Teaching Computers as Teaching Self-Expression

I started as a computers teacher without Internet. It completely derailed my lesson plan but I’m glad. It put me in a position to work from demand, to listen to what the kids needed and give it to them, though I’m still figuring out what that is. 

I have been told that their schools are centered on memorization. Individualism is foreign to them. They write down everything they are told, copy the answers from the back of the book word for word, and have never been told to do it any differently. Apparently, if you ask them to draw they will all draw the same thing. Their individualism is so suppressed; it is hard to show them what it is that they don’t know. How can a man born in a prison try to escape if he doesn’t know there is somewhere to escape to? And so one of our tasks is to try to create this space for them.

I’ve had more difficulty getting to know my students than my peers. It is not for a lack of trying, but computers, despite how well they connect one side of the world to the other, can create significant barriers between people. When I teach, I need them to look at the screen, not at me. Asking them where they come from and to express themselves is more of a sidetrack than it would be in an English or dance class. Without my eye contact they do not understand that I am asking them a question in the first place. If I do look at them and finally make it clear that I am asking, they do not understand they can create the answer. Then, they have trouble understanding that’s what the assignment is. 

I formatted a letter for them. At the bottom I wrote “your name”. Every single one wrote “your name” at the bottom. So one by one, I asked them what their name is, and they are excited to tell me- even if they have to repeat it 10 times until I pronounce it correctly. I take a piece of paper and say “write it”, they do. But when I deleted the “your name” and said “now write here”, they look back and forth at the letter, confused. 

Computers are self-exploratory. The only way to learn is to take the mouse and figure it out. They need to want to create something in order to figure out how. And so far it seems like there is this moment, this turning point in their usage. Every day they start by opening up Microsoft paint and exploring. The first time they ever-opened Microsoft paint they were told to draw a house. Everyone starts with a square and a triangle. Add a road. Add a tree. Add some grass. His does not look like his, but they both received a good grade. For once there is no right answer. So they keep going. They are incredibly driven, so they keep studying, they keep drawing house after house, making it more and more elaborate, until eventually, they make something different. Sherif has started painting outer space. Akash has started painting flowers. They show the kids on either side of them what they are doing and show them how. Then one child’s house has stars above it. Another’s has a field of clovers on it. I didn’t think that teaching computer would be teaching art and self-expression, but that is where they are taking me, and I’ll happily follow.