Young Eyes on a Young Field

This post is written by Luke Fisher, one of DHF’s Program Specialists. This was originally intended as Luke’s presentation for the Progressive Ed Summit, which was, unfortunately snowed out and rescheduled for a time when Luke will be living in Japan. We thought everyone should hear his thoughts any way. Enjoy! 


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No one is going to be shocked when I say this next statement: students today are used to having an endless supply of information and entertainment via their cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. But I am not here to complain, in fact, I think it’s a really wonderful thing and I am happy to be apart of this generation. What I am here to talk about is the disconnect that I see with students when they talk about school as they are walking into the Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center. Everyday I ask kids about their experiences at school and, as to be expected, the replies are generally a mix of “It was fine,” “Alright,” “Boring,” and the list of unenthused adjectives goes on and on, until I stop asking them questions and they can start telling me about the thing they are really excited about: whether it be, architecture, a new anime series they are watching, or their latest play through of Five Nights At Freddy’s. With an entire world of information out there that students are excited about, talking about studying the same 5 subjects for 12 years is the conversational equivalent of watching paint dry. I love learning and I plan on expanding my noggin’ until the day I die, but that kind of excitement is difficult to translate to youth. This is a sentiment that has to be learned on one’s own.

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STEM education is in a special place. It’s a field of eternal change and growth, therefore, making it a subject that requires constant tweaking and understanding. And much like the rest of education, it has no boundaries. You can apply STEM education to history, or english, or mathematics, etc.  but. . .  THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING TO KIDS.  Kids don’t care that you can make a program that helps them remember historical dates, or that they can create a game that is based off of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. Why? Because every interaction that kids have with technology is in the realm of their interests, not what the government sanctioned necessary to become a functional adult in America. If you tie STEM education back to the subjects that they are already forced to know, educators all over are missing a powerful learning opportunity.

I’d say about 2 times a week I have a conversation that follows this similar pattern:

*Student Sitting Behind Computer Looking Discouraged/Frustrated/Tired etc*

Me: Hey, what’s up?

Student: I don’t know what to do.

Me: Well, what do you like? What are you interested in?

Student: (Insert Anime/Video Game/Fan Fiction Title Here/Subject/Culture)*

Me: Oh, well then just make something about that then.

It’s interesting to see how students react to this suggestion. Some are skeptical, some are hesitant, others are overjoyed. I think this suggestion takes so many off-guard because in the traditional education system, students are seldom taught that they can use what they care about to aid their education and not be something that’s distracting them from “an education”.

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We’re at a special time in education. While it’s not necessary to know historical dates or who is the Id, Ego, or Id in Lord of the Flies (although I think it will benefit you as a human) as time moves forward it’s becoming more and more clear that it is necessary to be technologically literate. We, as educators in the tech field, are wielding an incredible amount of power. Are we going to revert back to the tired ways of education’s stale formulaic past? Or are we going to take charge, push ourselves to learn as much as our students, and reshape how we teach in the classroom?