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A Binary Dichotomy



There exists a dichotomy in everything we do… a binary existence if you will. On:Off; Light:Dark; Yes:No; Mac:Windows; Good:Bad etc. Of course I am speaking in generalities but we need to suspend enlightened discourse for the moment and follow this binary tract. Because within the subtext of these binary concepts there exists sub routines of binary arguments. And without generalities they are not very logical. What I want to look at is this concept within technical education that there exists only 2 choices when using computers in the classroom – and these follow the insinuated theme of Good:Bad.

That is to say that there exists the argument that computer education should be based solely on the structure of the computer as a medium of science; hence the term "Computer Science". These "scientific" lessons are often: spreadsheet design, word processing, and some type of presentation program. And then for the advanced learners we teach them a database and some obscure languages that are no longer used for programming. On the flip side we have those "edutainment" games which the kids use to play. While these are highly entertaining most look at this as akin to putting sugar in toothpaste so that kids brush their teeth longer. Again these are generalities.

What I want to do is look at that "Bad" "flip side" connotation of "edutainment" software. And while I am at it I want to express that there can be a happy medium to this binary dichotomy – an infusion if you will of the "science" and "play". Just for a moment reflect on your own "science" training in high school or junior high. I believe that everyone of us wanted to be in Mr. Carter’s class, you know the teacher that literally blew up the lab once a year where the school had to be evacuated because of his hydrogen-volcano experiment, yes? We would tolerate school and the drone of pedantic discourse just for that one moment when learning became fun. And we learned did we not? We all raced home and tried our own experiments with ammonia and baking soda and other household goods. We learned because it was fun and we wanted to make meaning from it.

There is a book "Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Fulgham this book is not that far off the track. Everything we learned how to do especially within the constraints of society we learned through play. We learned how to build, we learned how sand and water were pervious, we learned about gravity and balance while riding bikes or climbing trees, we learn through playing. So the question I want to ask these computer scientists is ‘Why do we take the play out of learning?’

"What are we going to play today?" This is the phrase most often uttered in my classroom as the kids come in. They are excited to be there, excited to experiment, excited to learn.

I have no beef with the spreadsheets and data bases … but there is so much more to using a computer than these. And to restrict the kids learning their education is negligence on our part as educators. There are excellent programs out there some of you know them well and some you have heard of I do not want to discount them because they are in fact excellent programs for learning: at this conference there are several workshops that deal with these: These programs are Hyperstudio, Inspiration, Clarisworks, Kid Pix, all excellent programs. But there is a problem with these and that is cost. Hyperstudio for example costs $112 per program, while you can get a deal on a lab pack of 15 programs for $708. KidPix is $80 and $190 for a lab pack of 5. (quotes are from Educational Resources Most schools have a small budget for this exercise let’s stipulate a generous $3000 a year for resources. We could probably purchase a site license for Hyperstudio for that amount. This way the entire school could have access to this program.

But, can the students do their projects at home? Most of the time this software is prohibitive to the average family. I am reminded of Mindstorms LEGO software program. A brilliant program that was available only to schools, because the cost was so prohibitive. So prohibitive in fact that schools did not purchase it. LEGO went the other route and reduced the cost and made it available to the general public. Because they have a really good product and want to get it into the hands of children. Most marketers are not this benevolent.

Most of the software I will show you is "cheap" and remarkably powerful in what it can do. Some of this software you can find in discount bins, used, or in clearance sections. Why? Because they are small, non-mainstream, and developed by small companies with low marketing budgets. And some were just never discovered to the extent of their abilities. Most of the software I will show you is PC only, some are Hybrid CD’s, and then I have some teacher "freeware" that can de downloaded from my website.

So lift your veil of doubt, shift your paradigms, step out of the box, and all that and let’s play…