I just finished reading an article in “Teacher Magazine” about Bill Cosby. When he started out as a geometry teacher, he was asked “Why I gotta know this?” He didn’t have an answer and decided that, at that point in his life, he was not ready to be a teacher. He feels that somehow, we need to “tell the children the beauty of our passion.”
As a computer technology teacher, I have not been asked this question often but it has been asked. My response has not always been the most convincing. Sometimes I have quoted some statistic that employers want such and such a skill from their employees. This is, of course true, but these statistics mean very little to a middle school student. Perhaps, I evoked the old adage that it is important to learn how to learn. Again, I strongly believe that this is true, but does this piece of wisdom mean much to a twelve year old.
One thing I have observed, though, is that, in spite of themselves, even students in this age group can become totally involved in what they are doing if they are really interested. Witness that most middle school kids are capable of learning what they need to know to progress to different levels of video games. They are developing and using skills that require problem solving, reflection, and the ability to adapt quickly. Even students with learning disabilities are often capable of doing this. Maybe we should be encouraging more of these types of activities rather than discouraging them.
The answer to the “why do I need to know this”, for me, might fall into the following categories.
1. To express the passion I feel, for stories and fantasy. I think this is what Bill Cosby was talking about.
2. Those stories whether they are in books, on TV, in movies, or photographic, all add to the quality of our lives. In many cases they provoke reflection and open us up to ideas beyond the limits of our own experience. You can learn how to make your own stories.
3. To learn how to problem solve and find solutions in order to produce a publication or product. To cooperate with other members of a group.
4. To understand that computers can make some tasks much easier. Certainly modern word processing beats the old fashioned typewriter for most people. How did I live without the ability to rewrite without starting from scratch?
5. To use the Internet as an incredible source of unlimited knowledge, communication, and, yes, fun.
6. It is not necessary to be a “computer guru”, to reap the benefits of day to day computer use. It is a source of information from finding the weather, the news to perhaps finding a mate. It is rapidly becoming the primary provider of music films, shopping, and, yes, even books.
7. Do some of us, students and adults spend too much time on a computer?
Perhaps, but what a world it is. I don’t want to encourage computer addiction, but how does one of my generation express to the new generation what an incredible tool the PC is?
Tools whether they are music making tools, video making tools, writing tools, web making tools, game making tools, or photographic tools bring out the potential of inner creativity.
The list could go on, but I guess my answer to the student who wants to work in the woods cutting down trees would be to think about the possibilities that are now available to him even if that is his chosen work. The truth be told, I love working in the woods and spend a substantial part of my life away for all the innovations of the modern world. Maybe though I can somehow express my passion for all the opportunities that, I feel, have been opened up to me by the computer. I can only imagine what the future will bring.
I also try to create projects that involve the students so much that they forget that they are learning, or for that matter, working. It works with some of the students a lot of the time, but not all of the kids all of the time. The concept still needs work, but I do believe we should start including those things that the kids themselves are naturally attracted to, such as iPods, gaming, and different forms of communication. It can be done in safe ways. We have, as adults, the tendancy to want to prohibit anything that can be abused. The reality is that the telephone, a car, the US Mail, and hand-written notes can all be abused. I would suggest that we ought to be encouraging our children to not only embrace technology, as most of them already do, but to also to use it wisely.
I would welcome any input as to how better use technology in the classroom. Photos by Rick Davidson