I’ve been thinking a lot about how we teach technology skills to kids. More so, how much that has changed. When I think back to my first year of teaching, in a classroom with just one computer and printer, I don’t recall more than small group web quests, the occasional math game students could play, and the biggest display we had in class was an overhead projector. I blinded myself. A lot. Just me and my marker smeared hands. The next level was a 2:1 classroom with desktop computers. We created movies. We recorded podcasts. We used websites to explore and learn. We also played games to practice skills. I can remember someone popping into my public school classroom of 28 kids, all on a computer, staring at a screen, playing a game and he exclaimed, “Wow, this IS the future. They are all SO engaged.” I can also remember thinking, they are NOT engaged. I was horrified. The movies we made? That was true engagement. The research the kids did to prepare. The stories they wrote. The scripts they recorded. That was engagement and collaboration at it’s finest. Those kids, a classroom mixture of special education, gifted and talented, and some students in both categories… they taught me HOW to teach. It was the year I learned to get out of their way. The year I took a backseat in the car that they were driving… fingers gripping tightly, tires screeching at times, but their journey.
Just a few years later, or maybe more than I want to admit, the landscape of technology in the classroom has shifted. Those giant desktop computers that I couldn’t see around are now small, mobile laptops. The iPad or tablet fits in hands and allows creation to happen at numerous levels. The movie that previously took days to render now can be easily customized with fancy kid-created music and published in a heartbeat. A quick share. There’s now the ability to capture anything and everything.
Technology is portable. TV is flashier. Everything in our world moves, beeps, jumps, zaps. It’s no wonder that fidget spinners were recently born. Gifs. Videos. Clicks. Rinse. Repeat.
But there’s a new art to it all. The art of stillness. We are living in the time with the GREATEST creative potential on tiny devices in our hands and pockets. But our imagination will always be the very thing that provides the greatest potential. Slowing down, listening, thinking, and dwelling on a thought is an important skill. Iteration of a design takes time, persistence, feedback, and resilience. Clicking and tapping often doesn’t take much thought, it’s often a knee-jerk reaction. A mere fill-in-the-blank exercise. Stillness and wrestling in your mind? It forces you to be uncomfortable with your own thoughts. It also forces you to realize that you may indeed be wrong. That uncomfortableness contains all the ingredients that stoke a creative fire. It’s messier than clicking and tapping. More humbling. Far harder to clean up. But you know what? It’s necessary and far more rewarding. Deeper. There is no undo button.
Did you know the Saturn V rocket that got man to the moon did so on the technological power of a dollar store calculator? Those who made that rocket wrestled with that problem. Tried. Failed. Rose up in resilience. Literally watched unmanned crafts explode on launch pads over and over and over. All along, they practiced the art of stillness. Listening. Reflecting. Thinking. Solving. They were working without the undo button. They only had each other and lots and lots of practice.
Not every lesson will lead us to the moon, but I hope our kids can slow down and experience the stillness of deep thought. There’ll be no pop up or gif to tell them to listen. It will be up to them. Self-reliance in a world in motion. Imagination set into orbit and us along for their journey. Their small steps tomorrow might just be a giant leap for the future. And if we’re not careful, we’ll all be too busy clicking and tapping to discover it.