How do we meet a challenge like my nephew? Digital natives coming to a school near you.
This post is inspired by two people. The first is someone I have never met but follow on twitter. Andrew Field (for twitter users follow him @andyfield) is a Head of ICT at Neale Wade School and author of the site Effective ICT. Whilst I was with relatives yesterday on Mothering Saturday (we were double booked today) I did my usual scan of tweets on my iPhone and this one from Andy caught my eye. It said ‘Amazing – I’ve been using Flash for 9 years now – my 3 yr old daughter has a quick play – ‘discovers’ 2 new features by mashing touchpad.’ Whilst this is not exactly a scientific discovery it reminded me of a similar scenario I was in a few years ago.
The second person inspiring this post is a 5 year old called Noah. He is my nephew and an inspirational boy who I have the pleasure of seeing regularly on family visits. I have received parental consent to use images and footage of this 5 year old from my sister in-law, his mother, but do not think I needed to get a form filled out. Reading the tweet from Andy I remembered that two years ago I was surprised that at the age of 3 Noah was for the first time allowed to go on the computer. What was interesting is watching as he was willing to click and learn everything from scratch.
I have seen Noah a lot in the last two years but not on a computer as we are often social in different ways as a large family group when we meet up. Given I was with the whole family and Noah yesterday I decided I would take the chance to do some ‘action research’ and set of to get the boy. Trouble was, I couldn’t find him anywhere until I got upstairs and found him, on the computer with his Grandad. Perfect! As I watched for a few minutes I was astonished how digitally literate Noah had become in two years. He was in complete control navigating and explaining to his Grandad how he uses the Internet and the point of the games he plays (all fantastically learning driven).
I left Noah alone with Grandad to avoid spoiling the moment and popped back a little later. What amused me most is they were then playing with a Palm (again Noah driving) and Dad, unprompted and unaware of my earlier tweet reading, said ‘its amazing, he has had the palm for 5 minutes and he has found 3 functions I didn’t know existed.’ This was way too much for me to gently leave alone so I decided to intervene and pass Noah my iPhone (the palm was suitably discarded for this shiny toy!). He hasn’t seen this device before so I simply handed it to him and asked him if had used a touch screen before. ‘At school we have a magic board!’ he responded (this it turns out is what they call a Smartboard when they are that little). Because the iPhone is multi touch I showed him one thing, how to pinch and expand the screen and then just watched.
The following little clip is Noah in action a few minutes later. By this time I had grabbed my wife’s mobile to film a few seconds of what he was doing.
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Alas at the crucial bit Noah worked out he was being filmed and decided not to play ball! When I switched the camera off he showed me that he had managed to find the house we were staying in on Google Maps. What is the point of the post? I think things are changing and almost all of us are largely unaware of what is going to happen in education in the next decade. The students I taught in my first year were born between 1984-1989 and were genuine immigrants to the digital age. Those I teach 9 years later were born between 1993-1998 and I think we consider them digital natives. The thing is I think this is a mistake. Whilst they are in a fully digital world now I don’t think their first 5 years and even 10 years for the older students could be truly classed as a digital age. These current students are undoubtedly more ICT literate than the ones I was teaching how to use word at the turn of the Century. However, given I am still teaching them Movie Maker I wouldn’t describe their exposure to technology as ubiquitous throughout their life.
The real bombshell which will be hitting primary schools now and secondary schools in the next decade is a whole bunch of Noahs. These kids have grown up with YouTube (which has only been around since 2005) and all the web 2.0 which we, as pure digital immigrants, are trying to adapt to. At the same time their parents, having become comfortable with computers and the Internet, have felt confident enough to expose them to this technology at every earlier ages. The result is likely to be a wave of genuine digital natives that I am not sure education is ready for.