If You Give a Kid a Laptop

June 8, 2014 — 1 Comment

The end result is a lot more promising that giving a mouse a cookie, as Laura Numeroff did.  Just look at the kids Scott McLeod talks about in his presentation, Extracurricular empowerment, at TEDxDesMoines.

I was fascinated by Martha’s story.  Maybe it was because McLeod spent so much time talking about Martha.  Maybe it’s because I have a connection to all things British with my husband and his family all being from Britain.  Maybe it was because she was using her social media skills to exact social change and provide charity.

Before writing today, I thought on watching again, especially the beginning, to learn more about some of the other kids he mentioned:  one with Pokemon videos earning a six figure salary, one who created an online magazine with a friend.  I can’t even remember their names.

Why did I want to rehear that part of the video?  Was it that I found Martha’s endeavors more worthy than the others?  If so, was this because of the social change and charity?  Then it made me remember my post, “Sign Me Up.”  And I found myself guilty of that prejudice that Dr. Henry Jenkins defined.  You know, the one where we must question if something is wrong because it is not what we value.  Is the Pokemon kid’s video channel any less valuable just because it didn’t contribute to a charity?  How do I even know if he did or didn’t donate money to some “worthy” charity?  He did, at the very least, create the college fund of college funds, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

McLeod showers us with adjectives used to talk about these kids:  curious, confident, disciplined, self-directed, enthusiastic, passionate, critical thinkers, and problem solvers.  And while the kids he shares with us did amazing things, these words can be used to describe most active learners, even outside the context of technology.  But what about the kids who are not active learners?  What about at-risk kids, and impoverished kids?  How do we get those kids to be these things?

We need to figure out how to “turn the extra-curricular into the curricular.”  Yes.  Yes, we do.  Further, the idea that “we put technology in their hands and then prevent them from using it” is also, indeed, true.  Why is that, I wonder?  On the part of the schools, is it because we have become such a litigious society that we have to prevent anything that might be misconstrued at all costs?  Seriously – if we open the technology door wide, how do we make sure all ages are viewing or accessing only age appropriate material?  McLeod things we must “get over OUR fear” when putting technology into the hands of our children.   Yet, while there is a lot that is awesome about technology and online, there is also a lot of unsavory stuff too, and this is what I think makes parents so nervous.  As you can see, letting go is not so easy.

McLeod envisions “robust, technology-infused environments” in our schools.  Wouldn’t this be nice?  I love this idea.  I’d love to see my own kids working with the newest and best technology out there.  But, as usual, there’s the flip side.  Who is going to pay for this?  School systems are always strapped for cash.  We’re always worried about teacher salaries, staffing cuts, program cuts.  So while it’s great to say we need to do this, how do we implement it when we can’t pay for the basics?

Finally, McLeod ends on the note, “Let’s get out of their way and let them be amazing.”  Indeed.  But does this need to apply solely to the kids’ technologically-based learning?  I think not.  I understand the need for standards and benchmarks.  But can’t we encourage our kids to learn deeper and beyond?  Let’s empower their general learning and then let them loose in their technology learning.  Can you imagine?

One thing is for certain.  All of the kids McLeod tells us about, Martha, the Pokemon kid, the bedroom decorators, and the online magazine girls, all showed amazing initiative and verve in their projects.  And beyond that, they showed maturity beyond their years.  My question is – how do we foster that in all children?


One response to If You Give a Kid a Laptop


    Your response is so well written, and it is very thought provoking. I agree with all you state, especially that it can be hard for parents to let go and allow their children to become so versed with the Internet. It’s so easy to stumble upon things that aren’t approved on the Internet, and that’s what can become so bothersome for parents and educators. Nonetheless, it is important for boundaries to be set, and that students are made clear on what they can do, use, and read/look at when using the Internet. Fostering creativity in our children today is so important and is what allows for all these fabulous ideas coming from our youth today. I think our “boundaries” should be broad, but clear so that students can explore and not feel limited at the same time.


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