As an education technology program, our primary focus is teaching kids how to build with technology so they can one day change the world. However, there are also skills that students develop that go beyond just the 1 and 0’s of building hardware and software projects. In fact, there are key areas embedded within education technology that help build not just technical skills but also those skills that are useful more broadly for success in life.
While it has always been understood that sports can help develop skills beyond just the nuts and bolts of the game being played, there has been less discussion on the ability of technology-based learning to enable children to become more well rounded. Not only do these additional skills help in their growth as builders of technology but it also is broadly beneficial to society overall.
The great thing about computers is they do exactly what you tell them. The bad thing about computers is they do exactly what you tell them. Within these competing statements, the beauty of developing technology-based solutions emerges.
As students learn to build with technology, they can experience both the great joy and extreme frustration of this process. There will be times where they will write code that will solve a problem they have been wrestling with.
Once the code is actually launched, they will quickly find that either the code doesn’t work at all or it doesn’t solve the problem in the way they intended. At that point, they can either decide to give up or they can go back into their code base and figure out the problem with their logic or syntax.
With the code re-written, they can again test their solution to see if it solves the problem as intended. Through this iterative process, students quickly learn that when technology works; it’s great. But, when it doesn’t work; it’s frustrating.
However, the true life skill is developing the resilience to keep tweaking and iterating until the solution to the problem emerges. Not only does the logic have to be sound but also the syntax of their specific language. Through their journey in learning to build with technology, they will have multiple instances of this design, build, fail, iterative, improve and solve.
One of the most popular educational philosophies to come out over the last decade is that of a growth versus fixed mindset. The core of this philosophy is that it is important for students to develop a mindset or belief that they can expand their brain to learn new & different things even if they don’t initially come easy to them.
This is in contrast to those who feel as though they should only focus on those things they already know. And, if they are finding a topic difficult, they shouldn’t spend much time learning because they won’t have the capability to take on new knowledge.
As you might imagine, a fixed mindset can be especially problematic for students of all ages. However, it can be career limiting in an environment where it is predicted that many of the jobs students of today will have tomorrow haven’t even been invented yet.
If we don’t even know what the future jobs are, we definitely aren’t going to know the specific programming languages that students will need to learn. In technology, there is a constant cycle of invention, growth, decline and disruption.
Those who develop a comfort working with the unknown will be prepared well for success in the emerging economy. Technology-based learning is especially well-suited to developing this skill set given the ever-changing nature of it.
Students who learn how to build with technology from kindergarten through high school may have seen 2-3 cycles of technology innovation and decline. By seeing this in action, they will develop the grit to know that even if new programming languages emerge when they are just starting their career or at several points throughout their career; they will be more than capable of unlearning languages and learning new ones.
While technology has historically been considered as a refuge for the individual contributor. In reality, the modern day workplace does not have a high level of tolerance for those who can’t work well with others.
Building useful hardware and software products is the domain of highly-skilled and collaborative teams. Thankfully, the challenges of developing elegant solutions requires contributions from a collection of talented individuals.
Whether it is designing an elegant user interface or an easily accessible database structure, technology solutions that are crafted by individuals with both deep expertise and the ability to share that across other functional groups is highly valued.
In our learning studios, we often have students collaborate on solution development with their peers so that they can not only understand the the teacher does not always have the answer but also that their peers are great partners in the crafting of solutions.
Through this repeated practice, students come to rely on their peers during the solution development design, build and launch process which is a great skill to learn for their ultimate career success.
Creative problem solving
One of the biggest challenges in our ever changing world is the ability to leverage creative problem solving. As society continues to advance, problems with obvious or trivial solutions are by and large solved which leaves only the most difficult problems for the next generation.
Given this expected landscape, it is helpful for students to gain practice solving lots of different problems with both expected and unexpected outcomes.
If students only solve problems where the answer is already known, they may feel like all solutions are knowable and it’s just a matter of identifying the solution. However, this is not where value will be created or growth will occur.
Instead, the biggest rewards will accrue to those who are able to apply creative problem solving to really difficult problems and ultimately develop elegant solutions that are used by large numbers of people.
Technology is unique in that the tools used in development continue to evolve and improve. In addition, advances in technology improve the capability of tools to solve increasingly complex problems.
By learning how to build and ultimately solve problems using technology, students are uniquely positioned to positively impact the world around them.
Understanding the problem from the user perspective is essential to develop an empathetic solution. Our students work on a variety of projects that places them in a lead position to understand how to develop empathy for the user.
Often the video game or robot they are developing will be tested by them. By seeing examples of what it’s like to develop for an audience of one, they begin to think about how to make sure their projects meet their needs.
If they feel like they won’t enjoy playing their game or using their robot, they continue to tweak and iterate until they have a project that they can be proud of. As they get older, they will began to embrace the mindset of developing for a larger group of users.
However, during their formative years it is helpful for them to get comfortable being the end user of the projects they have created.
While we are proud to guide students in the journey through the wonderful world of technology, there are also great life skills that are learned in the process. These life skills in combination with technical skill development is a great combination.