Are you a teacher, maybe worrying that technology passes you by, especially in an age where there is so much attention being placed on STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

Many people think of technology and shrink inside: they feel it’s something dark and soul-less, and inimical to their spirit.  Which is a shame!  “Techne” was the Greek goddess of art and artifice: τεχνη is the Greek word for “art”, so, strictly speaking, “technology” is the study of art.

But it has got separated in the 20th and 21st centuries … until now!

“Computing for the Terrified & for the Merely Perplexed” is a gentle course, designed for teachers who maybe feel alienated from modern technology, and under pressure, given the intense attention placed on STEM subjects.

In this class geeks (that’s “geeks”, not “Greeks”) are banned (or, at least, confined to the back of the class), while the rest of us explore how easy it is to build a computer (we build two: one takes about 10 minutes if you’re slow — and slow is just fine — the other takes about an hour) and then to make it dance (in the case of one of them, quite literally!) … oh, and, neither involves soldering or any other hot implements, other than a coffee cup, with coffee in it.

One of the computers takes the place of a PC or a MAC (and uses totally and forever free software).  It has been designed for children (which is sometimes scary … but we don’t allow them in the class, either!) and doesn’t take long to learn.  Programming this computer is more like making sculpture with building blocks than writing out stuff that looks like esoteric maths.

Pico and Giga on the moonAnd we use that computer to play some games (keep the princess away from the wicked witch) or to tell stories (just why is there a blue hippopotamus, with green wings on the moon?).

Defensive Dress

Defensive Dress, from “Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” by Neil Gerschenfeld

The other computer was designed for artists, by a couple of Italian artists.  In fact its programs aren’t called “programs”, they are called “sketches”.  This computer was originally conceived to allow artists to build installation art that can react to the viewer or to surroundings.  It has all sorts of sensors (I have seen it built into a dress that can tell if you’re getting too close) and all sorts of ways of reacting (the dress raised some prickles, a bit like a porcupine).

The class does its best to minimise “geek speak”, and absolutely makes sure to explain any geek speak that it does use, and we make sure that we move along at a pace that is comfortable to everyone.

While we are learning this technology, we also take the time to get to know each other, to discover who already knows what (and/or wants to know what) and we discuss ways of building the technology into the curricula that we are teaching.  We pay particular attention to the effects that gender roles may have on childrens’ perception of technology, and how we can find appropriate activities for all interests.

Later on we may move on to using 3D printers to create interesting artifacts, and to see how they can also be used to encourage creativity, especially by story-telling.

“Computing for the Terrified” was originally invented by Kitteridge Cowlishaw, who was then working at IBM.  It was in the days of the very first PCs, and set out just to show people that they didn’t bite.  James Hardiman later took the course and made it part of a study into “overcoming learning blocks in intelligent adults”: it was clear then (and still is today!) that there are all sorts of subjects that cause perfectly intelligent people to jump backwards, saying “I couldn’t possibly” … and computing and technology has to be pretty high on that list!

To be excluded from technology is to be excluded from a large part of modern life.  This course aims to help teachers to cross that bridge so that they may help others to follow.

By the way, terror isn’t a pre-req, not even perplexity.  Curiosity might help, though!

We are still putting the finishing touches to this course, and arranging dates and venues.  If you think you may be interested, please complete the form below, and we will be in touch.

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