Two decade old parts mean things don’t fit together. Making something work in this circumstance seldom has anything to do with following directions
The other day I was trying to install carburetors on an old motorcycle (I was a millwright before I was an IT guy). I wasn’t even sure if what I was doing was possible. I spent a couple of frustrating hours trying before I pulled it all apart and did it over a different way.
What I love about technology and engineering, especially when it involves free-form building rather than following directions, is that you have no idea if what you’re doing is possible. This never happens in digital environments – they’re all designed for you to eventually succeed. Kids think video game wins are wins, they’re not, they’re a conditioned response.
Any teacher who thinks free form building is just for fun is the kind of teacher who only wants students to perform conditioned response with a predetermined outcome (I’m guessing so they can control the situation). A lot of people (students and teachers alike) think that’s learning. I think it’s all about management and control, and it’s one of the emptiest things we can do with students.
We shy away from stochastic processes in the classroom because we believe that failure is the inability to do something rather than an opportunity to better understand complex and open ended situations.
When trying to put together those carburetors I was unsure if the process I followed would lead to a successful outcome. That uncertainty filled me with doubt and made me question what I was doing in a way that no lesson ever would. We desperately hope for metacognition in student learning and then stifle it with overly restrictive learning goals. No student ever starts a math problem, writes an essay or even plays a video game wondering if what they are doing is possible, yet most of the world, when it isn’t a digital distraction or a lesson, works that way. I suspect the cockiness I see in student attempts at engineering is grounded in the fact that most of their world (digital, educational, or worst of all: both!) is a coddled exercise rather than a stringent test of reality.
In a classroom we like controlled circumstances with defined and plausible outcomes because they suit easy analysis of work completion, collection of assessment data and cement the teacher’s place as the all knowing master of learning, but that limited circumstance doesn’t offer much in the way of learning real world outcomes.
What would a learning environment look like if it wasn’t modelled on data collection and teacher insecurities?