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April 16, 2006


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Shiao-Chuan Kung, an instructional designer at Hunter College, sent me this link which is very pertinent:


Notes on today's chat:

Students are "dual citizens" -- they've lived their lives with parallel layers
googling, etc, are daily practices

Kevin teaches at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School
Computer sci required grades 6-9 for 1 hour week
then after that it's an elective - 5 hours/week

40% of students are Haitian -- school needs to be a safe space for them because they feel threatened outside school. Then Latinos, whites, blacks. Range of families with regard to class.

Senior class has about 25 students
6th grade has 86 students -- so they're growing (adding 3rd campus)

meta-social environment, parallel ecosystem
integral to high school social lives -- almost all Kevin's 9th graders have profiles.
More common than IM or email (can message each other via MySpace)
Not just discussed in Comp Sci -- discussed in all classes.
At lunchtime most students rush to computer lab and gather socially to review profiles. This is a way for them to gather virtually during lunchtime with their friends who are NOT at the school.

Historically different racial groups used different social networking sites so all students had profiles on all sites, but ultimately that proved too hard to maintain and everyone gravitated eventually to MySpace. And even students who speak Spanish will often type in MySpace in English -- it's the online universal language.

Kids gravitate toward amassing friends -- it makes them small celebrities in a way. Parents often don't understand that their kids are really not friends with everyone listed as a friend on their profile.

Kevin feels MySpace is important for students' development - he doesn't agree with the clampdown that some folks want on it. See Dana Boyd (UC Berkeley)

Building identity. This is appropriate for the age, but what's needed is adults to help guide the process. Students use MySpace to experiment with the persona they want to project. It's the first step -- next they may actually buy clothes to fit the persona, etc. It's fulfilling an existential need.

Kevin uses his role as a CS teacher to try and instill some insights for kids. He teaches them about how long things last on the internet -- show them that these 'experiments' can have lasting power online -- perhaps longer than kids would like. Affects whether they make their profiles private, etc.

Kids have incorrect ideas -- some thinks adults aren't even allowed on the site.

Kevin heard of a great assignment using MySpace -- "design Holden Caulfield's MySpace profile"

Kevin's advanced class installed and built a wiki and the taught younger classes how to use it. Interesting issues with the wiki -- 6th and 8th graders had no issues, but 7th graders felt it necessary to berate each other -- eventually the wiki had to be taken down. Became a learning point -- many students lost a valuable shared resource due to the actions of a few. Students brainstormed solutions for this -- passwords required, posting had to be done with a buddy, etc.

Some bullying at the school is facilitated by some of these technologies. And the graffiti on the electronic wall can be more lasting -- it lingers.


Students have a fundamentally different understanding of originality. They are used to cut/paste - don't understand what's wrong about plagiarism. Hip-hop and punk are pop appropriations -- this isn't lost on kids. They were once subcultures and now they're pop cultures. Cut/paste is powerful. "Someone else said it better" -- Kevin hears this alot in the computer lab. Try to show them that teachers also have SparkNotes, can also Google references, etc -- so kids can't hide it when they appropriate content.

Many students don't have PCs, internet, etc at Prospect Hill Academy (urban school)
Barriers to access. But they understand many fundamental concepts of computing -- can tell a 6th grader to minimize a window, cut/paste, or find a program in the Start menu.
Private information perpetuates privilege -- students who know how to search, etc, can find what was once the private domain of the privileged.
Control over one's expression via text -- can teach students who do not natively speak English to take the time to craft a well-spoken email to apply for a job, etc.
Educate a student = empower a family

Kevin worked with students to all create a 'professional' email address -- their racy email addresses were not appropriate for contacting mentors for projects, etc. Some students who don't speak much in class will write Kevin lengthy emails at night, so it's an alernate and important form of communication.

Back to identity formation -- kids are experimenting with identities before they've had a chance to establish their own. Kevin thinks the danger here can be mitigated by the active and thoughtful guidance of adults -- but adults need to understand how empowering this is for students and be comfortable with technology. An example exercise could be working with students to map out their "master selves" -- define their churchgoing self, their school self, their after-school self. Kevin feels this is the way to go -- NOT reading thier profiles or emails -- he stays away from doing that.

Kevin sees many young people gravitating to business topics due to the entrepreneurial nature of how their role models became successful.

Next steps
When does Computer Science stop being a science? Changing the course to be a combo of CS plus library science (as yet unnamed) -- a place where literacy is explored. We had this whole chat without talking about programming, so computer science has had to be the placeholder for many social and psychologicial, rather than technical, components.

Could envision students learning a programming lanugage like Python to help them bring topics like Algebra from abstract to real.

Kevin had class get junk PCs off of Craig's List, frankenstein them together, install Linux and class programs, and then take the machines home. Now every student has a PC at home. So there may be wiser ways to spend money than buying new PCs for schools.

Link to Kevin's site: http://kevindriscoll.info/

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