Anderson Harp, Chair, Computer Science and Engineering/Co-director, Encore Program, offers the latest installment in the From Theory to Practice series. A faculty member since 2014, Anderson previously taught for five years in both public and private schools, beginning his teaching career as a lead elementary school teacher before evolving to the role of educational technologist. While at Browning, he has served as an advisor, organizer and/or participant in a variety of programs, including Blended Learning Cohorts and Collaborative Learning Cohort, GSA, TEDx Youth and Family Code Night, in addition to Lower School LEGO robotics, Rube Goldberg and Epic Makers after-school programs. Anderson is an IBSC Action Researcher (2018-19), as well as a board member and technology consultant at City as the Lab School in Boston. He earned an M.A. in instructional technology from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a B.S.F.C.S. from The University of Georgia.
My students are inspired with freedom and community of care.
Today, through the computer science and engineering (CSE) department, I inspire a boy's love for learning with inquiry-driven, student-centered activity. I model information and communication technology (ICT) as imagination machines, rather than replacements for what exists, these tools offer 21st century learners never-before-conceived mediums for communicating the individual voice. I use Browning’s technology lab as a multi-purpose space for study, debate, construction, tinkering, programming and play. Critical thinking, thoughtful research and cooperative investigation foster creativity, competence and necessary skills to innovate and persevere.
Last year I asked Ms. Kehoe's third grade class, “How would you redesign your classroom to improve learning?” Finding an alternative solution took most of the year. The work was hard but fun. Small groups researched flexible seating and innovative classroom designs, as well as studied their own behavior and routines for learning in their classroom. Computer-aided design (CAD) software brought ideas to life, and innovation grew from the voices of the boys who presented their models.
On opening day this year, Browning’s newest fourth graders – infused with the adrenaline rush that comes from not seeing friends in a few months – met their new teachers here in their “second home,” found a new locker and even managed to peek into their old classroom and say hello. They exclaimed, “Ms. Kehoe! Wow! Look…all the seating is different like we suggested, too! I can’t believe they really did like our work!”
What did we learn from this shared experience together? That epiphany, an instantaneous moment of genius, was not likely to produce the most successful product. In fact, it was the long process of iteration and refinement over time that delivered.
My students enjoy creating and sharing.
Boys respond remarkably well in a learning environment where the construction of knowledge happens through tinkering, building and publicly sharing objects with a wide audience.
Computer science provides boys powerful tools for self-expression with multiple entry points for students with different backgrounds and interests. As the teacher I become a facilitator and matchmaker, which is critical in identifying potential synergies between projects for people.
CSE classes at Browning look like fun, but are they learning situations? I think the tech lab sets the tone and welcomes visitors into a creative and exploratory space. John Dewey suggests social “control of individual actions are affected by the whole situation in which individuals are involved, in which they share and of which they are co-operative or interacting parts. For even in a competitive game there is a certain kind of participation, of sharing in a common experience” (Dewey, 2007, p. 53). Through such hands-on, collaborative tasks as building and programming LEGO robotics, evidence of learning materializes through four indicators, including engagement, intentionality, innovation and solidarity.
I define these four indicators with the boys in every class and hold them to the highest standards for each.
Engagement: Active participation, which might include silent or still observation and reflection.
Intentionality: Purposeful and evolving pursuit of an idea or plan.
Innovation: New tinkering strategies that emerge through growing understanding of tools, materials and phenomena.
Solidarity: Sharing, supporting and pursuing shared purposes with other learners in the tech lab or with the artifacts they have left behind (their legacy).
Within this shared experience, boys are drawing on their resources, taking risks with their ideas, and operating on the edge of their understanding. They are engaging in the different investigative practices of designers, scientists, artists, makers, engineers and computer programmers.
What are some of the positive changes these efforts bring to your classroom, the boys you teach, and your school?
I am larger, better than I thought, I did not know
I held so much goodness.
My second graders start each year with a unit on pair-programming. Two boys share one laptop and take turns as the driver and navigator while working through a series of coding puzzles. The driver controls the laptop and follows directions given by the navigator. The navigator uses his words and talks the driver through each step to completing the puzzle. The driver cannot independently drag or click the mouse, and the navigator cannot reach over and grab the wheel. This activity sets the stage for a social, cooperative learning environment. Why do we share devices? Interdependence between the pair creates shared responsibility and dependence on each other to achieve a shared goal. John Dewey recognized that “the primary source of social control resides in the very nature of the work done as a social enterprise in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute and to which all feel a responsibility” (Dewey, 2007, p. 56). My philosophy is that only with mutual self-respect will we reach our individual goals and greatest potential.
Why do these practices inform what we teach in CSE? Children are our most precious natural resource, and technology should serve as a purposeful learning tool. Students use classroom time for communicating with peers, asking questions and sharing hands-on experience in a social, supportive environment. It’s in the lab and classrooms at Browning where teachers model good choices and design instruction with the freedom to fail, courage to never give up, and opportunity to try new things together. Our time together is best spent building a love for exploring a boy’s natural curiosity for how the world works.