Over the past several years, we’ve worked with a large number of students in our studios. During our classes and camps, we’ve been able to observe students with a wide range of experience, ability and expertise.
What we’e found is that there are 3 behaviors that seem to be present in great young technologists. For those that have these behaviors, we work to strengthen them. For those that don’t yet have these behaviors, we try to guide them down that path since our goal to teach kids how to build with technology so they can change the world.
As a result, we can’t just double down on those who are already showing the right behaviors, we must also develop these behaviors in other students so that they can develop the innovations and inventions that will make this world a better place for everyone.
It’s hard to know everything about anything. However, as students begin to develop knowledge in a given area especially one as exciting as technology, they can start to believe an initial knowledge base gives them an advantage.
While that may be true from a local standpoint, it also can severely limit their ability to develop an absolute knowledge base.
In fact, one of the statements that I’m always weary of when I hear from students is that they already ‘know’ a platform. Whether that is Scratch, Python or Ruby on Rails, the end of learning begins with that statement. Because, once someone believes they have reached their limit; they are anxious to move on to something else.
Usually when I hear this statement, I’ll dive straight into that platform to see how far their knowledge base extends. Due to our breadth and depth of curriculum, these students quickly realize that they don’t know the platform as well as they thought. However, what is most challenging is that those who thought they knew the platform become much more frustrated than those who are working on the project who don’t believe they know as much.
The reality is that great technologists (emerging & experienced) must commit themselves to lifelong learning in order to continue staying ahead of new knowledge that is created. What we’ve found is that those who seem to do especially well with our programs are those that are curious.
And this curiosity is not just about technology platforms they are unfamiliar with but also those that they may have previously spent a significant amount of time with.
Curious students seem to ask questions about everything. How does a certain code block work in Scratch? Or, why did we program the robot like that? Or, what if we implemented that solution in a different way? Or, what would happen if we changed that variable?
2. Internally motivated
Our technology classes run for 1 hour each week. Students are typically in school from 35-40 hours each week. However, the ones that really seem to improve each week are those that are internally motivated to take time outside of our learning studios to work on getting better at technology.
In addition, we’ve also seen some who simply want us to give them the answer instead of going through the struggle to grow their capabilities. Our instructors actively work with those students to guide them in the understanding that no learning will take place if they simply copy/paste lines of code or if we spoon food them each subsequent line.
Since we don’t formally grade student projects (although we do assess their progress), there is an eventual realization that they can develop skills at their own pace which is very refreshing for many students.
This is no different from the emerging musician that drives their parents crazy playing their instrument for hours to perfect a composition for an upcoming recital or the spelling prodigy that reads through the dictionary to practice the spelling of difficult words for the spelling bee.
While, there is a certain level of satisfaction that comes from completing projects each week within our studios, there are some that take things one step further by working on developing their skills independently.
Although their project modifications may not always work as intended, they are developing an appreciation for what it is like to wrestle with difficult problems and ultimately either discover a solution or learn why their proposed method didn’t work as intended.
This approach is invaluable on their journey to become a great technologist.
3. Boundary pushers
Much of learning within a traditional environment can involve coloring with the lines. There was a great commercial when I was a kid that would say, “Stay within the lines. The lines are your friend.” While there are certain subjects that correct answers result from following a specific process, technology is unique in that innovation solution are discovered the more boundaries are pushed.
The inventor of Bitcoin wanted to see if the current limitations of fiat currency could be solved with a native digital solution. This type of advancement does not come from someone who doesn’t push the boundaries.
Over and over again, there are students who are working on projects that will go well beyond the scope of what we are building. They want to know what happens if the variable range is 100 if something will break if they input 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000.
Or, if we are using optical sensors to guide a robot along a path; they intuitively wonder if this newfound knowledge could be extended to sensing other conditions such as path obstructions to improve the ability of the robot to get to its ultimate destination.
In these teachable moments, it is extremely important that our instructional team patiently guides the young technologists down the path of further discovery.
Whether that is making sure that they don’t overrun the mechanical limits of the switch to making sure they don’t overrun the electrical limits of the software, there are ways to see what happen when we go beyond boundaries that truly enhance learning for all involved.
To the untrained observer, it may look as though the student is being naughty or not staying on task. However, when we think about the creation of new inventions and innovations, it is often because new knowledge was created about an area that wasn’t previously considered.
For a project that is tightly bounded and doesn’t allow for this forks in the road, that can often be very limiting and extremely frustrating for someone who is trying to grow their knowledge base.
While there are many learning behaviors that we’ve seen across our students over the years, the ones most consistently associated with those who are able to build independently are curiosity, internal motivation and the desire to push boundaries.
As a result, we actively work with all of our students to develop these behaviors so that all may learn these important skills on their journey to becoming great technologists.