Monthly Archives: September 2015

maui high school robotics room

Grief, Joy and Pride, all Mixed Together-Like

Gee whiz, shouldn’t that headline be “12 Ways Irving, TX High School Failed Ahmed Mohamed”?

Or, “Texas School Officials Apply Racial Profiling to Young Inventor.”

So, here is the Stillwater High robotics room in Minnesota.

stillwater hs robotics room

With all the boxes, circuit boards, backpacks, power sources and without a doubt, beeping stuff in there, the mentality that handcuffed and arrested Ahmed Mohamed in Irving, Texas would be calling in the Navy SEALS for support.

Here’s the robotics and engineering room at Maui High School:

maui high school robotics roomSo I’ve been looking at these fantastic projects and schools . . .

And I looked up what STEAM meant:

Adding “art and design” to “science, technology, engineering and math.”

I’m so proud of these students. Not just Ahmed, who is so praiseworthy, but also all the other hard-working, gifted young students learning and building and making. My heart is filled with joy to see how creative their educational experiences are.

By the way – is it possible for them to MAKE these things in isolation? Via some sort of remote, mobile app?

I have news for Peter Diamandis and the educational “Learning Management System” providers I’ve recently been in contact with: Learning isn’t “knowledge transfer.” It occurs by doing. How this can somehow be separated from personal interaction for things we actually make and do — is beyond me. Moving little pictures around on an app or watching someone build a robot is NOT the same as building one.

In order to learn how to write anything coherent that communicates, one must first read many different things, and must also follow all the steps in the writing process. They are more than just “in the absence of anything else, just write.”

But grief: I am not sorry for Ahmed Mohamed and his family. Their troubles have turned into what must certainly be a blessing. The horrible incident in Texas is paying off in plenty of education and awareness for others. I hope many teachers see this and realize the trap of unconscious (or conscious) racism, racial profiling, bias — and just plain being behind the times. I put those pictures of our young bomb-makers to show just how out of touch anyone at that school would be to see Ahmed’s clock project as a bomb. Also to show how irresponsible his engineering teacher was, to not help him present his project to the class — instead of telling him to hide it and not show others.

No, I’m grieving because when I was in third grade, somebody gave a chemistry set to our elementary school. It didn’t have enough supplies or equipment to outfit an entire class. It was really just enough for 2-3 students to use at a time. And of all the kids at the school, they gave the chemistry set to me. They put it in an unused room next to the library, told me to go one period a day and figure out experiments. I was even put in charge of inviting kids to do experiments with me. Of course I asked my friends to come along. I’m sure I left plenty of kids out that I should have asked. I was by myself the day I almost set the school on fire.

The best thing I did out of that set was grow hydroponic vegetables that were in the school office for at least two years. The worst? Almost setting the school on fire by setting parts of my lunch on fire.

Yes, back in the day, they let a 3rd grader play unsupervised with a Bunsen burner.

So, by the time I got to high school, I failed Chemistry. I was assigned a lab partner who referred to me as “Stupid American Girl” and who didn’t get what we were supposed to be doing. He didn’t believe in lab notes. I didn’t know how to stand up to him so I went along with his cockamamie schemes. We failed together.

So it just kind of breaks my heart to see these young women making things and building things.

My option was to paint and write. I did it, and I have made a lot of things.

But for me: I wouldn’t have been able to make something like Ahmed. Not after third grade or so. That was when it became uncool for girls to be interested in things like that. Girls needed to be interested in sewing, cooking, fashion, home decorating. It was suspicious even that I liked to read — not to mention the stuff I *did* read.

Yeah well, so I’m feeling sorry for myself.

I do wish this could have been me.

ahmed-robotics

So, if you are an English teacher, familiarize yourself a little with robotics and engineering courses today. Go visit the robotics club or engineering classroom. Learn to recognize circuit boards, power sources and other commonly-used components. Educate yourself on things like Arduino chips.

Look into 3-D printing. See what can be made in addition to the endlessly-shown dumba** with the 3-D printed rifle. Most recently, it’s been Hershey’s chocolate. One of the experts in it thinks the biggest long-term use will be 3-D printed food.

I think my job is to bridge the gap between the generations. Those who came before, and those who will come after.

Yesterday I got into it with a gender-biased guy who thinks there’s nothing wrong with himself. Many of my friends continue to search for valid reasons why Ahmed was treated so poorly at his Texas high school. I’m sorry to say, there are no good or valid reasons, any more than it was right for my high school chemistry teacher to partner me with a failing student because he was sure I’d fail, too and furthermore it didn’t matter. It wasn’t any more right for one of our high school counselors to tell my friend to go to our local community college and “get her Mrs. degree.”

It’s like some of my recent interchanges with the “Learning Management System” people (Canvas, Blackboard, D2L, Fedora, etc.) Just as Peter Diamandis thinks that mobile technology will somehow make people learn (like … the existence of books makes people learn?) and negate the need for classrooms and teachers, these folks think that the ability to put a handout online, include a powerpoint, and have papers turned in via computer (or mobile device – hey!) constitutes improvement in learning. Without the human connection, testing and feedback: no. It doesn’t.

That’s a woman’s opinion. Because of how school was when I grew up – even with the opportunities I was given – I didn’t get the chance to build these things. And that makes me sad.