Teaching the Essential Skill of a New Communications Age
Out-of-school programs have two big advantages over K-12 schools. One, you're not locked into traditional, rigid curricula and testing, and two, you're part of a neighborhood community. Use both of these advantages as much as you can to help children learn the important skills of communication, collaboration and community building.
These concepts have become buzz words since the Internet introduced things like email and online chat, but they've always been essential. No successful businessperson, politician, artist, professional or anyone else for that matter has ever made it big on their own. The Internet has provided new tools and techniques for us to use in communicating, collaborating and community building, but the tools only work if we have the underlying skills we need to use them.
Make Your Center a Laboratory for Collaboration
We can't say it more directly: Make collaboration a key component of everything your technology learning center does. Are you planning sessions and programs? Do it as a team and invite input and participation from parents. Starting a computer program for teens? Talk to local business leaders to see what experience they're looking for in new hires. Doing a class project? Let the kids help plan and make decisions, and have them do the work in pairs or small teams.
One of the reasons inquiry-based learning is such a wonderful approach for this networked world is that it's based on questions, and questions always need at least two people—someone to ask and someone to answer.
Why do we emphasize collaboration? Here are just a few reasons:
The New Economy is distinguished by interlocking partnerships and networks of people and organizations. In the past a loner may have been at a disadvantage, but today, he or she may not be able to survive. Businesses work in teams; they outsource, form alliances and hire without ever running an advertisement. Put simply, the opportunities available to your kids will be as much dependent on their mastery of communication and collaboration skills as on writing or math skills.
People care about things they feel a part of and about which they feel at least some degree of ownership. If your kids are involved in planning and decision making, they'll show a level of enthusiasm and curiosity that schools can only dream of.
More knowledge, creativity and ideas can be found in two minds than in one, and even more can be found in four or in 10. When kids see what their friends have done with a project, they add to it and create something even more original. In out-of-school programs, you have the freedom to let kids work in groups almost all the time and to shift the groups around so that kids learn from lots of different people.
Face it, there's no way you can know about everything, especially once new technologies like the Internet, computers, software, scanners, cameras and all the other devices are added into the mix. Then again, why should you have to? Don't be afraid to let kids teach each other when one of them becomes an expert in PhotoShop and another an online audio wizard—that's the real power of collaboration. Rather than being mired in the details of ever-changing software programs, you can focus on the important jobs of coach, guide and educator.
One of the great things about the Internet is that kids can collaborate across great distances. Try contacting a youth center across the country (or across the ocean) in a place your kids would like to learn about. Your classes can exchange email or start an instant-message conversation. Better yet, both groups can work on a project together, like taking pictures of similar things in each community, such as a car, a telephone or their schools. You can build Web pages together to show how things are the same and different in each community.
Every time you begin planning a project, ask yourself, "Who can help me make this better?" Every time you start kids on a new activity, ask yourself, "How can I make this more collaborative?" Every time you consider a new idea, ask yourself, "How can I get parents and the community involved?"