The Importance of Imperfection : Wherein We Learn How to Upgrade a Computer

On Saturday, I added more RAM to my lumbering Dell Dimension desktop thereby rescuing it from the imminent destruction of my frustrated fantasies.

Although I am quite comfortable using computers, I really don’t like to open their neat little covers and even peek inside. I am usually convinced that doing so will result in the whatsit falling off of the doohickey thereby irreversibly closing my expensive-to-replace window on the world.

While researching information needed to replace my creeping time-wasting dinosaur, It finally occurred to me that a nice new 1 G of RAM would make my virtual life bearable again without a major purchase.  A couple of Google searches and a visit to the Dell site soon had me pumped for a little computer brain surgery.  Not only were there nice step-by-step directions to be had, but YouTube videos as well! This video made it sound so easy, I was hooked.

When my shiny new memory module arrived, I looked for the video again, but stumbled upon another  one, instead.  This one was rambling and profane.  The beautiful little stick did not snap in on the first try.   (I did have it embedded here but decided to take it out because of the language)

After locating the original video and a frustrating day trying to run a super-slow back-up, I finally cleared a space in the room with no carpet (kitchen) and grounded myself by laying hands on the kitchen stove.  Time for the delicate computer brain augmentation at last.  The cover slipped off easily.  I cleared away 5 years of dust with my handy canned air (which also proved invaluable for keeping the cat at bay.)  The slot was easy to find, but somewhat blocked by those whatsit wires and cables which led to all the  important doohickeys of my computer nightmares.  I solved the problem of worrying about touching the wrong part of the RAM module contacts  with my sweaty fingers by wearing rubber gloves.  This proved to be a good idea, since my little stick did not snap neatly in place on the first try as in the very well-presented first video.  My manipulations much more matched the second video (minus the cursing.)  What relief when the troublesome end under the wires finally snapped perfectly into place!  After carrying my prize work to the computer room and reconnecting all of the life-lines,  I held my breath as I pushed the magic button.  Success!   My cheery little desktop was still alive.  The new RAM was the perfect fix.  I am typing this with 6 open windows!

What does this story have to do with teaching?  I had two “teachers” who explained how to place the RAM module into my computer.  One did an awesome job of explaining the details in a very professional way.  The lesson was clear, simple and concise.  The second teacher was rambling, a little profane and less technical.  However,  he let me know that sometimes the little stick didn’t snap in on the first try.  He told me that I would probably have to push harder that I thought I should before it clicked in place.  He gave me permission to turn it the wrong way on the first try.  He gave me confidence that if I kept trying, I would, eventually, get it right.  If I had not seen the second video, I would have been calling for help after the first or second try.

I do love a smooth slick presentation, but our students are learning life skills not just information in our classrooms.  Are we modeling our own perseverance in the face of imperfection or do we hide the messy stuff from them?  Do we give them the opportunity to learn from each other?  Sometimes learning together with someone on our own skill level helps us through the rough spots that the experts have forgotten.  To turn an old tag line upside down — Have you let them see you sweat?

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Who Killed the Curiosity? : Wherein We Meet Johnny

The librarian noticed the sullen dark-haired first-grader still wandering the shelves minutes before the bell would sound.

“Johnny, can I help you find a book?”

Shrug.

“What do you want to read today?”

Shrug.

“What do you want to know more about?”

“Nothing.”

“What kinds of things do you do when you go home?”

“Play World of Warcraft.  That’s all I do.”

At this the librarian began to scratch her head, desperately thinking of items  in a primary school library that could compete with the excitement and strategy of killing your mortal enemy.  She was, also, biting her tongue to suppress her instinctive disapproval at the development of blood-lust in 6-year-olds.

“Is there anything you have been learning about at school that interests you?”

“Once there was a book about this cool car, a Lamborghini.”

“Hmm… I believe that one is out right now, but the Maserati book was returned today”

One look inside and Johnny was smiling.  It was a good moment.  Johnny didn’t smile much at school.

Johnny is a real student (name changed of course)  He really does play adult video games with his mother in the evenings.  This is his passion.  He is not interested in school and does not find joy in learning things that will be tested on the state-mandated skills tests in a couple of years.   He is very familiar with the principal’s office.

There are a lot of “Johnnys.”  Even in the lower grades, students do not necessarily come to school bursting with the stereotypical innocent joy and curiosity of early childhood.   Exposure to adult themes in our changing society, busy parents with no time to indulge the passions of childhood and the deprivations of poverty are some of the factors that shape young minds before they come into our classrooms.

As educators, we often teach lessons as we would have liked them when we were young.   We try to sugar-coat learning with duckies and bunnies and plan themes around happy holidays.   We plan educational experiences around who we wish our children were and not who they are.  Johnny is not a “duckie and bunny” sort of child.

A couple of days before Johnny wandered into the library this week,  I had the privilege of participating in a Twitter discussion with the title #learningdispositions .    A number of educators were determining  strategies for teaching children the learning attitudes and skills to enable them to be successful 21st Century learners.  As the discussion progressed, joy, passion and curiosity became focal points.  Several participants were concerned that externally motivated compliance and “playing school” with meaningless assignments took away the joy, passion and curiosity of students. Others pointed out how authentic project-based learning with choices provided for more engaged learners.

My question is how do we apply this to Johnny?    How do we help Johnny find the joy of learning as Pam Moran describes it in her post If Reading’s Not the Goal, Could It Be Joy? .  Is there a Johnny you can reach out to this week?  Perhaps you can find a way to mentor a student the way  Paula White took time to encourage the passion for technology in  her 5th grade student in Passionate Learning.  When the days are long and stressful this week, will we be modeling our joy, passion and curiosity for our students?