The Inaccessibility of Making, Tinkering & Coding

The inaccessibility of learning “how computing works” & applying that learning in unique ways is real…especially when we view it as something only done in “that geeky teacher’s classroom”, the designated makerspace or worse…gifted only.

I live 2.5 hours away from my nephew and as much as it was his desires to make animatronic puppets that sent us down this pathway of discovery, it is also a reality that on a regular basis, tinkering with technology is not within his grasp…

…not at school

…not without my guidance…or supplies

Using Edtech Isn’t Enough…

Like many students, Braeden’s access to technology at school is centered on district provided collaboration tools, curriculum based programs and devices. We tend to do an “okay” job of kids using technology, especially when it comes to edtech. We even often get the need for kids to be creators of content. Presentation, Blogging, Green Screen or Paper Slide videos anyone?

Where we often struggle is the lane where kids create actual technology or learn how such tools work. (not shocking since inequity deems that majority of kids in low income/rural areas still have minimal tech access)

…unless they are in that “geeky teacher’s classroom” or an environment where thinking out of the box means also thinking beyond blocks and “innovation kits” or recipes.

…also typically, the geeky teacher’s classroom

…or they are lucky enough to have a librarian who has created a space that is well supported, open-ended, exploratory and dictated by the needs of its users over adult control

…and absolutely, positively…much more than just coding apps (Although Apple’s version is pretty fantastic but that is an entirely different blog post)

…oh yeah…and unless kids are in affluent engineering minded communities or private schools

…definitely never in low performing schools serving low income or students of color. If anything, they have remedial tech on lock! If they are lucky, they get to code for an hour once a year.

…because control is control and adults will always adult.

Gamified Coding…Still Not Enough

Braeden has done “hour of code” for the past two years at school and aside from “coding minecraft” which he found kind of trivial compared to actual minecraft, it just wasn’t his thing.

I even bought a BB8 sphero, which he had no interest in “coding” but only wanted to control via the app. It looks so pretty sitting on the shelf. (rolls eyes)

I tried to expose him to Scratch but it too was not his thing.

When I pushed him on his avoidance of “coding”, it was his experience with hour of code that somewhat framed his desires. He did the activities but when it came time to apply and create his own “app”, he was stumped and couldn’t figure out what to do. The gallery wasn’t a space for inspiration. It was a place to pass the time.

In addition, the “hour of code” site was added to the list of acceptable “technology time” programs right along with coolmath, accelerated reader and other curriculum “learning” tools while teachers did what they knew to do…get grades done while the kids silently “did computers”.

Reflect on that for a moment.

Reality Check

While some students tackle gamified coding programs with a certain joy, others do not. This isn’t abnormal. It’s theory of learning and how we all differ. Please don’t get offended or justify how we’ve “edtech-ed coding” by calling it “a start”…better than nothing.

That statement is the epitome of inequity.

For kids like Braeden, who thrive on disrupting physical space into creative ventures, gamified coding programs are just that…games.

…until connections are made through the language that they understand.

Physical space, invention and the act of creating can inspire the need to understand how certain machines work and languages that dictate their actions.

Last week, my time with Braeden creating everything from interactive art to our own games drove his need to code and in the spirit of that need, I saw an interest and enjoyment that I’ve not seen in him from a digital perspective beyond the art he draws, puppet videos or worlds that he created through Minecraft.

All it took was a semi-knowledgeable adult who was willing to play/learn with him(me), a couple of micro-controllers (Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express and Chibitronics Chibi Chip…or any that help bridge the digital and physical gap) and a plethora of possibilities that were tangible to him…not married to a screen but physically in hand.

If only this were possible for every kid who needs to explore, learn and create in this way.

Not just those…

…In “that geeky teacher’s classroom”

…In gifted/STEM/STEAM programs

…In private super expensive schools

…In the coding/maker club before/after school

…In homes with engineers/geeky teachers as parents

…In the company of an aunt who used to be “that geeky teacher”

…Or those in homes willing to and capable of paying for private after school/summer STEM experiences

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