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Student creators, not just consumers!

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A few years ago, I read and then listened to a report on NPR's Marketplace about the challenges connected with using tech in the classroom. Over the past couple of years, I've come back to this report repeatedly as I think about the reasons to use computers in my classroom. I have the hope that they will change how I teach, and more importantly that they will change what my students do in order to learn. One great hope I have is that my students will use computers as tools for their own creativity.

In fact, this year I introduced our Chromebooks by saying that they were tools. Not just highways to an Internet full of games and videos, but tools to help my students create games, produce videos or write stories.  In the past few years, I've noticed that some devices support this kind of use of computers more than others. I've found Chromebooks are okay for word processing and accessing websites, but there's also a lot of opportunities for my students to just act as consumers of someone else's vision on as well.

The Piper Computer Kits I have in my classroom are great examples of tools that help my students use computers creatively. As 2nd and 3rd graders, these students spent lots of time using  Pipers to explore electronics and coding. I've felt that there are great positive benefits to having these devices which students build and program themselves as part of the intellectual landscape of my classroom. In fact, in surveys conducted by Joel Sadler of Piper at Bullis and Sierra View Schools, students reported  20%  growth in their creative confidence using electronics after working with the Piper!

Kids become empowered creative thinkers after the light bulb of invention gets switched on by having the chance to build, create and invent themselves.   Hari Bhimaraju, a middle schooler from Cupertino who created an app for teaching visually impaired students about the periodic table, found out the power of invention and creativity by exploring the Raspberry Pi that comes with Piper. As she says in an interview on Amy Poehler's Smart Girls "Reading about something is totally different from actually doing it." Devices in the classroom such as the Piper give students the chance to do something.  And that has a real impact on the future of these kids. Early exposure to electronics and coding significantly increases the likelihood of students majoring in computer science (www.wired.com/2015/08/schools-dont-think-kids-want-learn-computer-science/). That's exciting.

Suzette Duncan
Educator, AltSchool

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