Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don’t Lose It

Years ago I saw a cartoon, it was probably in The New Yorker, that was set in what looked like an excusive upper class businessmen’s club. Two very well dressed overweight businessmen were seated in overstuffed chairs. One of them was saying to the other “I owe everything I am today to some advice my father gave me. He said ‘Son, here’s a million dollars. Don’t lose it.’” I’ve been thinking about that cartoon as I think about getting students interested in STEM and computer science. Aren’t most kids born with an interest in most everything? Somewhere do they lose some of it and if so why?

Mark Guzdial has a short but interesting post last week ( Child Development Expert Offers Ideas for Promoting Early Science Learning and read the comment by Alan Kay) where he said.

“… young children act as scientists.  My read of the literature suggests that kids don’t turn away from science until middle school.”

IF you think about it kids start looking at science very early in basic ways. How many parents have heard questions like “why is the sky blue?” or watched as a small child sat enraptured watching ants in the dirt? And isn’t building things with blocks quite a bit like engineering thinking? When children are very young they have a fascination with the world around them – science. Counting things – math. And figuring out how things work – technology/engineering. But somewhere along the line they lose much of that. In some ways we teach it out of them. We take the interesting and turn it into he boring. We take the fun of learning and make it work. We often even take the fun out of reading (to bring up another pet peeve of mine) by assigning books that are “good for kids” rather than books that are interesting and fun to read. We could have it all.

I will never ever forget the Materials Science teacher I had as a freshman in high school. The man was a nutcase in many ways but, boy, was he interesting. He was passionate about his subject, had a blast showing us experiments/demos and instilled in me a fascination with the subject. It’s a wonder I didn’t go into the field but at least I took a knowledge and understanding of the subject that has served me well through my life. He sure improved my love for science in general as well.

How does this relate to computer science? Well I think that in the younger grades we can either make computer science look boring and like work or we can make it look interesting and like fun. Why not use tools like Scratch and Alice and maybe robots? (I’m working on a list of educational robotics resources for later this week BTW.) Why not use kinesthetic learning projects like those in Computer Science Unplugged? Let’s not kill the interest in computers by making it all about drill and kill with applications usage courses. Not that those applications are not important these days but let’s not use learning them as a way to kill interest. Let’s find better ways.

Kids are born with an interest in science (and other things) so let’s not push them into losing that interest.

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