In 2017, I mentored 10 students to take the AP Computer Science A test while still in 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th grade. At the time I did not think it mattered if they passed or failed the test, based on earning University credits for their test score of 3 or above. It was a test to gauge how much CS each student was learning while learning to code in multiple languages for multiple purposes using multiple tools. Pursuing academic test results was never the objective. Instead, I was aiming at something much more meaningful that would impact the rest of their lives.
I simply presented an idea: "You can take the test at any age".
Self-leadership is the greatest human quality one can demonstrate. It will change the world.
This act of social engineering provoked a group of students to pursue an idea with many options. Individually, they possessed a choice. A choice, as it was, to enter a room, to buy a book, to solve some challenges, to review code with mentors, to learn about the concepts that were going to be tested on the Advanced Placement Computer Science A test, for University credit.
The results of this hack on education are not all in yet, still.. 2017 results.
One of the students, the 6th grader by age, was too young to login to the College Board website to collect his own scores. That rule was changed subsequently, prohibiting students under 13 from taking the test.
After the results were shared, many other students were also personally challenged to take the test of their own volition. Again, 7th, 8th, 9th grade students decided for themselves to take an advanced placement test covering computer science subject matter in 2018, and again in 2019, and again in 2020. They self-led their own choices, their own pursuit of knowledge, their own creative demonstration of computational understanding and execution. Mentors supported them, when required, and where possible. A robust community culture was developing, based on the use of tools, the ability to make logic and math and creativity move with coded languages, and peer influence.
But that is not the whole story; it was not necessarily easy for these kids to take their AP tests. In some cases, schools did not support this test and had no teacher teaching the subject matter or offering the test, while other schools prevented these students from sitting for the test in their own school districts. Yes, these self-motivated students were actually denied the opportunity to take the AP CS A test in their own school districts. Thankfully, to these students primarily, but also their families, and to us who mentor young people as volunteers, Dr. Michael Nagler - Superintendent of Mineola Union Free School District, and now 2020 New York State Superintendent of the Year + Final 4 National Superintendent of the Year.. plus Dad to one of these self-led students, and personal example himself as a self-led creative director of learning, provided his own District as a place where any kid could sit for the test. Thankfully, because Institutional change requires leaders willing to "bleed on the cutting edge", and Dr. Nagler has steadfastly demonstrated his willingness to provide an example to other Institutional leaders that need help preparing education for the years ahead, where student-driven learning and digital literacy methods will collide and change public education forever. (Read: Kids Take Over)
Here in 2020, everyone that took the APCS A test, took the test at home, online, with computers. For those not familiar, this test is historically taken on paper with a pencil. All code is hand-written. But obviously, this year things are different, and methods were forced to adjust. Again, kids in 7th, 8th, 9th grade took the test, self-led despite opposition and non-support from their local school districts.
Now far be it from my intent to affect local budgets, or Boards of Education rules and norms of procedure. I have no interest in the politics of Education. My singular concern is the method of learning that kids in my periphery have access to. I serve any kid. I am very focused on how I empower young minds. Every part of my being is entrenched in the idea that people are creative beings who can learn anything they want to learn. That people need to be exposed, and they need to be mentored productively to understand how and why to pursue skills. Imagination is more important than knowledge in this process, especially in an age when knowledge is searchable on demand.
Choice drives learning; anything that stands in the way of a choice that a young mind wants to pursue for learning sake needs serious consideration, especially if it is useful and challenging. And to the extent that our communities do not support this outcome, they should be challenged directly to account for their reasoning. People make choices, at all levels, and with all types of authority. Commanding personal learning authority is an act of personal agency for kids, and it is time that all of us acknowledge what that means for the future of learning.
Methods matter, everything changes. Virtual learning, independent time, personalized process, ownership of outcomes.. students drive learning. Education serves many purposes, but students drive learning outcomes. The infrastructure, the methods, the credentials, the labor, the opportunities, the special services are driven by student demand. Families in our local communities create, develop, support and hope for the best community experience possible to serve their needs. They pay high taxes year after year in pursuit of this community objective. Many go far beyond this and invest personally to improve outcomes every year as volunteers.
All of us know what self-led problem solving looks like in our school communities, we see it all the time. Volunteering is the root skill of entrepreneurial creation and problem-solving after all. Who wants to solve this, that and the other problem? People are problem solvers. In 2020, together as distinct communities living among one another, Individuals are influencing a culture of coding, computer science, engineering and entrepreneurial learning in our region. And this process is student-driven.
But that is not the whole story; for many are not participating. Again, our Institutional merry-go-round called Education spins year after year... and self-protection, administrative-bureaucracy, control-management, competitive egos, and many other human qualities of failed leadership arise and flair their influence. I know personally, I have sat in rooms where our most at-risk communities learn. In fact, for me that is where my mentoring began in 1996. Fast forward 20 years.. Teachers are still showing me the status of their networks with wires hanging from ceilings, and asking me how I can solve getting non-existent laptops connected to those wires where a broadband connection is supposed to exist so their kids can access opportunity, and self-lead their personal learning.
I have sat in rooms and endured laughter from Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents of Curriculum & Instruction, Directors of Technology, High School Principals, Middle School Principals, Elementary School Principals simply because I believed in my partnership with Dr. Nagler and advocated for him to secure laptops to be made available for students to code on, even though Mineola was already a 1-to-1 District using iPads. And in doing so, I was taught invaluable lessons about leadership in education, where functional leaders actually will solve problems, like not being able to code on an iPad in 2015, while others openly snark at the prospects of leaders advancing a "2-to-1" method to solve problems. I have had my efforts ridiculed and told that "all I do is teach kids to make games", and I have been told my services were "too expensive" by extremely well-paid bureaucrats, as an unfunded non-profit running volunteer programs for families for $FREE self-building kidOYO and its platform at OYOclass.com, delivering learning in ways no other learning system in the world is achieving.
That is the 2015 - 2020 recap.. it is in the books. The results are in and continue advancing... 100,000+ students in New York alone are interacting with our learning platform, curriculum, tools and real mentors daily. When schools shut-down, kidOYO and OYOclass.com scaled up, kept working, kept serving students, teachers, families.. virtually, just like every day before. As further evidence that the future is already here, and it is just not evenly distributed, or accessible to functionally literate participants on even footing yet, we continue to provide professional development for FREE during this time of required transition. And we are thrilled to provide it. Our public benefit mission is achieved in this respect-filled process, and it will not fail because of the people that work with us; professionals that want the same thing we do.. the best education in the world for kids, right here, locally, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our communities, no matter the obstacles.
"Computer Science For All" is still a requirement for our Society. It has not been achieved yet, far from it. But it is not enough. Public Education, according to many of its leaders in Higher Education, does not exist to build skills to achieve "workforce development" outcomes. Instead, Public Schools and Universities exist to "create better citizens", a claim and objective that appears to be under greater scrutiny and testing with each passing year, but especially post-pandemic with 30% unemployment. "Building Better Citizens" is a noble goal, and one I do not intend to snark at in any way. But the advancement of Society by this goal has a dependency that must be confronted as our Society moves deeper into the digital age.
Functional Literacy For All - As generations begin to demonstrate literacy in different ways, and older generations find themselves dependent on younger generations for operational security, technology will change the nature of family management and employment forever. The need for methods to adjust in education is as important as the need for methods to advance in civil Society. Working within a data-driven context, carrying devices that constantly empower or betray the integrity of an Individual's participation in Society, is no longer optional. Today, in the real world, data drives surveillance of all people, whether willingly casting light via the use of digital tools, or choosing to not participate and thereby being seen in the shadows cast by others engineering the light with computational devices. There is no escape from the need/opportunity to understand data in a literate way, to operate as a functional participant with digital literacy in mind and structure. As Americans, our civil Society has already endured election hacking via tools like Facebook and Twitter, which aptly serve as propaganda networks for people unaware of how data works for and/or against you.
In the years ahead, some of the stable ideas embedded in social formulas like "going to school, getting good grades, gaining admission to Universities, studying hard, getting a degree and becoming a functional participant in civil Society", will undoubtedly change. Will high school students take a gap year.. will college students take a gap year if the prospects of campus life are diminished and virtual-only classrooms continue? Can the University formula continue, whereby credentials are sold, and used as exclusionary methods for employers to leverage? Or will students seek skills in alternative, less expensive ways, and start forcing employers to drop degree requirements for hiring practices moving forward? Can credentials evolve, to include the micro-credential context of skill development, such that a University degree can be computationally verified by anyone, with transparency into the actual learning that students demonstrated in earning their degree?
All of these and more questions are now on the table. States will be required to "Reimagine Education", while at the same time finding it necessary to reimagine who gets to have a voice in that conversation. The future will undoubtedly be driven by a generation of learners that today already understand that systems break, and people are required to persist and solve problems. As a mentor to these young minds, I look forward to helping advance that cause. (Watch Video)
PS.. Don't take my word for it.. let this 2nd grade student influence you: