An Interview with Greg Garner
Greg: I got into Edtech by accident. My first year teaching I was given an 8th grade keyboarding class, despite being hired to teach math. I wasn’t thrilled because, come on, who wants to teach a typing class? But my eyes were completely opened once I realized the flexibility I would have in creating a class of value for my students and what the technology could facilitate. I completely re-wrote the curriculum, implemented a collaborative business simulation and used the tech available to us as a means for expanding our horizons and opportunities. Then I started learning about how technology could level the playing field for all learners and it was game over: I was totally hooked. I got my Masters in Educational Technology Leadership and have learned everything I can about how technology influences pedagogy, learning styles, and special populations. I am fascinated by the opportunities afforded by technology in the hands of a skilled teacher.
Elliott: You’ve written before about problems teachers face and the lack of tools directly addressing them. Why do you think this mismatch in teaching technology exists?
Greg: To be able to identify a problem, you’ve got to be “in the weeds” of it. It has to be something you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. So, while most teachers can point to what the “perfect” tool looks like, they are not programmers themselves. This is paired with the fact that the programmers and engineers making apps generally aren’t teachers. So we have a divide. I think it’s closing, but it’s still there and it’s very real. The big ‘aha’ solutions come from teachers and businesses working together in an agile development process.
Elliott: As an educational technologist you help teachers use technology in the classroom every day. What in your opinion is the biggest programming resource for the classroom that exists but is underutilized?
Greg: Dare I say, “any/all of them”? The beautiful thing about teaching programming is how malleable it is. It can conform to what ever structure (or lack of) you want to utilize in your class, so it’s really about figuring out what you want your class to look like, what language your students want to learn (which might be different from one student to the next), and then implementing the appropriate resource. For some, it’s Trinket. For others, it might be code.org. Some folks may want to be a little less immersive and use tools like Code Combat or Tynker. The learning process, when done well, has always been about creativity and choice and what better way to introduce or extend these concepts than with programming?
Elliott: Are there hands-on techniques or resources you see used to bring programming into the classroom that are particularly successful? What do you think makes them successful?
Greg: The most successful thing I’ve seen is when teachers provide coding/programming as a required option. Oxymoronic, sure, but give students a list of resources to try and then let them self-select what best fits their personal preferences. The key is making them try something. If you were to ask an 11 year-old if they want to do some computer programming, the stigma and outdated stereotype associated with that is enough to shut them down pretty quickly. Most students find a tool, write a piece of code, and at the moment that their programming becomes a real thing (a website, a robot program, a game), they’re hooked. The light bulb comes on and extrinsic motivation is no longer needed. With programming becoming available to younger and younger students and with more resources being devoted to making sure both genders are invited to the party, I don’t think it will be long before we see large-scale, systemic changes in the way we think about programming.
A big thanks to Greg for taking the time to do this interview! If you have questions for him, tweet them or leave them below!