Anyone else do this? At least for my generation, the cool thing to do in the back of high school math class was to pretend to punch equations into your Texas Instruments graphing calculator while your aging math teacher recited the lesson. But we weren’t doing our homework: we were doing programming! Our “TI” calculators came with a stripped down version of BASIC, with simple if-then loops, variable storage, key capture and everything. Why do pre-Calculus when you could be programming a game?!
This is why I’m loving Phil Nichols’ nerdy Atlantic article on his own TI-82 calculator experiences, and why some new gadgets at school—like the iPad—aren’t teaching kids the same thing.
Nichols’s point is that there are two kinds of education: “conventional” and “subversive”—and we need both. Conventional is the facts and figures and history that society agrees kids need to function. It’s recall, and right and wrong answers.
Subversive is different: it puts students into a problem solving, imaginative world that doesn’t require one route to a solution. It allows challenges to the existing norms, and demonstrates that failures are normal and help the process. Just like programming on a TI-82 calculator in the back of the room.
Here’s his point about the iPad: it’s a shiny new gadget for classrooms, but it might be more conventional than subversive. If we allow students to absorb only a few approved educational apps, it’s just a dressed-up textbook rather than an environment that allows students to discover and change and fail and learn.
I’ve always liked the word digital for this. “Digital” learning is less about the pixel count of the screen, and more about the ways that you can interact with and remix the environment. Sure, maybe “digital” cable arrives on the digital cable box, but from a media and communication point of view, it’s still just TV. The content is created one one side of the screen, and delivered to the people on the other side. It’s just nicer looking content delivery! But if you can edit it, copy and paste it, talk to it, change it… that’s digital interactivity at work.
By this definition, the TI-82, designed in 1993, may have been more digital interactive learning than a new iOS device!
So here’s to programming on the TI-82, the way it subversively taught me to trial-and-error problem solving I still use, and that we’ll find good ways to teach our kids the same!
And am I the only one?
Did you program on a TI-82 calculator?