Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Become a mentor

If you're a professional in the fields of science, technolgy, engineering or math (STEM) how would you like to give back, and help prepare the next generation. Become a mentor. MentorNet has a new starting place to become a mentor. Make a difference in someone's life.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Should computer programming be mandatory in US schools?

Friend and fellow troublemaker Bonnie Bracey Sutton got a discussion going on Facebook about an October 2 InfoWorld opinion piece asking "Should computer programming be mandatory in US schools?"

She was supporting that position, and I took a contrary position. I think programming is the wrong target. I don't think the goal is to make programmers, but to build an understanding about computational thinking and technical literacy. Teaching computer programming is one way to do that, but I don't believe it's the only way. And I think making it a mandae would cause more problems, and looking at how schools tend to deal with mandates, I believe making computer programming mandatory is just one more way to screw up education. It would be one more way that schools would believe they're doing all the right things to prepare students with 21st Century skills, and they'd miss the real point of teaching programming.

Do you have a mentor?

Sorry. I've not been very active lately. There's been a lot going on. I should be in Phoenix this week at VSS, but VSS doesn't connect well with MentorNet, and right now I need to concentrate on making connections that benefit MentorNet.

That said, let me talk about mentoring. I've been less active with the NACOL Research Committee this year, but I was providing some feedback to one of the teams writing one of the current Issues Briefs. They were using the term mentoring very broadly, and probably because of my experience with MentorNet, I see mentoring as a bit more narrowly that I see it used in a variety of contexts. You can see this definition: "a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person. Some professions have "mentoring programs" in which newcomers are paired with more experienced people in order to obtain good examples and advice as they advance, and schools sometimes have mentoring programs for new students or students who are having difficulties" in Wikipedia.

I hear and read mentoring used to talk about programs that I'd call coaching, where rather than helping prepare a less experienced person to become a colleague, the program is designed to overcome a deficit or fix a problem the "mentee" is having. I'd put those programs into the category of coaching or tutoring, not mentoring. I clearly have a more narrow definition that some.

I'd like you to think of mentoring efforts as preparing the next generation. Of helping someoone who may be younger, but clearly less experienced to be successful as a person and as a professional in whatever they do.

It's interesting to look back over my career and realize how seldom I've had mentors. It wasn't part of my upbringing, and may have something to do with being the first generation in my family to go to college, I don't know, but I can definitely see that I didn't have any mentors in college, or in my first teaching role. I did have mentors later on. Mentors do make a difference.

I think everyone needs a mentor -- actually multiple mentors. It's not to correct a deficit, it's to help develop. It should be part of growth and learning. So, if you're not mentoring someone, please consider it. You can contribute to the growth of the next generation whatever your age and and whatever profession you're in.