According to Wozniak (Woz), “If you can motivate a student to want to learn, that’s so much more important that what’s in the book. I had this pastime—I fell in love with computer logic. Any fifth-grader can understand the stuff in 99 percent of digital electronics. And in fifth grade I made myself this challenge to try and design computers using less chips. So I had this challenge, and that motivated me.”
But Woz has more than just his own learning experience to shape his opinions—for eight years he volunteered as a teacher in San Jose, and he spent that time teaching computer skills and programming to fifth-graders. One key takeaway from the experience: “It wasn’t important what I taught, but how I taught it,” he said. Because he was a volunteer, Woz had far more latitude to experiment in the classroom than other teachers. “I had the freedom to teach things [the students] didn’t learn right in ways I thought were better.”
Personalized learning was a key part of Woz’s technique. Students learned best when they were exploring topics that interested them, which led to independent discovery and better retention of knowledge. “Every student is different,” he said. We should “let them go in directions they want to at the pace they are comfortable with.”
But we have to be prepared to support those students with resources, including necessary attention from teachers and mentors, Woz said. “Class size was also important. When classes were too big, some students could hide out or whatever,” getting lost in the shuffle.
Woz also questioned the need to always have students in groups throughout the school day. “Some students are like me; they can learn on their own. Some students might need to be around their friends,” Woz said. “But maybe we need to have some stations where students can go off on their own and discover things. And we still need teachers, but maybe we need them to go around and make sure students are on the right direction, and help give them a little push here and there.”
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