The Mouse That Roared, Revolutionary Learning
By David Seelow, PhD
Just before the holidays I spoke at length with Alex Fleming, Learning Design Manager at Mouse in New York City. Mouse is a nationwide youth organization whose focus is “Technology with Purpose.” Mouse helps students across the country’s vast school population use technology to create projects that solve critical social problems. Technology has always had both positive and negative effects depending upon its application, and often a mixture of effects given the unintended consequences of applied technology. In applying technology to solve real problems and not just churn out money making products Mouse serves youth in a way that really has lasting impact. For example, a recent project prototype resulted in Omni-Joy an accessible, portable game controller to help people with limited mobility. Assistive technology has an area of neglect in commercial game development, so Mouse students help fill an important population of gamers.
Mouse navigates the slippery boundary between formal schooling with its top down test-driven curriculum and the much less restricted possibilities of informal learning. At Mouse, students who participate in Design League run by Maggie Muldoon, take an entire year to work on a project. They work with peers from different districts, but who share common interests creating new learning opportunities formal schools with their monolithic student populations rarely achieve (especially true of the suburban and rural districts). It is a place of discovery where kids can simply explore and find out what clicks with them. Again, formal schools with their rigid artificial schedules often prevent true discovery. In my case, I never took programming in formal classes because my inclinations and talent reside more with the Humanities and I did not feel I could learn much programming in the frame work of a fifteen-week college course let alone a high school course should I be able to magically return to my teenage years. Many years after formal schooling, I have learned to program in C#, Java Script and Python, at least enough to satisfy my curiosity and professional needs. However, I earned these programs slowly, at my own pace, something my formal course work did not allow. I suspect this disjunction between interest and time restricts many students in an unnecessary fashion.