Because our middle level learners are ready for more independence, age-appropriate challenges, and they crave mastery of skills, we need to teach them differently. Middle level learners need to spend less time memorizing content and more time developing skills. They need to imagine more, choose more, produce more so that they like school more. A skill-centered curriculum, using content as a vehicle for skill development, is the future of middle level education.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Educational Technology and Skills Part 2: How we can expand our understanding of the value of technology in the classroom by expanding the definition of “Educational Technology”

Tactile experiences with technology can supercharge skill development. When students utilize the speed and allure of technology in combination with the tactile experiences associated with hands-on building and constructing, the opportunity for deep skill development increases. If we devoted more of our school technology dollars (and mental commitment) to hands-on technologies that allow reiterative manipulation- what I like to call “Tactnologies”- we would see students developing the thinking and producing skills we value more rapidly.

Kids love to work with their hands- and the process they go through when building and revising their products promotes development of valuable thinking skills. If you have your own children- or get to observe kids in their natural settings- you know this. My sons- ages 6 and  8- spend hours building with Legos or sculpting in the yard with clay and sticks. Its endlessly engrossing- and they are constantly revising what they have created. That process of improvement through observation and alteration (reiteration) is first nature to them; they want what they are creating to function effectively, to look good, to be enduring. 

I have been thinking a lot about how our hands connect to our brains to produce intellectual growth- and how our cultural obsession with technology can be coopted to facilitate more of this. If our birthright as a species is manual dexterity and the tactile sensation that accompanies it, we must acknowledge that tactile experiences are integral to our sense of self. The process of making and its intellectual counterparts, critical revision and aesthetics, are our most fundamental sources of skill development.  

Now, the allure of technology’s speed and power is undeniable, and its omnipresence won’t abate, so let's wed it to our tactile habituations: our schools should facilitate our young people manually making things that have a technological component. The students will love it, because they are drawn to technology, they are by nature creators with their hands, and they have boundless desire for autonomy. The schools will succeed because students are gaining valuable skills- and having a better experience at school.

My term for this is “Tactnology.” That is, technologies that can be manipulated and customized by touch-based building. Think Legos Robotics: you build, you program, you see action. It started with Erector sets in the early 20th century, and today, products like Roominate, Squishy Circuits, Linkbots, littleBits are some of the products out there that kids to generate and revise ideas that use electricity and computing to produce high impact outputs. These would be technologies that truly facilitate valuable education in children; they would be a new form of educational technology.

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