This week I had the pleasure of attending All Things Open, which is always a restorative, inspiring experience for me!  I love meeting the people, and my favorite thing of all is to learn how others are innovating with Open Source.  It is the main reason I use Open Source and a cause I heartily believe in.  I often wish that I was doing more good with my open source skills and All Things Open shows me ways that I can help!

My favorite talk last year was by Charlie Reisinger at Penn Manor talking about the Open Source classroom.  He told us about how they had open sourced their classrooms at the local hospital and given a Linux-powered laptop to every student.  Students and Faculty worked on the Linux environments that were necessary after consulting with teachers about what their needs might be and including those tools in the software package. Laptops backed up remotely to prevent data loss, and the students were given root level access to make changes as they saw fit.  In addition to all of this, students were the driving force of the help desk.  They supported fellow students and were free to learn and innovate.  This program was a huge source of pride and accomplishment for everyone involved!

Watch the video about Penn Manor’s 1-to-1 technology program (

This year, Charlie was at All Things Open, and he challenged another set of ideas about kids and technology.  This time he wasn’t just talking about high school students, but early education as well.

This was an idea our family knew.  We limited playing with our phones to the times we most needed help like waiting for a table in a restaurant and didn’t allow him to play when there was another option of entertainment.  We had read about small children’s need to explore by touching and doing, engaging all of their senses.  Still, life gets busy, and we have given him a tablet and let him play video games. I think we do OK for limiting that to only once in a while, but we could do better in this respect.

The two tweets above were my paraphrasing important statements from Charlie’s talk. It was very clear that this isn’t merely an early childhood development problem.  This is a lifelong developmental need.  There is more to gain by interacting with a computer than a tablet.  Those moments when you see a child try to swipe a window or screen of another device show how disconnected they are from the details of how a computer works. Typing on a keyboard is not easy when a child is first learning their alphabet.  QWERTY isn’t intuitive even to a child reading chapter books.  It takes time.  The act of typing horizontally and seeing the words vertically is another engaging part of computer interaction.  Charlie continued by letting us know that it isn’t merely a problem of kids today having no context for a floppy disk as the default Save icon.  They also may struggle to save and find files in their home directory.  Basic tasks that we use in computers are lost in our tablet culture.

Many schools are replacing their desktop PCs with tablets and keyboards, which offers cost savings both in hardware and in support for resource-constrained public schools.  But what are the real costs of these changes?  Charlie noted that while schools are reducing access to full computers, they are also reducing the courses that teach programming skills.  When will high school students learn to manage their own computers?  These types of changes further skew diversity in technology.  Only students who have computers at home build the requisite computing skills.  Programs that teach programming to low-income communities have shown that these skills help students pull themselves out of poverty.  Having skills with a computer is empowering and provides so much more than mere facts!  It opens doors to jobs and careers for many who would not have had options.  I don’t even mean a small, playhouse door.  I mean a giant door!

Picture of King Kong on the other side of a gigantic door with many tiny villagers below.

King Kong (1933)


I love hearing about what Charlie’s school has achieved with open source.  I love thinking about how these strategies could work locally in our schools.  I know that every one of my son’s teachers has used iPad or iTouch in the classroom.  I’ve supported our teachers because I want to help them in the classroom in any way that I can.  But I know that we should be doing more than this.  I have tried before to volunteer with the technology instructor.  I know the power of my participating in the technology classroom.  My son has a sense of pride when one of his parents is in the class.  I know the power of seeing a woman working in technology for other girls in his class, too.  Letting them know this is a job they can handle is very important to me!  I need to become more involved in these efforts. I would like to see some of these technologies used in our schools.  I would love to see more kids empowered with computers like I was in school… especially with my first PC (best birthday present ever!!) in high school.

If you have ideas about how to inspire kids with technology or how to get these ideas more widely into our local schools, I would love to hear them!  We need to remove some of the crazy from this district.  We’re the home of Research Triangle Park!  We’re supposedly a hotbed of technological innovation.  Let’s not leave our kids behind in technology!  We can also innovate our schools.

One piece of advice I have received by working in an environment that is not flexible to change is that sometimes it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.  Finding some small way to have success and showcasing that to the media is one way to gain support from skeptics.  This may give us a foot in the door.