Beyond the Tech to Engage the Disengaged

This past weekend, I took my nephew, son and his friends to participate in a collaborative “maker space” sponsored by SMART at TASA/TASB. As one of several schools rotating through their creative zone, the kids had access to various art supplies, a 3d cardstock printer, makey makey and objects for interaction. I believe that the idea was that the kids would get into the space itself, be inspired by the maKey maKey and “collaboratively” create. That formula worked for other schools. From what I heard, other groups of students blasted their way through the “maker” area, had a blast and created all sorts of ways to create their “game controllers”. For my group of boys, the results were not the same.

Unlike the kids from other schools, my son and his friends had zero experience with collaboration, creativity or technology beyond their cell phones or video game systems at home. This particular group, including my son, would NEVER have been chosen to represent their school in a public forum. Those spots would have gone to StuCo, NHS or AVID students first…students with proven tracks of leadership and compliance.

Throughout the “brief” time that the boys spent in the maker area, there were complaints as well as multiple schemes to NOT do the activities as set out. While, other kids were able to walk into the space and go with it, my kids could not. They needed more guidance and direction. They needed a reference point to get started. The idea bank on which creativity is built wasn’t there. They were being asked to utilize parts of their brain that goes unused daily in the classroom.  To them, there was no real point of using various objects to play games online. They wanted to do more with the maKey maKey but were unsure of how to get there and the impressiveness of it wore off after 30 minutes.  The 3d printer didn’t impress them at all. While my nephew was entranced with creating and decorating a car, the boys that I took said that it was no different than printing a template online and hand-cutting it out. To them, it was cyliners and prisms…they were not interested in that at all.

My son and his friends were completely disengaged from the days activities. Prior to my own reflection, I felt embarrassed, especially with my son who was being uncharacteristically difficult. As we rode home, it hit me hard that their “inability” to adapt was well beyond the scope of opportunities that they were absent of. They were on an exhibit floor and in my opinion held their own no different than any first-timer at a conference.

The bottom line was that they were BORED.

When we plan activities, we have to take into account that not all learners will share the same experiences on which to build from. Even with technology, the purpose must be there. To my group of hyper boys, the substitution of the maKey maKey meant nothing. However, if they fully understood the intent, process and goals of the day…they would have been completely different kids. My son added that the “banana thing” was cute but why would he use this in place of the better tools that he has at home. He also added that the online games weren’t interesting enough to play for three hours. After further discussion, he finally came to the conclusion that they would have had more fun if they actually tried and they didn’t.

They were trying to comply….not engaged…complying. There is a difference.

Kids like my son and his friends are not “tricked'” by the technology that we throw at them to mask activities with no purpose. We treat them as non-compliant behavior problems when in fact, they are the ones telling us that we need to do more and do better.

What we have to do is take the time to listen to them because when we do, we have an opportunity to truly transform their learning experience.

It definitely can’t be about the technology. We have to find what their interests are and allow the technology to enhance that.

I listened and next time, I’ll do what I can to make sure that their experience is more engaging, driven by them and leaves them begging for more.



Comments 3

  1. As I was packing up, I started to reflect on the past two days of the digital arts area..what worked, what didn’t and why? In regards to your kids, I provided the same expectations, the same directions, the same purpose… I needed to reach them in a different way with a different purpose and I didn’t… I failed them miserably. “Stuff” equals fluff with no purpose… maybe?

    I wanted all of the students to figure it out – to think outside of the box – to explore – to understand… they did just as you said… comply with no real purpose… a different kind of purpose… I wanted to leave it as a problem – you have the parts, you know how they work, why do some items work and others won’t.– they “why”.

    As a reflect, I think back to that afternoon, I know I didn’t do a good job with your group. I also think that they environment swallowed them in… there were lots of outside variables/sounds, etc. There was no purpose and so the driving factor of the distractions got them.

    As I think back and remember watching the groups pass through… one girl noted that she is going into engineering when she graduates -I asked what she like about her time spent in the area “the designing and printing of a “building” helps her “see” the inside/the lines, etc and do a better job of planning and executing”… she had purpose. Another student tested out all sorts of objects for circuits and then decided to test out his hair, clothes… I asked him why it worked. He had purpose. One of the kids moved all of the parts of the makeymakey to an outside table because he wanted to share his purpose with others… to explain what he was doing, why it was working and how it makes him think differently… more purpose.

    I think I could take this a step further and think about adults and purpose… if we have no purpose… does this equate to “busy work”. Take the technology out of the picture… are we filling our days with purpose? hmmmm

    1. Post

      I LOVE your reflection so much! I’ve ordered a makey makey for our home! There was some interest in what else it could do but I agree that the surrounding areas were definitely a distriction. I know of people who used the Makey Makey to rewire a classroom! There’s so much more to do with it and at that time they couldn’t really tap into it! I don’t think that the learning was lost on the day. We ALL took something away and that is what is most important!

      Without you, they would not have had that moment…that opportunity! I appreciate you sooo much for that!

      Thank You!

  2. RaFranz, you hit the nail on the head by stating we need to listen! As teachers, we sometimes get so wrapped up in planning for instruction that we forget to make student feedback part of that planning. Students will tell us exactly what they need if we would only listen. I attended a workshop last week in which Chris Lehman, one of the co-authors of Pathways to the Common Core, stated that feedback from students is important for planning meaningful and engaging lessons. Thank you sharing your experience. It just reinforced the need to use various ways to receive feedback from students.

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