I like working with teens who are eager to learn. For four months last year I had the pleasure of working with two brothers, Brandon and Chris Ojaste. Brandon is 18, Chris 16. These young men– both unschooled– worked with me to learn about computer technical support. I was showing them the ropes, and in the process I wanted to experiment with the learning methods I wrote about in my Buccaneer-Scholar book.
Brandon, being older, was a bit more sure of himself as a technical thinker. At the time I worked with him, it quickly became apparent that he could solve most routine computing problems on a PC. I asked him to research a secure and portable approach to computing so that I would no longer have to worry about my notebook being stolen when I traveled oversead. Brandon Googled around, and found a great idea. He suggested that I use a combination of TrueCrypt and portable applications running from a memory stick. Within two weeks he had me completely set up and tested.
Amazingly, my computer WAS later stolen in the Stockholm central station (three thieves working in cooperation pulled off a classic distraction routine– kind of like Cirque du Soleil, except no costumes or juggling, no music, it’s in a train station, and they steal your stuff). But the thieves never got my private data because it was all encrypted. I lost nothing important, and transferred my work to a new computer the next day.
Brandon also built his own computer and wrote me up a detailed account of all that he learned in the process. I am presenting that story as part of my talk at Rethinking Education, next week.
I need practice documenting learning stories. Chris helped me with that when we were trying to repair a cheese grater, at Christmas dinner. This turned into a tutorial in how to analyze, solve, and report on technical problems. Wanting to impress him, I turned our conversation into a written report. This is the cheese grater report on my website.
Chris is the more extroverted of the two brothers, and I took advantage of that by spending hours with him, one-on-one, challenging him to Google the solutions to technical problems. We spent all one afternoon looking for a personal information manager that could interface with Google Calendar. Another day we looked for web tools and performed a link analysis of my site. It became a sort of competition, with each of us trying to out-Google the other. That helps get good energy going for the learning process.
For young technicians, the biggest challenge is often lack of self-confidence. Knowledge can be gained, but without confidence they won’t try very hard to gain it. So, it was satisfying to see the confidence of these young men grow in real-time, with each work session. Physical presence matters a lot, though. I no longer live near them, and the collaboration online doesn’t work so well.
I would love to help more kids find that technical confidence that comes from sizing up problems and solving them for a paying client. That’s critical for transitioning from dabbling child to adult professional thinker who drives his own education. For unschoolers especially, this transition is a vital process.