Whenever I help students with math, I always have them do proofs. I want to be sure they understand what they are doing, and not just working a pattern. The word “proof” is a very powerful term, and being able to use it means that one has been able to achieve success and then replicate that same success.
When I encourage people to move into one-to-one situations with technology, they always say things like…”Test scores do not reflect any significant difference in learning after one-to-one programs have started.”; or “Most of the time students will just play games, so their actual computer use is pretty low.”; and even “I am not sure that one-to-one prepares them for the real-world where they deal with people.”
The thing is, on the surface all these things are true. I suppose though the issue is people are trying to measure the wrong data, and they are ignoring performance, socialization, and productivity that is literally under their noses.
For me, on my campus, the power of technology and the motivating power of one-to-one can be seen in our school’s theater production team. It is solid proof that children with the correct tools at their disposal can achieve skills that rival their adult counter-parts.
A Bit of History
It took me a few years to get the budget together to do a modern remodel of the theater’s IT equipment for lights and sound. The gear we had was not actually bad but it was very “Metallica Roadie Like”. Bulky…Hands-On…Audiofile stuff. You know the guys who believe if they adjust a notch like 1/32 of a turn it makes a difference. It took about 3-6 hours to train students on the sound system, and about the same for the analog lighting controller. There were other things of course, but this was the core of the training. Then everyone had to practice. Working during a live show is stressful and decisions are made unforgivingly.
So most of the time we had 3-6 students who would help out through-out the year. The majority of them were in grades 10-12. They loved it, but it was a hard sell sometimes when trying to recruit new blood. I firmly believe everything that can be student managed should be student managed so my focus was to re-design things so students would want to be there.
Remodeled and a Bit More Painful
So when I was finally able to remodel, I had one rule:”If it can be done with a computer or touch interface it will be done that way.” All plans and budgets revolved around getting equipment that felt more like a laptop, iPad, or desktop experience. Without wasting to0 much time in an explanation, we did achieve this.
We bought a mixing console from Yamaha that was about 1/16 the size of the older one, with about 1000 times more complexity. It has a slick interface and an iPad App. We computerized the control of all the lighting, and could only afford to do it in a manner that requires 5 times the amount of planning compared to the old system. We added an iMac for additional support, and some slick processing gear to kill feedback and process the sound (which does help some N00B singers sound much better than they really do.).
Here is the best part..we increased the amount of training from a few hours to a day and a half. It takes about 36 hours of training to cover all the normal operations, planning methodology, troubleshooting, etc.
We literally made it harder to learn for the sake of a modern interface. The biggest upside was students could focus all their time on learning and not on worrying about the sound feeding-back or the audio sounding like garbage. This happens often when an analog environment is not in proper tune with the show it is supporting.
The Horrible Outcome that Never Was
I would like to tell you that I actually believed this would all work, but I did not. My logic told me that the system would be too difficult and no one would want to learn it. My instinct told me that it would be an instant hit, and I needed to believe in the design. My instinct was correct.
The first thing that happened was a few core tech students showed-up and look at everything. They said, “Can we use our laptops and iPads here?”. I said, “Of course!”. Then they asked how it all worked, and I said I was not sure I only had training on about 20% of the gear.
They came back a few days later, laptops in hand. We began to research all the gear. As an educator I began vetting instructional materials and sending them to everyone. I connected with some students in a study-hall and asked them if they would do a 12 hour- yes 12 hour – training course on the lighting system and then teach other students. As soon as they realized they could sync their music from their libraries to the lights, they were engulfed in learning.
Then more students started asking if they could join. And this continued. It began slowly, but after 7 months we now have 15 fully trained students from grades 6-12. All with varying degrees of skill, and obviously the more experience students can solve problems faster. These students understand how prepared they have to be, how to coordinate the peripheral equipment with the core technology, how to setup the stage, and how to direct the people on the stage and in the presentation area. They know when it is time to stop and call me for help too, which is something special all in itself.
One thing these students all have in common is that they are equipped to learn, and equally so. They push and challenge each other. The argue. They solve problems. They connect to the people using the facility and work with them on all aspects of production. They break things, and often fix them. They get into trouble and make messes they have to clean-up. I am not sure, but if this is not learning, and exponential learning at that, then I do not know what is.
Do not doubt the complexity of what these students are doing and are continuing to do. They are training each other all the time on professional equipment. If you have any doubts, here is a link to one of the manuals to only one of the pieces of equipment they are using. You will find it to be 280+ pages of fun. I makes most textbooks look like “Spark Notes”.
I taught them how to use enough of the system to get them confident for the experimentation process. I explained the terms and lingo they would encounter. I reviewed safety and emergency procedures. I focused on foundational knowledge and supported their learning with resources. However, I did not teach them how to be great. They learned and are learning that as we all do , through trial-and-error. They are a team supported by technology when they need it, but winning by communicating and cooperating.
To me this unexpected success is proof that providing equal access to resources can create learning and life experiences that are unpredictable. This type of educational achievement is tough to measure on any type of modern test used in the middle and high school universes.
I hope one day some of these students will realize that tests and testing need to change so that this type of learning does not get marginalized and termed as “not a significant difference”. Maybe they will be in a position to change things, and hopefully they will remember how they learned to master a system with nothing more than free access, encouragement, and a bunch of Youtube videos.