One of the best parts about being within the education space generally is being able to participate in teachable moments. Whether teaching math, science or philosophy, there is nothing like illustrating a concept and seeing the gears start to turn in a student’s head and then having them ask a question that enables you to solidify the lesson for both the individual and the group.
At Digital Adventures, we are teaching kids how to build with technology so they can one day change the world. Given the ever presence of technology in their lives, students have an inherent curiosity about how the hardware devices and software program around them work.
Our approach is project-based which means that we have students start with an idea and by the end of a session, they will have a functioning video game, animation, movie trailer, robot, Minecraft Mod or mobile application. Throughout each lesson, we have incorporated a series of milestones that are built into the project progression.
For example, if David is building a game using the programming language Scratch, one of the first milestones he will reach is building the code to control their character’s movement. The first time David sees that he can put together blocks of code and have the computer perform a task - you can just see the lightbulb come on and his face lights up.
Often this first A-HA moment creates the motivation to keep learning more about building with technology. For example Emily may ask: “how can I get my character to move across the screen faster?” Or “can I accomplish the same character movement with less blocks of code?”
Through these natural questions and answers that come via building, students build more confidence and often begin to further push the limits of their developing understanding. This can be something as simple as Katie creating a new character that mimics the movement (forward, back, left & right) but with a different set of keyboard inputs (W,A,S,D) to see the capabilities of the system for multiple characters.
From there, students begin to push further and further into the depths of their new knowledge. It is during this time when they will inevitably try to do something that won’t work. For most students, this is extremely frustrating as they have enjoyed the confidence boost that comes from building projects or portions of projects that just work.
At this point is when the instructor-led, peer supported environment is key to propelling them further down the path. By having people in close proximity that students can reach out to about the challenges with their current implementation, they are often able to figure out exactly what they did wrong and internalize that learning opportunity in the future.
One of the many great features of technology is that no matter how knowledgeable or experienced you are, everyone runs into development roadblocks at some point. And, no matter how mature a technology product is, there are still bugs that users uncover.
Throughout their journey in building with technology, there will be many highs and lows that come from when programming works and when it doesn’t. The beauty of technology is that this environment creates a virtuous cycle of teachable moments that catapults students towards impacting the world through the development of new ideas, inventions and creations.
Whether it’s the ability to facilitate a new way of engaging with people across the globe through social networking or creating a new digital first currency that can unlock how commerce is connected around the world, it same as that tech has a great opportunity for teachable moments.
On the one hand, these tech-based innovations power new ways of doing things. On the other hand, these new inventions can also be used in unintended ways which can create challenges for society moving forward.
As the professional tech community grapples with the power and potential of new technology, they will also learn what limits or constraints need to be placed on the development of to make sure that the positives outweigh the negatives.
There will be a similar reckoning as the capabilities of artificial intelligence are further developed and begin to hit the mainstream. We are already seeing important questions being asked about facial recognition and connections that can be made with other sensitive personal information.
While difficult to know all or even most of the answers at this stage, it is important to recognize that as technology propels us forward both the current professions and future creators (students) must appreciate and understand the great potential as well as the risks to these new inventions.