Official Blog of the Education Exchange Corps

Monday, March 14, 2016

Teaching in the Unknown

I was supposed to command the spaceship to do something, but I had little idea how. It sat there, crashed through a huge spiked rock, and I was like Will Smith in Independence Day. Except my spaceship was pixelated and existed only on my computer screen, and, instead of pulling levers, I was supposed to pull code from the left side of the screen to the right side.

Yesterday, we had our March in-person meeting with our Hack4Hope kids. I have neglected posting here for a good long while because of all the projects we have going on. Hack4Hope is a project led by an awesome team of folks to introduce kids to coding, technology, and entrepreneurship through a Hackathon (a weekend full of kids coming up with awesome technology and business ideas to make the world better) and a follow-up academy teaching skills the kids can build on.

Each month, we meet with our kids to go over the assignment from the past month, help them start on the next one, and have a bit of fun along the way. The kids go online to see their assignments and access activities that introduce them to coding. Yesterday, we went over the programming language Java together. 

While I was preparing to help lead the class, I remembered reading about a program called Alice. It's an interactive program you can download that lets users drag-and-drop a whole bunch of scenery and characters to make a story, and the process familiarizes users to coding.

I know very little about coding. When I started teaching years ago, that would have been bad news for me. I always thought I had to know more than my students so I could teach them. I thought it was my job to pass on knowledge to them. I lecture, they learn. Duh!

Folks, it's a new world. There's a ton of information out there, and, especially when it comes to technology, kids are in a position to know a lot more than us older people. 

I don't know when it happened, but I realized I don't lead a class to impart information. I lead it to teach the kids how to lead it themselves, how to figure out solutions to their problems. I'm just there to set up the story. It's their job to tell it. And then, at the very end, I help them wrap it all up in a bow.

Yesterday, we were supposed to go over essay writing skills. I thought it was time to talk about the concept of story, and I did that by asking each kid to rethink the first sentence of the essays they had written. Then each kid posted a first sentence for an essay that we all talked about together.
We talked about dreams - crazy dreams! - and which dreams were the most memorable and why.
We talked about fiction.
We watched videos of the Pillsbury Doughboy.
We talked about how to hook a reader.

And then we moved on to Alice, that collection of coding gizmos and widgets that makes no sense without a story. We competed to see who could make the creepiest clip with Ms. Alice as the star. I competed along with them. We played the clips. I lost!
But we're coming back next time with more stories, stories on a screen and stories on paper, stories that draw emotion from the audience.

When you teach in the unknown, you'll naturally draw from that which you do know. And if you embrace your lack of knowledge and make your class a journey to find that knowledge, you'll find yourself teaching the most important lessons a kid can take home.