Intended Unintended Consequences

My daughter’s school has a 1:1 program. This means: a few days ago, in January of her 4th grade year, she received a laptop for use at school and at home. She’ll use this laptop for a variety of planned and unplanned activities until she graduates, and it will be upgraded every 3 years. (Pretty nice.)

One of the first things she did was ask me if she could use the laptop to watch Netflix programs at home. (Pretty not nice.) I agreed, but I explained to her that she has to follow Valentine’s Law (which I made up on the spot to sound authoritative): when using a computing device, always balance out consumption with making, and make sure that, in total, you’re making more than you’re consuming.

The next day, she emailed her campus tech coordinator, and she copied me:

Is it possible to download Skitch 3.0?

I replied / translated:

I think you mean Scratch 3.0?

She wrote back:

Yes!

When I came home from work, I saw her reading a book next to her open laptop:

What’s that?

Mrs. H. gave it to me after I emailed her about Skitch, I mean Scratch.

Then she kept talking:

I can’t download 3.0 because of this.

She showed me an image on her screen:

You don’t have the right operating system?

Nope. But I can use the online version. I made something.

She then pressed a button on her computer and it showed a girl. She pressed it again and numbers appeared. One more time and the numbers moved into a row. One more: the numbers added up.

The girl adds the numbers. The girl does math.

At that moment, I was proud of my daughter and proud of her school.

If I unpack how we got here, you’ll see why.

My daughter’s school handed her a powerful machine and taught her how to properly use it and respect it.

(Valentine’s law was born, and helped a bit, so I’ll take some credit.)

My daughter emailed a school administrator and copied me on the email. Somehow, she learned how to do this. Somewhere along the way, she received a signal from her school that it was okay for her to advocate for herself (an SEL skill), and somewhere along the way, she learned how to email appropriately (a technical / communication skill).

An administrator told her no — for Scratch 3.0 — but explained why. (Plenty of school administrators would have simply said no.) This led to a lesson about operating systems. In 4th grade.

The administrator then gave her a book on the topic and showed her an end-around. She could use the web-based version instead. This would tide her over until the school upgraded to a new operating system.

When she accessed the web-based version, it was kid friendly. (So, now I’m also proud of / thankful for Scratch.) She could choose an avatar that looked like her. And she could make that avatar do arithmetic, which in her mind/world, is serious math.

Think of how many good and generous educational decisions need to be made to reach this point. Think of the kind of culture — at my daughter’s school, in the lab responsible for Scratch — that helps these kind of intended unintended consequences to happen.

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