Lesson from a Techie
My friend Kathy entered my life as the parent of a student. I knew she was my kind of person right away. Sometimes your gut just lets you know that the aura of a person melds with your own just right. She never wore anything but jeans; she didn’t hesitate to sign up to chaperone a two night overnight Vermont winter rustic field trip with 25 sixth and seventh graders; she loved Harley-Davidsons as much as I did. And she lived in my neighborhood. Her honesty with life sparkled around her.
Years later, Kathy joined the school district’s technology team and “learned her way up the ladder” to become something of a technology magician. From helping my team learn about the brand new technology of the HP tablets we had won through a grant to tracing a hacking incident, her investigative prowess, attention to details, and pure tenacity allowed for solutions and great learning. Kathy learned constantly and enjoyed what she learned. If she couldn’t answer a question, she researched it, sometimes having to learn lots of new skills and information to get an answer that she was satisfied with. Her ability to explain the answers to those of us who were tech-illiterate at that time was simply masterful. She made sure we understood and felt good about providing her with an opportunity to learn too.
The most wonderful thing about Kathy, besides her “Live on a Harley” philosophy, is the attitude she has about kids and technology. Even in the midst of investigating a serious breach to our school district’s servers and entire system, her attitude was, “Aren’t kids great? They teach us so much. They are so smart and we have to use their knowledge and brains to learn new things and keep up. Each time they do something like this they teach us.” Kathy is absolutely right. Just because kids can and do take risks to see how far they can go with or attempt something out of the realm of “school appropriate”, doesn’t mean that we should shut them off. This is what should help us learn how to keep the kids and our systems safe and allow for forays into the unknown. Kathy looks at these forays into the seedier side of integrity as opportunities to strengthen our system. Who is to say that the learning that the perpetrator does won’t make them the next CIA Computer Forensics Administrator. They are teachable and learnable moments. Instead of looking at the hacking attempts as problems, she reframes them as opportunities.
We educators should take note of this. We should help students test limits, safely. Yes, we want to keep our computer servers and systems safe and secure. But if we follow the kids’ leads we discover their willingness to try new things and explore without the same fear that many of us have about “breaking something.” Kids have an innate drive to investigate what interests them. Their motive might be questionable, but their ingenuity is admirable. It is up to the educators to guide that ingenuity and investigative prowess towards the “light.” Kathy likes to learn from the kids’ attempts at thwarting those of us in power. In turn, they respect her.
Using Kathy’s approach, we in the classroom should be providing students with these types of problems to solve for us so that we are directing their learning and using their innate nature of exploration to thwart problems before they arise. In this way we are preventing disasters and providing authentic problems for students to solve that will have an outcome that is meaningful to them (keeping their information, documents, work secure) and helpful for the greater community. Instead of reactive problem solving, we are in the preventative mode as well as the creative mode. I continue to be humbled by Kathy’s positive attitude, her willingness to reframe everything even slightly bleak, her philosophy on learning and life, and her respect and true enjoyment of kids. She ought to be in a classroom.
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