Inspiring kids- teched

The Dayton Grassroots Dayton Daily show takes yet another twist- now, we’re going to talk about educating kids – and inspiring them to grow their critical thinking skills.

We were inspired by this article in today’s New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/21/technology/21nerds.html?ref=business (and yes, it’s one of those Harvard types that Greg is now saluting- watch Saturday’s video and then call him a hypocrite).

No, we’re not running for school board- but, we both believe there is more to teaching computing than how to program or how to use Excel. I’ve made an argument before for laptops in primary education- and posted about my hometown and their implementation of Mac’s for all.

If we want the jobs of the future- we’d better have the workers of the future.

Enjoy!

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14 Responses

  1. Greg Hunter December 21, 2009 / 1:38 pm
    hypocrite

    Ha, I was reared Southern Baptist – It’s a birthright!

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  2. jstults December 21, 2009 / 2:02 pm
    David:

    Otherwise you’re just a monkey putting screw A into hole B, and those jobs are gone…

    I was glad to hear you say that, people in the post-industrial midwest pine for manufacturing jobs that are not going to come back. No Greg, not because of NAFTA or Bill Clinton, but because of increased automation made possible and economical by the proliferation of cheap little computers.
     
    Greg:

    … and how inspirational is Excel?

    You’re right, teach those kids FORTRAN!  Seriously though, if they don’t have the detailed knowledge of how to make wealth with computers (either by hacking the hardware or the software) they will just be consumers rather than producers. Dayton needs more producers. The iPhone or the XBox is a great example, you can consume on those things all day long without producing any value.

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  3. Joe December 21, 2009 / 4:27 pm
    Teaching Excel is not a bad idea. It has many uses, and is a good way to start to learn programing and databases. You can create weath with excel, if you write a simple bookkeeping sheet for a small business, a personal finance sheet for the individual, etc….I wish my HS had taught more about how the computer/programs work than their rudementary uses. Had to learn that on my own in the workplace and in college. I think more education in web design and page building  would be good, there are numerous older folks that want to have a website for themselves or their business, but don;t have a clue how to make on for thier specific needs.

    Teaching FORTRAN would be cool, so would MATLAB, Mathematic, and Python! But I imagine some of the licenses are costly.

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  4. Dan December 21, 2009 / 7:19 pm
    Being a Linux guy I think one of the best things we could do to help kids learn to use computers would be to dump Microsoft from our Public Education systems.
    If you look beyond Microsoft there are even whole operating systems devoted to education.  My favorite Linux Distribution, Ubuntu, has a version specifically made for students and teachers, edubuntu.  The KDE project, another Linux-centric organization has their own educational software.  Rather than teaching our kids to ‘hack’ we should teach our kids how to use Open Source software to create games (Nexuiz), Websites (Facebook, YouTube, etc) or smartphone apps (Android).
    Linux works on more (older) hardware so schools could keep their computers longer and with the thin client configuration available with Edubuntu administrators could set up the computers to work of a central system so students could use any computer and get the same experience and supporting one computer would be as easy as supporting another.
    @Joe
    There is no cost for licenses  for using Python, PHP, Java, C# (through Mono (you can even install Microsoft code on Linux machines, isn’t that awesome!)), Lisp, C, C++, Ruby or any number of different languages on Linux, the only cost is paying for the computers and someone to maintain them.
    All that being said one of the big issues, as David pointed out, is the lack of knowledge on the behalf of educators and policy makers.

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  5. jstults December 21, 2009 / 9:23 pm
    Joe:

    Teaching FORTRAN would be cool, so would MATLAB, Mathematic, and Python! But I imagine some of the licenses are costly.

    I was kidding about the Fortran, I think some folks would consider that child abuse.  I happen to like Fortran and Python, but that’s just personal taste (or some might say the lack of it).  Octave is the name of the open source Matlab alternative (no licensing cost), it’s very capable.  There is no open source capability-equivalent to Mathematica, but Maxima comes close, and still does some things that Mathematica doesn’t.
     
    I’ve got to second Dan’s comment, there is so much unexploited potential with open source software in education (elementary through high-school; lots of open source is developed and used by academics at the big research universities), the thing holding us back in this case is the education level about these tools in our early-year educators.
     
    Having said that, I don’t think any particular tool is all that important, learning the domain specific stuff is most important.  If you are a physicist you need to learn about waves, if you are an artist you need to learn about lighting and perspective, it just happens that both of these folks can use computational tools to do their job these days.  The real marketable skill isn’t knowing a particular tool (if you think it is, then you are about to be replaced by a cheaper robot or a newer piece of code); it is knowing how to apply the domain specific knowledge to solve problems; the software tools and the calculating machines will always be changing.
     
    The linked article says,

    […] they will require education beyond high school, though often two years or less.
    “Most of them will not be pure technology jobs, designing computer software and hardware products, but they will involve applying computing and technology-influenced skills to every industry,” Mr. Reich said. “Think Geek Squads in other fields,” he added, referring to a popular tech-support service.
    These workers, he said, will be needed in large numbers to install, service, upgrade and use computer technology in sectors like energy and health care.

    What the article is describing are entry level IT support jobs, this is not the new engine of economic prosperity for Dayton.  Basically we’re talking kids with an associates degree equivalent that have Microsoft or Redhat certs and can be trusted to install and admin an email server, not highly trained engineers that will be starting the next Google or designing the next iPhone.  Successful businesses hire these sorts of low-level techs, and those positions generally pay better than clerking at Walmart, but people with this level of training are still quite fungible and training that is focused on a specific software stack is usually pretty perishable too.  The other thing to notice is that the primary wealth generation process here is not the information technology itself, IT is just a tool that makes [fill-in-the-core-business-blank] more efficient / profitable.  You gotta have the steak before you worry about the sizzle.  Dayton needs some steak, some primary industries that happen to employ these kinds of support folks as a matter of course.

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  6. Dan December 21, 2009 / 9:59 pm
    @jstults
    The way I read this article is that the core of the argument isn’t higher education, but preparing students for technical jobs and further education in elementary, junior and high school.  With UD and WSU and the other regional universities Dayton should have no problem training people in technical people, the hardest part is keeping them here afterward.

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  7. Joe December 22, 2009 / 8:57 am
    @jstults – Cool blog! I wish I understood more of the math, but some of the concepts I understand.

    The Department of Defense is starting to see the benefit of open source software.
    http://arstechnica.com/open-source/news/2009/02/department-of-defense-launches-open-source-site-forgemil.ars  Microsoft makes a killing off of licenses every year.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKK933KK6Gg – And this video is pretty cool too. Completely unrelated to the discussion. Illustrates some concepts though.

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  8. Greg Hunter December 22, 2009 / 9:25 am
    Thanks for all the comments, I learn so much by contributers.  With regards to excel, it is a powerful tool and should be taught in school as it is great for presenting and analyzing data; however, it seems there is no crossover application from learning excel to utilizing in the class functions to analyze physics, biology and the social sciences.  In addition the application of the Pivot Table function is not well understood even by most business professionals.

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  9. jstults December 22, 2009 / 10:30 am
    Greg:

    it seems there is no crossover application from learning excel to utilizing in the class functions to analyze physics, biology and the social sciences

    That’s the problem I see too; public policy wonks say we need to teach kids “tech”, bureaucrats oblige by  throwing money at the problem, and the result is that sort of disjointed approach.  What we need to do is teach them the math and science and social studies they’ve always needed to learn, but teach them those subjects using modern tools.  We compartmentalize too much, there shouldn’t be an “Excel class” or a “Word class”, the spreadsheet should just be introduced as a tool that’s good for doing useful stuff in lots of different subjects, the word processor can just be the way you have to write a couple of your book reports.
     
    Educators get beat up a lot for lagging on the incorporation of new tools, but they do have a tough balancing act sometimes.  They’ve got to make sure the fancy new tool isn’t substituting for real learning and understanding.  Sometimes the best tool for getting that is still pencil and paper (and hard work).
     
    Thanks Joe.

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  10. David Lauri December 22, 2009 / 11:10 am
    What we need to do is teach them the math and science and social studies they’ve always needed to learn, but teach them those subjects using modern tools.
    I agree.  One of my favorite and best teachers back in the early 80s was a history teacher, Mr. Seewer, who had an essay test every week (yes, every week) and gave a different student each week the opportunity to type his essay on the Commodore computer in the classroom.  That computer was not provided by the school but rather by Mr. Seewer personally.  Using the computer was not an essential part of the class but it did give each one of us the opportunity to learn a bit about a new skill we’d find useful in addition to the skills of critical thinking and writing we were also learning while learning about history.
     
    A fun lesson learnt by those of us who ever typed our weekly essay into Mr. Seewer’s Commodore was the importance of saving one’s work often.  In my years of IT work since I’m amazed at how many people don’t know that.

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  11. Will Brooks December 22, 2009 / 11:45 am
    Concerning Excel, it’s a spreadsheet that has many rivals and equals in the open source world. Top of the list is OpenOffice Calc. You can do most everything in Calc as Excel. Novel has been working to add VBA support and the current OpenOffice version has partial support. OpenOffice also has it’s own basic language for scripting macros.

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  12. jstults December 22, 2009 / 12:49 pm
    Will:

    Novel has been working to add VBA support and the current OpenOffice version has partial support.

    And if you are already a Python nerd, you can access OpenOffice’s object model from Python too:
    http://wiki.services.openoffice.org/wiki/PyUNO_bridge
     
    Slightly OT, but neat anyhow.

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  13. Will Brooks December 22, 2009 / 2:10 pm
    @jstults – very cool. I script extensively in VBA for work purposes. Also do some bash scripting, a little PHP, and used to code mods in UnrealScript back in my unreal Tournament 2004 days. Uscript is almost identical to java. Google Tim Sweeney for further info.
     
    I’ve looked into python and hacked around some with it a couple times. I didn’t know you could reach OO’s object model from python though. Did OO set up API access? or another way?

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  14. Will Brooks December 22, 2009 / 2:11 pm
    @jstults…guess I should follow the link before asking questions…lol.

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