show me what it would look like published through Storybird?”
“The area where your Rube Goldberg machine is not working correctly, maybe video record this area in slow-mo and see where exactly your path is being misdirected.”
Technology lets me take each student and meet them where they are at, and then have them grow from that point on through their hands-on projects. It’s beautiful. When you can use it this way, there is no losing here. I get so much joy out of seeing them succeed after a struggle through their project. They love it too, you can hear cheers of the students yelling or whispering a victorious “YES!” as the end of a successful video clip showcasing his/her project working.
Teens are overstressed and this also helps them to release their life stress in my experience. It busies their hands and quiets certain parts of the mind to focus on what’s at hand.