Teachers hacking teachers

Tron Bag by bekathwia

Tron Bag by bekathwia

With thanks to Paul Allison for inspiring the title.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been woking with Christina Cantrill, Paul Oh, and Meenoo Rami on a Hackasausus-inspired National Writing Project (NWP) Hack-Jam at #ISTE11.

Hackasurus is a Mozilla, MacArthur Foundation, and New Youth City Learning Network-sponsored initiative aimed at helping “tweens move from digital consumers to active producers, seeing the web as something they can actively shape, remix and make better.”

“X-Ray Goggles” for the web, developed by the Hackasaurus team, help make coding visible to the next generation of users – our students. The goggles also let users rip source code so it can be pasted into a tool like htmlpad to create a student-authored hack.

I’m really thrilled to be involved. Here’s why:

  1. First, it’s great to watch the NWP continue its leadership in digital composition. The NWP is that rare educational organization that realizes and capitalizes on the power of teachers, students, and democratizing technologies. The NWP is so effective because it seeks out and trains teachers and students on effective strategies and tools for composing as community-building. The NWP promotes a mindset that integrates technology with meaning-making; it doesn’t sell a curriculum or piece of software. It’s a people organization. It’s terrific. Get involved now.
  2. It’s also great to challenge our notions of hacking in public schools. In the maker community, “busting a hack” has come to mean adapting something given so that it does something new, delightful, and useful. While high-profile, criminal hacking cases are making the media daily, hacking is more than a criminal – or otherwise extra-legal – activity designed to disrupt the good guys or the bad guys or the guys hanging out in between. Hacking is an approach to the world that asks how systems and controls can be challenged, subverted, or overcome. Schools are full of teachers, students, and other stakeholders trying to figure out how best to teach and learn despite policies and materials that ask us to work against our professional beliefs and personal passions for learning. I don’t think it helps us to criminally hack attendance records, no matter how fun Matthew Broderick made it seem in the 80s. However, I do think have to work together in schools to hack standardization out of the water and to preserve the joy and discovery inherent in authentic, inquiry-based learning.
  3. Finally, it’s essential that we help students see the Web an technology as something more than a mall of information. I do think we’re too quick, sometimes, to crack down on students’ media consumption – they’re building a common culture, exploring identity, and working on developing their senses of humor with every video they view. However, school and life can’t be all consumption all the time. At some point, if we’re to solve our problems, we need a populace that knows when it’s time to pose questions, seek out solutions, care for its members, steward the planet, and sacrifice for the greater good. We have to help kids see the Web and technology as avenues for all of that vital, community-building and problem-solving work. The first inhabitants of the web made it. Are our kids making it? Imagine how different “discipline” would be if we started catching kids making games during class instead of playing them. Imagine if they were satirizing the media we are so concerned about them consuming. Imagine if they were programming, instead of being programed.

It’s up to us teachers and students to hack ourselves – to inspire one another to make something else out of the schools we’ve been given. It’s up to us to vault over the firewalls of tradition into the new schools our kids need and deserve for their learning about themselves, their communities, the world, and the issues of consumption, production, sustainability, and human tragedy confronting us all.

The future requires us to be something more than the teachers and students we are told to be.

If you’re attending #ISTE11, teaching in Philly, and/or living nearby in Jersey (or wherever), come and join us for the Hack-Jam on Sunday, June 25th, from 1:00 to 4:00 PM at the wonderfully generous Science Leadership Academy. Sign up and bust a hack!

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