Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Prensky, Part 2

Here's excerpts from Part Two of the interview. Enjoy, and please feel free to agree, confirm, or take issue with any of the topics discussed.

TMc: How do schools need to adapt to the "digital student?
...They’re inventing because they have this new digital technology, (what I think is going on and I wrote a piece about it called the “Emerging Life of the Digital Native”) they’re inventing a new way of life which involves online stock. Even your clothes for school you get through eBay; the answers to your test you can get through your cell phone. What’s that going to force? So either you can take away all the cell phones, and that’s not going to work in the long run, or you can decide open book tests aren’t so bad after all. They still learn the stuff.
I think kids are very aware at some level of what they’re going to need in the future. They know their not going to be laborers; they know it’s about mind work. They know that the jobs that pay anything are going to be in the fields that require you to have strong technological skills. And they also know that school is not giving them any (with great exceptions). They’re smart enough to get it on their own. I think of it as kids training themselves for life after school. A lot of learning is going on in there and if we would only look at it, and we would think about it, as how can we help them. Like the whole ethics and morality thing. Instead of screaming, “Don’t play ‘Grand Theft Auto’ because you can hit people with a baseball bat!” we could say, “OK, you play ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ Now just because you can hit someone with a baseball bat, does that mean you should?” And we would take some of the things that kids are interested to do anyway and turn it into learning moments.
My new book that is coming out, it’s called Don’t Bother Me Mom, I’m Learning. That’s really what I try to tell people. Listen to your kids. Value what they know. Try to help them along. Try to integrate with the things that you know. And the best teachers are trying to do this. It’s the one’s that are totally overwhelmed and are getting the pressure because they don’t know how to do it at all, then what the government said with No Child Left Behind, in my view is that “look if you don’t know how to help kids get better test scores we’re going to spell it out for you.” Of course kids should get good test scores because the tests aren’t that hard.

TMc: What is the role of the parent as far as video games goes?
MP: The role of the parent is to help kids lead a balanced life. There’s nothing that they should do in excess, and I know plenty of kids who are 'A' students and they’re athletes and they play a lot of video games and they do many things because kids can and do many, many things. There are cases where it goes overboard and you have to pay attention, but the real important thing is that you don’t blame the game for something that is caused by something else. I know a lot of kids as well who play a lot of games and do poorly in school and their parents are convinced that it’s the game’s fault. And I can tell you for sure knowing these kids quite well that they are very intelligent game players and they are very intelligent kids and they have social problems that have nothing to do with the games. It’s like in the Sixties when they were blaming rock and roll or blaming reefer madness. ... I have very little problem with kids’ game playing if the parent knows what’s going on. It’s hard. Because if you’re a parent and you worry about what your kid reads, then you go read it, if you’re worried about the films they go to, you go to the films with them, if you worry about the games they play, what do you do? You can’t play those games probably. So we try to help them and part of my book is going to be sites for parents: so if your kid plays these games here are some intelligent questions you can ask him or her, how you can get more information, how you can watch and go shopping with your kids, look at what’s out there, look at the range of choices...

TMc: What is your vision of the classroom 20 years from now?
Well, there’s a question of whether we have to have classrooms because classrooms are a form of what I call herding. What we know is that kids learn really well when they’re in groups that are self-organized. That is, they get together and they say I’ll do this and you do that and they’re working with their friends and working with people they like. As opposed to, “Guess what you’re in Mr. Smith’s class.” So maybe we’ll be able to get away from herding, and yet we still have this obligation to keep our kids safe and busy and hopefully learning during those hours of the day. Then what I’d like to see is that we choose our teachers not on their knowledge of subject matter at all, but on their empathy with kids. Because those are always our best teachers, those are always the teacher we remember the one’s who say, “You were really good in math you should consider going and doing this, or you’re having a tough time today I’ll cut you a little slack.” The teachers who care enough to understand and see students as individuals. And what those teachers need is to be supported by enough technological methods of learning that they can point all the kids in the most promising direction. And that doesn’t mean that the kids are going to learn by looking at a screen all day because all lot of this will be technology mediated stuff, it will be outdoors, it will be kids with their cell phones doing projects and taking pictures and videos of bugs and leaves and whatever, but it won’t be the teacher telling the story to the kids. In fact it will be the opposite where the kids do their primary learning outside of the classroom technologically and the classroom is reserved for what it should be; which is asking questions, having discussions, thinking things through, helping individuals that would be a whole lot nicer than having the opposite which is having the time taken up by a lecture rather than kids getting any individual help wherever they can.

TMc: This sounds very different from the direction No Child Left Behind is dictating things to be.
: Right, but No Child Left Behind is a stop gap because so many people were not doing it well. And so many of the things that No Child Left Behind is doing…rather than say give 15 teachers very specific instructions on how to teach this reading, why don’t we just build that into a game? Why don’t we have the game before they get to school preferably teach them reading and math and whatever they need and the teacher be there to give them additional help either by pointing them in more advanced directions or to give them some remediation or whatever it is. That would be a whole lot smarter. Then we wouldn’t have to force the teachers to do what No Child Left Behind is trying to do. It some sense you can argue that we don’t have an option. It isn’t getting done and because the people can’t do it we have to help them do it. And the people who are doing it are the people that really find this obnoxious.

TMc: Are you recommending that we move away from the requirement of “highly-qualified” teachers with so-many credits in their content area and more accountability?
I don’t know that we need that. Now, we do. But it’s because we have so few alternatives. We don’t have the technological basis - my algebra game and other people’s algebra games aren’t there, but they will be soon. Once we have that then we don’t need the teacher that happens to have a few more credits in math. What you really want is the teacher who is the empath. Things can get very repetitive (as you know if you’re a teacher) and you better love those kids, if you come in each year and say, “God, another group of kids I’m going to get to know. Let’s see how we can find out about them and tech them new things and learn from these kids.” People that have that attitude and think that way are fabulous teachers.
If you say what in a teacher’s job is most important: to teach the curriculum, to teach the subject matter, relate to the administration, keep good records, or relate to the kids? Most will say, “relate to the kids.” There’s this great line from Will Wright, “Once a kid is motivated, there’s no stopping him.” You can put all the barriers in the world in front of that boy or girl and she would learn. A nephew of mine doesn’t do particularly well in school, but he wanted a pet lizard, so he went out on the internet and he found out everything there possibly was to know and he wrote a twenty page report. He would never do that in school. Never. But he was motivated.

MP: What do you teach in high school?
I teach journalism classes, an 11th/12th grade English class, and American Studies which is an interdisciplinary 10th grade class.

MP: Have you ever considered Game Journalism as a topic?

TMc: What do you mean by Game Journalism?

MP: There’s tons of people writing about games at many different levels. There’s the game journalism that happens in the game magazines, and then there's Charles Herold of the New York Times. The reason that’s interesting is that the subject matter then becomes very interesting to the students.

TMc: I never did it with the whole class, but I normally require the kids to choose a beat (a topic of interest to them) and kind of follow the news and write on that as part of the course, and I’ve had a few kids choose games and gaming as their beat. Our course is all internet based; each of the kids has his own weblog. So, in that way I’ve seen them do nice work with that. I don’t know if every kid as a whole class would be interested in that.

MP: Yeah, you don’t and if you did it that way, you would be doing it as just one in a series of things where you would be putting out topics for kids to grab along the way. One of my favorite teaching lines is from Richard Feynman, who was a Noble prize winner at Cal Tech, and someone asked him at the end of his teaching career what he had learned and he said, “All I’ve learned is that you throw the things out their in as many ways as possible and hope that each kid hooks onto something.” And everybody gets grabbed by something else.

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