“Technology is a new kind of Trojan Horse” – Reflections on the text by Professor Paulo Blikstein.

Is the ideal school possible? What is the role of technology to this purpose? And how can teachers promote a meaningful learning atmosphere? This text shares an experience in a high school in Brazil from the perspective of reading and reflecting on the article by professor Paulo Blikstein, Travels in Troy with Freire: Technology as an Agent of Emancipation.

The ideas of Paulo Freire and Seymour Papert are the fuel for this discussion, and the Maker Movement, through new technologies, is the engine that can lead us to a school where teaching and learning processes become significant.

Ideally, the implementation of maker education in schools would be well planned, with very clear objectives, and that is what we need to reflect on. Here, the Cheshire Cat [1] offers an emblematic saying: “If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there”.

Although we find different social and educational realities in the world, Paulo Freire’s pedagogy has the power to address all learning contexts. Among his contributions, the Generatives Themes are well known. That is a pedagogical methodology that aims at making students perceive themselves as agents of change. Generatives Themes can be a good start to implement actions that result in meaningful learning.

Providing students with an atmosphere of belonging, sharing, innovation and meaning are principles shared by Lev Vygostsky and Seymour Papert. When students collaboratively develop a project with a common goal, exchanging experiences, debating on best practices, agreeing on some points and disagreeing on others, their collective and significant construction generates active learning spaces and stimulates the quest for new knowledge. In this sense, new technologies are important tools for an emancipatory education.

“Another means is for individuals to design devices, systems, or solutions, using knowledge from science and technology, and then use language to improve these devices through critical interaction with fellow designers.” (BLIKSTEIN, 2016)

At Polo Educacional Sesc (Picture 1), a boarding high school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a project was developed at their Maker Space aiming at encouraging the use of available technological tools to develop and carry out activities in alignment with the school curriculum. The project proposed the following reflection to students: how can Digital Fabrication resources, made available at our school space, provide the development of low-cost learning objects for science teaching?

Picture 1 – Polo Educacional Sesc is a private boarding high school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, offering free-of-charge, top-level transformative global education to low-income students from all over Brazil. Unfortunately, before going through this life-changing educational program, many of these students were in schools that lacked educational and technological resources, laboratories and often, teachers.

It didn’t take long for the students to detect a problem: many resources for experimental science teaching are very expensive, which makes them quite inaccessible to many schools. So, they thought they would need to understand how the prototyping supplies from the Maker Space at the school could contribute towards the cause.

As they researched, an experiment similar to a Linear Air Track was identified by the students as a potential project to be developed. (A Linear Air Rail is a perforated rail connected to an air blower. This device can be used to experimentally study important concepts in kinematics, such as speed and acceleration. It is an aid to the teaching of physics and mathematics). In Brazil, this experiment costs around US$ 1000, which makes it impossible for many institutions to afford.

With these thoughts in mind, the youngsters involved in the project decided to develop a Track with Sensors that would measure the speed of a Mousetrap Car, thus generating performance tables and graphs. They developed this track so that other students from their own institution or from other educational spaces with few resources would be able to create these cars as an object of learning. The only source of energy for the prototypes is a mousetrap, and the cars can have different designs (Pictures 2). Thus, by placing their model on the track and activating the trap, students can measure the performance of their creation.

Pictures 2 – Mousetrap Car Modeling Workshop

Although the Track with Sensors is different from the Air Track, mainly because it has friction between the car and the track, the students still needed to use concepts of maths, physics, basic electronics and C ++ programming skills to develop the project.

With an Arduino Mega, 9 LED arrays, 8 ultrasonic sensors, a 16X2 LCD screen, wires, MDF wood, creativity and the help of a Laser cutter, students produced a solution for less than $ 100 (Video 1).

Video 1 – Track with sensors for Mousetrap Cars

Reinventing an existing technological experiment to reduce its cost dramatically was the path taken by the group of students who participated in the project. They knew that many schools, like the ones they came from and studied in previous years did not carry out  experiments with their students due to a sheer lack of resources. Empathy was an important mobilizing agent of transformation.

“Freire’s focus on humanism and Papert’s emphasis on the creation of personally meaningful artifacts are highly complementary” (BLIKSTEIN, 2016)

As Blikstein (2016) points out, an authentic Generative Theme has the power to provide engagement and “true emancipatory knowledge must make people feel like agents of action and change in the world”.

The Track with Sensors project showed that, when students had the opportunity to engage in an action that could promote change, they identified a problem (which was part of the academic life of some of them) and then, developed a solution for it (Pictures 3).

Pictures 3 – Track with Sensors

This is what is expected of education: that it may provide changes in the student’s life but also that this student, when in a privileged situation, can commit to promoting changes in other spaces that have fewer resources and possibilities. Education has that power. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are the mechanisms and students are the agents.

Maker Education, mediated by technologies, happily enables this type of interdisciplinary reflection.

The illustration of technology as a Trojan horse in the school reality is spectacular. In fact, it does have the Trojan horse power, as it allows students to marvel at the awareness that they are also an agent of change in society.

“Students appropriate the Trojan technology as authentic means to liberate themselves from the incarceration of traditional pedagogy. Once deschooled, students shake off the dust and engage in authentic inquiry and construction.” (BLIKSTEIN, 2016)

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Special Acknowledgment: I would like to thank Paulo Ceotto, specialist at Sesc’s International Advisory Office for his invaluable contribution in the translation and adaptation of this article. He can be reached at pceotto@sesc.com.br.

[1] From Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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