15 oktober 2015

Computer club: Playing with SOLE

In June 2014 I started a computer club in my village Middelbeers near Eindhoven. The idea: unlike those interested in sports and arts, kids interested in technology have no place to go to in an after school setting. And schools themselves offer too little in the curriculum to nourish interest and curiosity in technology. Talent in technology, so much needed in the workplace, now and in the future, is neglected, wasted...

The idea of the club, now consisting of some twelve children from 10 to 16 years old, is to play ánd learn from projects, working with hardware, programming, games and apps. My role is to help the children to work out their own projects, to challenge them to take just one step further all the time and to provide the stuff we need. We decide together what to buy from the € 15,00 they pay person per three months.

Inspired by Sugata Mitra who I interviewed in 2010 (text in Dutch), I wanted to use this setting to try out some of Mitra's ideas from his concept of the Self Organised Learning Environment. In short the concept says:

  • give learners a powerful, interesting challenge
  • let them work together in groups of four or five
  • give them access to the internet
  • step back and let things happen
In the setting of the club I experimented with some extra steps and small adjustments:

  • I sometimes start by giving a small assignment, instruction or introduction, especially when we work on new subjects or with new techologies (What is Unity?)
  • I try to build in the opportunity to let the children have a small succesful achievement (Build a Flabby Bird like game, following the instructions)
  • Then I do give learners a powerful, interesting challenge (Can you tweak the game you just made, to make it more interesting?)
  • Generally we work with smaller groups of two or three for practical reasons (Working with small objects like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi.)
  • I do give them access to the internet all the time. Sometimes I invite someone specialized in for instance making apps or working with robots.
  • I do step back and let things happen, but do some coaching when I see loss of engagement. We then talk about how the next step can be made. I try to be 'Manuel' as much as possible ('I know nothing!')
  • I challenge the children to use their new knowledge and experience to help each other and to work towards a new interesting challenge.
My next challenge: introducing a portfolio system in which the club members can store proof of what they have learned, such as photos, videos, links to pieces of code or descriptions of projects, information that might help me to create new, interesting projects.

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