Follow the Kids…

I visited Lamu after a fun week of Nairobi Play PD in Kakuma, and while taking a walk on the beach I stumbled upon two children with a bicycle. One of them was half-seated on it, and the other one was demonstrating or modeling how to ride it. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen or experienced before, but it reminded me of our innate sense of learning by doing and gaining new skills. It’s strange that we often fail to incorporate this approach in our capacity-building of others (I’m specifically referring to guiding educators on how to adopt learning technologies in the classroom).

Two children in Lamu (Kenyan Coast).

As the boy on the bicycle flailed off the path due to his lack of balance (panicking with his hands off the steering wheel), his friend immediately came to his side to set him straight, give him feedback and reinforce what he had demonstrated at the beginning of their journey. With every trial, the new cyclist gained more confidence, momentum and skill, and his friend gradually inched back. Eventually he took off on his own down the path, with his friend jumping and cheering in the background. After a few minutes of successful cycling he fell over, but it didn’t matter, he was all smiles. It was clear he felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, and this experience was only the first of many adventures.

This iterative process of building the capacity of others is natural, whether it’s teaching a toddler how to walk, a child how to read, or an adult how to drive, but when we build the capacity of educators to learn how to use technology in the classroom, this iterative process seems to be non-existent, and I’m not sure why. What I’ve seen in the development field has often been no professional development or an initial training (poorly designed lecture) with no follow-up. More to come on this in a follow-up post.

This doesn’t mean that better learning doesn’t involve strategies and processes. This article from the Harvard Business Review, “Learning is a Learned Behavior”, provides a nice overview of the importance of organizing goals, metacognition and reflecting on learning to strengthen mastery of a skill, all which should be embedded in good professional development.

Looking back at the last few weeks, this is one issue I hope the Nairobi Play Project can generate best practices around and contribute to the field. What can a successful model for iterative educator professional development look like, and specifically for educators in low-resource contexts with little to no experience with project-based learning or using technology in the classroom? And the research begins…

Amplifying quality learning

A few weeks ago I attended the Scratch Benefit and it was wonderful to see the genuine love and support for the Scratch community. Mitch’s opening presentation powerfully illustrated it’s reach. With 200 million Scratchers globally it has the user base of the 6th biggest country in the world.

Scratch has 200 million users.

For a learning technology that’s pretty remarkable but not surprising…for Scratch that is.

Many of the solutions I’ve tested and evaluated designed for low resource settings are disappointing replicas of rote learning models, only amplifying bad practice. They rarely (if ever) provide children and adolescents with opportunities to harness their own creative potential. They don’t demonstrate evidence of impact, they’re not engaging or fun, and they’re not grounded in learning science and design, which is why they have low rates of adoption and ultimately fail.

There’s a movement in the United States (with some level of institutional buy-in) to employ technologies like Scratch to support children develop 21st century and STEAM skills through project-based learning and similar pedagogies, but this hasn’t been as prevalent in other parts of the world. There are a number of makerspaces on the African continent, but so far these are emerging to meet demands in the technology and manufacturing industries.

It’s understandable why in “developing” regions of the world there’s considerable focus on closing gaps around traditional literacies like reading, writing and math, but platforms designed and deployed in these contexts can still support meaningful learning versus rote learning. It’s paradoxical when there’s evidence that shows that technologies which support and align with progressive education can help children develop these basic foundational literacies.

When I reflect on the failures around many of these technologies and the success of Scratch, I think the key differentiator is that Scratch is a community which supports learners, families and educators. Scratch is not a technology, but a movement around how to participate in quality and joyful learning, which all children deserve.

I hope we can start designing more leaning technologies which challenge colonial and top down models of education, rather than amplify them.