Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Sorcerer's Apprentice in the Digital Age: The Need for Mentor Networks--Introduction

I have some stories that I wish to share with you. The purposes for these stories will become clear as we proceed through. I want to share with you some anecdotes about students that I have had the privilege of teaching. The names have been changed to protect their right to privacy:

Michelle: "Michelle was an all around good student. She was 13 yrs. old and had parents who not only supported her but also the teachers. She had discovered at an early age that she had an interest in Science, and in particular the Biology component of Science. During her time at school she took part in producing science projects, in science fairs and used the Internet extensively to pursue her interests. During the summer, she took advantage of summer offerings at the local university. Before Michelle graduated from high school, she had developed a new cost effective method for treating Malaria. She was able to do this despite the lack of encouragement from the public school system."

Dave & Rick: " Dave and Rick had been labelled as 'difficult students' by the system because they often challenged their teachers concerning how school computers were being used in their classes. Due to their extensive use of the Internet at home, they learned a great deal about computer networks and how they worked. Out of curiosity, they examined the school network and noticed that it was vulnerable to attacks from outside. They offered to re-write code to patch the weaknesses they found. The system told them to stay away from the network. Today, Dave & Rick are employed by corporations to troubleshoot their networks."

Ron: "Ron was a shy individual but a good student, especially in the areas dealing with spatial reasoning and logical reasoning. Ron discovered that he had an interest in the school robotics club and so he joined. He helped build a robot that operated through the use of specialized sensors that coordinated the robot's movements. The program that the robot used was the program supplied by the company that supplied the kits. Ron went with his team mates to a robotics competition. When the evaluators asked his team to run their robot through a maze, they discovered that for some reason the robot could not handle the maze. Ron looked at the program used to run the robot and re-wrote some of the code on the spot. Not only did the robot run through the maze in record time, the evaluators asked to see how he had re-written the program."

Jack: "Jack was an undergraduate student at a university at a time when the use of the Internet was reserved for select university researchers. Jack had been taking a couple of courses that struck him as being interesting. One was Abnormal Psychology and the other was Neurophysiology. In studying Abnormal Psychology, he became intrigued with the physiological readings displayed by patients diagnosed as psychopathic personalities. In his Neurophysiology course he had learned that the Hypothalamus in the brain was an area that had an effect on emotions and that certain neural hormones were involved in the physiological readings. As a result he spent hours in medical school library researching these hormones and their effect on emotion. He came up with a theory that psychopathy might be caused by an imbalance in the production of these hormones in the Hypothalamus. He wrote a paper on it for his Abnormal Psychology class which was marked by a graduate student. His theory was later confirmed not only with respect to Psychopathy but also in regards to Schizophrenia. Jack never received credit for the theory."

Credit: DigitalArt

The question is: "What is the common thread in each of these anecdotes? The answer is that all were unpublished, non-credentialed young people who contributed new knowledge or skill sets to established disciplines. All achieved what they did through the support of parents and teachers but no mentors and with the use of the Internet (except for Jack).

I am sure that you could also share similar anecdotes from your own experience in dealing with young people. At one time we would have labelled these students as simply exceptions to the norm but now what we are seeing is an evolving pattern of these types of young people appearing more and more on the scene. We have the reports of 14 yr. old students writing apps for mobile devices and we have some schools willing to teach computer coding to primary age students. With the advancement of technology and more access to the world wide web, we have opened a door that we can't close!

Next---- The need for professional mentor networks and how this will impact our learning objectives and methods of assessment...

No comments: