The following passages are excerpted from a website created by a young man called Titan, whom I met in one of my Grade 8 Computer classes in 2012. As you read through his thoughts and reflections on what he learnt this year, you will be struck at how much he has to say about me. I am humbled and inspired by his kind words. But look a little beyond his generous compliments, and you will see that what he has actually discovered is his own brilliance. Titan truly did live up to his name this year. All I did was challenge him to do so.
Last year I had a group of Grade 12 students standing on their desks saluting me, and it was a truly emotional moment. Titan’s words are that ‘Oh Captain, my Captain’ moment for me in 2012. (How incredible would it be to have one per year!)
This is what I believe teaching should be. This is what all of my students should get from my lessons. Starting next year, I am making it my aim to try to help as many of my students as possible experience what Titan has experienced this year. I’m calling it the Titan Imperative.
Each section below bears the title of a separate page from Titan’s site. I have lightly edited one or two spelling errors … and removed a few exclamation points – although I do feel a little conflicted about editing his enthusiasm in this way!
I would like to thank Titan and his parents for allowing me to publish these excerpts. To protect his privacy, I have elected not to include the link to his original site. (Titan has created another site here: https://sites.google.com/site/landylover08/home Please pay him a visit and perhaps drop him a comment.)
At the beginning of this year, we were thrown into a new world! A big, strange and different world. The world of high school! Suddenly you are no longer the biggest in the school. You are constantly trying to be ‘the coolest kid in the school’ and start worrying about stupid things like your image and what the latest music tracks are. You start forgetting all the goals that you set for yourself and all the hopes and dreams that you had. Very soon you reach the point where you stop believing in yourself and start falling into the trap of conformity.
All the teachers, despite saying that every child is different and despite making us repeat the ‘learning style’ test that we have done since Grade 4, teach us in the same way as everyone else. Yes, they’re good teachers, stunning in fact, but they all teach, very few educate!
Then there was Mr. Hampton-Cole! What I am about to say is not meant to help me get into the good books of Mr. HC or anything like that, it is purely what I feel and believe. It took me until about the end of the second term to understand what he was trying to tell us, what he was trying to show us! He talked a lot about critical thinking and individuality, but at first I thought he was like all the others, just more fun and eccentric. But it was only when he set us the critical thinking essay that I truly understood what he meant! Since then I believe I have made my best effort to follow every word he says and understand what he is saying. I have found myself almost ‘craving’ his classes, where we are truly allowed to think what we want.
In his class I learned that my life hasn’t even started yet, literally! He taught me that there isn’t a right and a wrong way, that there isn’t truth and fiction, there is only your way! He taught me that one does not necessarily have to stay the same person all your life.
Don’t Believe a Word They Say
Critical Thinking! I remember at the beginning of the year Mr Hampton-Cole asked the simple question, “Who were the first people to fly?” Instinctually I answered, “The Wright brothers.” Confident in my answer I expected sir to carry on with the lesson but instead he said, “No, that is what everyone thinks! The Chinese were the first people to fly, long before the Wright brothers were born!” Seeing the look of confusion on my face, sir told me to go down to his Geography classroom and fetch a book, and indeed the Chinese were the first people to fly. The Wright brothers conducted the first controlled flight, but that wasn’t the question! I then understood the saying, “Don’t believe a word they say!”. Facts are not necessarily fact!
Critical thinking is the act of questioning everything and anything you are told, shown, etc. Only once you can prove something yourself can you truly KNOW that it is a fact.
Who invented the light bulb? Thomas Edison? Wrong! In fact, Edison hardly invented a single thing in his entire deceitful life! Nikola Tesla was the inventor of both the light bulb and the CFL! Twenty-two other people tried to perfect it before Edison came along! Edison only figured out how to sell it to the world! Tesla also invented alternating current, radio, radio astronomy, X-Ray, hydroelectric generation, cryogenics, etc. Tesla was betrayed countless times by Edison, who stole nearly half of Tesla’s inventions! Before I knew this, Edison was my hero, my role model, the person I wanted to be. I am now disgusted by that thought! I was completely fooled, just like the rest of the world. I was inspired by a thief! I had fallen into the trap of believing what ‘they’ say, I had not thought critically about it at all!
This is the perfect example of critical thinking.
Everything needs critical thinking; nothing can survive without it! Too often, we go through something without thinking about it at all! Every decision must be made critically! The world can’t afford people who just survive anymore! We are the new age, Generation Y, and the world will not carry on just serving us! It needs new ideas, new ways of living life. From this year I believe I have done everything possible to think critically! I have changed how I view the world, the way I live, the way I think!
Thinking critically is part of the Computers curriculum (that Mr HC created), in order to show us how every problem can be solved if you think right, but that’s not how Mr. HC taught it to us! He taught us to use it outside the confines of the classroom, in life and in our thoughts! I’m not sure how everyone else interpreted it but it certainly changed my life, maybe not noticeably to anyone else, but it definitely did, in a way only I can understand!
Starting from Scratch
This is when everything got very real! With very little knowledge of anything, we were told that by the end of term we had to have created a game, by ourselves, using a computer and programming! This came to all of us as quite a shock. None of us knew very much at all about programming, except that it was very hard! My father was a programmer for the South African Navy and the way he always explained it was quite easy, like any fool could do it. But I had seen such code in my life, for example if you switch a PC on after a power failure, it displays a whole lot of coding that to most people means absolutely nothing and probably never will. And for good reason too! It’s really complicated. But I’ve always wanted to be one of those few people who actually can understand it!
I’ve always wanted to be a ‘computer whizz’. When I was younger I even contemplated being a hacker! Not a criminal hacker, just someone who can deny anything a computer tells you and re-teach the computer what you want it to think! It’s an incredibly big goal, especially because I’m not one of those people who sit in front of the monitor for hours playing ridiculous computer games! I don’t believe in games really, they’re pointless, boring and just mean you are bored with your life and need a virtual world to die and be reborn in because your imagination isn’t strong enough!
So anyway, I don’t have much experience with computers as I do try to use them sparingly, but nonetheless I never give up on dreams! Reality is an illusion, so why does anything have to be realistic! Aim high and if you miss you’ll get second place! So I was really excited that finally I might get taught some real computer knowledge! (Unlike in computers in the Prep where we were taught how to enlarge the font in Microsoft Word for three years in a row!) But little did I know that the program we would be using made programming child’s play. Well, almost!
This program was called Scratch (pardon the pun in the heading). And this program really is amazing, truly revolutionary! It replaces the code with symbols that mean various different things. Each symbol has a pre-set code in it like the picture. These different symbols can be dragged from a menu and linked together in a specific order to make a up a code. It’s brilliant actually! It takes all the trouble of remembering the code out of it. It is still pretty difficult as you still have to get the symbols in the right order to make it work properly. But then you may focus all your attention on the actually programming instead of getting side tracked by all sorts of brackets and weird numbers!
So our brief was to create a game. A game that included two or more sprites that interact with each other, amongst a few other simple requirements. In words it’s pretty easy, but in programming you have no idea! We all experienced some joy when we first got our sprite to walk! This turned out to be pretty simple after a while and we all started experimenting to get them to do more.
You had to really think here! I must have looked insane reading the code over and over and over to myself in front of the monitor trying to make it into an English sentence that made sense! Eventually, obviously, everything did work out!
Power of Pointing
This is when we met Mr. Vos, an ‘exchange teacher’ from Pietermaritzburg. He looked identical to Mr. HC, he spoke like him, he had the same email address, etc. but according to him he wasn’t Mr, HC! Mr. Vos told us that Mr. HC had moved to Finland for a short while, because he had gone a bit mad, he said he would explain later and that he would be teaching us for the term. We later found out that he had ‘moved’ because Finland had the best way of educating students by letting them learn by doing and experimenting, instead of sitting in class learning like everyone else. Mr. HC completely approved of this and so do I and therefore he ‘moved’ to Finland to learn about how they taught there and to vent his ‘madness’! I hope you see why I like Mr. HC
‘Mr. Vos’ taught us (in much the same way Mr HC would have) how to use PowerPoint correctly. We were each given a topic, relating to computers, to do a presentation on and I was given the topic StumbleUpon. He said it was a search engine that learned what you liked and disliked by the rating you give to each page. It sounded slightly boring so I decided to trade with a friend, however when I downloaded StumbleUpon on my iPad it turned out to be one of the most amazing things that have ever happened to me besides Twitter and Flipboard. Flipboard was the topic I traded for and was an application that took social media feeds from Twitter, Facebook and any other websites with topics related to the topics you choose. I now can hardly imagine a life without it, but I’m still not addicted to it, I make sure I spend time without digital devices.
Two days before the end of term, Mr. HC ‘returned’ and said that Mr. Vos had gone on a journey to Edinburgh! Wow! As I said, sometimes being not entirely sane is the only way you can mentally survive in this life!
At the beginning of term two Mr. HC showed us a website called Edmodo, which seemed like a typical education website that teachers love and students hate! But slowly it turned out to not be too bad! It has a similar concept to Facebook except it is designed for teachers to talk with their students, something that would hardly ever happen on Facebook! You have a profile and a class group. We were given a code to access our class group and can then speak freely with our class like Twitter. So it’s like Facebook mixed with Twitter!
Then we are awarded badges on Edmodo by Mr. HC for fulfilling certain tasks like completing all the questions on our account such as our learning style and our career ambitions. And for anything else done in and outside of class that deserves recognition. And of course you could customise your account with a profile picture, a favourite saying, etc. It really is quite something.
This is how I believe students should learn, by doing, interacting, communicating, etc. And of course above all, having a good relationship with a teacher, as close as one can be a friend with a teacher! Mr. HC I think did this very well, he taught us on a personal level, he spoke to us like a human being, never using canned speech, and most of all he treated the students like human beings too. He actually realised that we are there, something many teachers fail to do! He sees that conformity is not the way and that each student is different and Edmodo provides the ideal opportunity for students to express themselves individually in the learning space!
We used Edmodo throughout the year for polls, questionnaires, learning and general communication! I do hope that after this year we still use it as a class!
I have absolutely loved this year with Mr. HC in Computers. To me, he is the epitome of what a teacher should be. He physically put the saying Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) into action. He showed us how the world doesn’t have to be how it is right now and that it is up to us to change it! I am sad to think that there is a very good chance that Mr. HC will not be my teacher next year as I can’t imagine Computers being taught in a different way to the way he teaches it! I adored this year and I think I will remember it for the rest of my life! I do believe that it was one of the most influential years of my life and has already changed the way my life was going!
I realise that I can’t wait with the world for the next ‘hero’, ‘genius’, ‘world changing’, etc. person to come as that person is living in my generation! We are the future! And who knows who that person will be!? What if it is me!!!
I will be adding to this blog for a few years to come. To show what I have done with my life and just how influential this year has been! Stay posted! [Pardon the pun ]
Teachers: This is why we do what we do, not so?
Stay tuned to this blog for more on the Titan Imperative in 2013…