Science education, resilience, the workforce, Arduino and rhizomatic learning

This is a ‘first-thoughts’ post. I’d love to hear from others on this.

It’s been a very humbling month of learning at Casa Villa here in Charlottetown. I have been teaching myself the difference between a resistor and a capacitor, the value of a good voltmeter and the wonders of enticing little sensors for the arduino platform. Every day the list of things i don’t know gets longer.

I have a number of reasons for having started down the arduino path. I’m both interested and a little worried about the internet of things. I’m fascinated by the possibilities of building fit for purpose items. I think it’s profoundly important that my children understand these things. I think my little girl needs to see a future in math/engineering as just as relevant as her future as a princess. Lots of reasons. The big driver for me, though, is that I’m interested in the confluence of science and self-directed learning in general, and rhizomatic learning in particular.

That’s not how we do it in Science
I am often told that students simply have to memorize things in order to start learning. One of the more lucid discussions (read this as: a discussion where dave didn’t end up jumping up and down) that i have taken part in on the subject surrounded the idea that in the humanities, being about humans, all humans have something built in to say on the matter. We bring our humanity to the subject. In the sciences, for many, the subject is almost entirely new. As this is the case, students simply have to cram their brains full of definitions and concepts in order to understand anything. Take the first step. Master the words. Master the concepts. Then you can science things.

I’m sorry. I have a hard time accepting that taking in words out of context is the best way to learn anything. so…

Why this is bad for resilience
I’m always suspicious of any test that checks for exactly the thing that is asked for. The multiple choice tests that check for the ‘word mastery’ are nasty little beasts. They create a system where students are all rewarded for doing exactly the same thing. I see hundreds of students, little cue cards in their hands, desperately trying to memorize the things they were told to memorize. While I will certainly agree that it helps work on their obedience, and, potentially, their willingness to repeatedly do a disconnected task (excellent factory skills) it does not support the ‘adapt to stress’ resiliency that is so critical to our society.

In order to adapt we need to be challenged by the unknown, we need to be confronted by uncertainty. We need to learn how to find an answer (not the answer) to our problem and react accordingly. Try solutions, improve, create…

What this looks like in the workforce
Ok. Lets face it. We can either hide from the workforce discussion as it relates to schools or we can face it head on. I FIRMLY believe that resiliency is one of the, if not THE, most important workforce skill there is. It is not achieved by teaching people to ‘workforce’ or to use a cash register. I have actually heard, several times, employers complain that ‘kids these days’ can’t even use a cash register. The solution to this seems to be to get them train them to actually use a cash register. Um… no. That’s like eating baking soda because you have too much lactic acid in your muscles. The mind, like the body, is a complex system. It’s not a direct pipe.

We need to teach for resilience. To be unflustered by a reluctant cash register. We teach for memory. In a ‘teach for memory’ world people need to be told exactly what to do so that they can perform that task in the future. Does this sound like the world that we are expecting?

Enter the Arduino
So… in an attempt to put my money (and my poor brain) where my mouth is I’ve started a new project. I want to design a rhizomatic learning inspired approach to learning Arduino. I can’t think of anything more ‘step by step’ mastery-like to approach. There’s tons of insider language (today i ran into Pulse Width Modulation) much of it describing critical phenomenons that will either burn up my chip or simply make it so that it wont work. Here are some project links i’ve been collecting… I’m sure i’m supposed to memorize Ohms law before I use it.

I think the Arduino and the projects that can now be done with them are perfect development spaces for resilience if we take this approach. If we make them a struggle… with a possibility for success. If we can make them a place for experimentation and exploration, not memorization and repetition.

First steps
Rhizomatic learning is a complex approach to the learning process. As such, I always try to reduce any other complexity when i’m trying to design something. In the process of accumulating scads of little tiny wired things, I’ve come across what I believe will be the first step in the learning process – failing/succeeding with the ATTINY85. It’s a tiny little chip that takes next to no power, and can only do one or two things at a time. Here’s an excellent article of some of the possibilities.

So. I have a software platform (ArduinoIDE) and I have a chip (attiny85) and I have a couple of leads (it seems that the tiny85 will run a transmitter)… now i need to figure out a way to allow learners to play with those, to use them to discover the depth meaning in electronics in a way that allows them to make their own meaning from it. If I get near to what I’m looking for, they should leave the ‘course’ not only seeing how a chip connects to a capacitor, but seeing the world around as one of limitless connective possibilities…

So far… so fun.

Afterthought: I recognize that the maker movement has been on about this for a long time. 🙂