C3PO

photo (58)When I was eight years old I saved my allowance to buy all things Star Wars. A few weeks of saving got me the double album movie soundtrack, another week or two the hardcover storybook, and then… action figures! My first, in 1977, was the first character I’d seen on screen: C3PO.

That gold plated robot made a reappearance this summer when my six year old son, Henry, found that he loved Star Wars and that my parents still had a few figures tucked away in a box in  their garage. Now, side by side with their 21st century cousins, Greedo, C3PO, and a couple of yellowing stormtroopers dash through the galaxy of my son’s imagination.

Looking at the old droid, my own youth seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. C3PO in one hand and Henry’s new General Grievous in the other, I’m struck by how different technology is today. Where my old toys struggled to mimic what was on screen, Henry’s action figures bring an amazing realism to their much lighter frames.

It’s analogous to something I see at work, with clunky computer labs replaced by more nimble Chromebooks, smartphones, and laptops. Today’s students have come to expect a level of technological perfection unheard of just a couple of decades ago. Their essays now carry a professional sheen my college papers lacked (even though I loved my Mac). Their presentations can be as polished as any businessperson’s and their connectivity would have made the visionary George Lucas of 1977 shake his head in wonder.

I see students at my school use technology with an ease sprung from the expectation that technology is an integral part of their lives. “Can I do this?” is a question less often asked than “How can I do this?” It’s a way of looking at the world that science fiction writers (and filmmakers) brought to the middle of the last century, and one I’m proud to see in the young minds that will shape this century of their own.

As we talk about technology in education we do well to embrace our students’ propensity to take leaps of …not faith so much as …fancy. Students are willing to take daring chances, and as a result they discover new ways of looking at the familiar and unexpected ways to engage the curriculum at hand. They don’t always follow the path we show them; sometimes they find more interesting ways of learning. Uninhibited by the expectations that fettered past generations, whether stereotypes about what kind of student could do what or how limited the circle of their world might be, today’s students interact with the world with their eyes open to possibility.

Nurturing this sense of possibility means giving students opportunities to collaborate, create, and communicate. Teachers (and schools) are vital to students’ growth, and can inspire, guide, and inform even as they allow students to experiment and experience. It helps to be able to suspend disbelief long enough to know that sometimes these strides forward will use technology our generation isn’t a master of.

This isn’t to say that our students will leave everything we know behind. Even my son allows his Star Wars figures to ride in a 35 year old landspeeder. But these ways of an older world aren’t theirs.

I’m interested in how technology will help change education. No app can replace a good teacher, and no machine can be what a human can be (sorry, C3PO), but as a much as iEverything has changed the world around us, so too it seems that to prepare our students for life beyond the classroom we must not limit ourselves, or our kids, to a way of moving through life that is no longer up to date.

And how do we, the pre CGI crowd, help this next generation of learners use technology learn?

I think we’ll do so by understanding that the tools change and the rules change, but in the end what stays the same is the spark that drives all learning: curiosity.

As we acknowledge our students’ gifts and accept their comfort with technologies that would have struck us as science fiction when we were kids, we can help provide them with the broader perspective won with reflection over time. Our advice about creating a digital profile comes with a wisdom absent in the under 17 crowd. The questions we can ask to get students thinking about online sources they use are an important part of the lesson independent of the specific technology. If we remain unafraid, our hand can guide their learning.

Our students live technology; we’ve lived life. And a big part of our collective job is to steer our kids in the right direction even as we allow them to move in hyperdrive.

If we do it right we may even learn and live in this emerging world with them. Who knows, maybe we’ll even be surprised to find that the scope of their imagination is broad enough to include the nostalgia of our past, just not the flip phones and dot matrix printers. Those aren’t the droids they’re looking for.

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