Going Two-to-One on Technology
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The “T” in STEM is a frustrating letter. “T” is supposed to stand for Technology. As an engineer turned teacher I find that I have a very different idea of what that “T” in STEM means compared to other folks. I’ve heard teachers and administrators equate Technology with knowing how to use PowerPoint or Google Apps for education. While those are useful skills to have, in my mind that definition really undermines what Technology in STEM can be.
Let’s take a moment to think about how the above definition of technology in schools is limiting. If we look at the other three letters in the STEM acronym we have Science, Engineering and Math. In each of these other three subjects we are picking up much more than a set of skills, but we are picking up a discipline. There are Scientists, Engineers and Mathematicians. People forget that there are also Technologists, and their job is to shape the path of society through the intelligent consideration of Technology. Technologists are not Technologists because they use PowerPoint of Google Apps for Education. Technologists are Technologists because they have studied the physical laws that govern the expansion of technology: Moore’s Law, battery chemistry or semiconductor fabrication. They formulate a vision of the future based on rigorous observation, real trends and actual calculations, just like Scientists, Engineers and Mathematicians.
My suggestion to get technology into schools as a technologist would define it (or an engineer turned teacher would define it) in the same way we have science and math in schools is to have classes where students actually use technology. Not as a product or an app you use to record your thoughts, but something like an Arduino microcontroller. If you don’t recognize the word Arduino or recognize the photo of the naked circuit board to the left of the Mac at the top of this article then you really need to start with some professional development for your school that will open that door a bit for you.
I have taught kindergarten teachers in their mid-sixties who really were starting from the beginning to use microcontrollers. I mean the beginning. New to a Google account and all. Here is a 2 minute video for beginners on what an Arduino is. Just because something looks initially unfamiliar does not mean you can’t quickly come up to speed on it with the right support!
Here is my national proposition to grow the T in STEM: Let’s add to that beautiful mantra we have been hearing about going “one-to-one” with devices (laptops or Chromebooks) in schools. I agree one-to-one is great when you are teaching Powerpoint or Google Apps for Education. One-to-one even works great with The Hour of Code, but this does not get us microcontrollers in the hands of students. My suggestion is that we go two-to-one in schools with one microcontroller and one laptop/chrome book per student. If your school is already one-to-one then this is a great opportunity to leverage your investment! An Arduino microcontroller is now less than $5 on Amazon and will get you to two-to-one.
Going two-to-one allows the students to get the computer to interact with the real physical world. In five minutes you can have a system with a light sensor as an input and then physically control an LED as an output. Students start seeing machines as systems of inputs and outputs when they have access to this. They start to see the technological world around them as something that is modifiable by them. They cease to view themselves as just technology consumers, but technology inventors as well! The addition of the microcontroller to the laptop or Chromebook allows the students to expand the meaning of Technology to that which interacts and shapes the real world around us.