Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Joy of Teaching Kid Geeks

At the library, this book title caught our eye: Leading Geeks. As it turned out, there are many pearls in here for kid geek teachers and their parents.

There is culture war in classrooms across the country, pitting pint-sized prodigies against eager, but bewildered early elementary school educators. At times the battleground looks grim, but rapprochement is possible, provided attempts are made to bridge the cultural divide.

Many geek parents will recognize that their kids are a somewhat a chip off the old block. Culturally "insensitive" or ignorant teachers may brand these children simply as "rude", "oppositional-defiant", "arrogant", "conceited", "socially inept", "ADHD", or "Asperger-ish". But conventional teachers and these kids come from different worlds with different value systems, habits and customs, and beliefs.

Check out these geek definitions and observations from Paul Glen (a self-avowed geek and now geek management guru):

Definition: "Geeks are the people who deliver technological innovation."

Early Success: "They tend to be drawn to computers at an early age...They are rewarded early in life for their aptitudes and demonstrations...Many geeks as a result retain a somewhat childlike outlook on the world, for better and worse. It shows iteself in their curiosity and playfulness. But it can also show in insensitivity, lack of self-awareness, and condescension."

Life of the Mind: "Geeks love intellectual activities. The engagement of knowledge, creativity, and logic is a lifelong pursuit for them."

Smart People: "Geeks share a reverence for smart people...They hold those with creativity, knowledge, ideas, and the ability to apply them in very high esteem."

Power and Loyalty: Power and Loyalty are "useless with Geeks"...and although "most geeks are relatively timid and quiet people, scratch the surface, and you will find a strong rebellious streak."

Does this sound a little familiar? The following take-home messages of Glen's seem to particularly resonate:

For Leaders of Geeks, or Teachers:

- Make Their Work Meaningful - this may involve reframing reality into their value structure
- Turn Projects into a Game with Defined Goals
- Some External Competition May Be Fine
- Surround with Skillful or Intelligent Peers, Be Intelligent Yourself
- Encourage Interdependence Between Groups
- Include in Decision Making
- Understand the Problem Solving Thinking Style of Geeks - Solving a Problem Helps Organize Their Ideas
- Fight Against Doubt and Dissonance
- Be Consistent
- Do Not Monitor Excessively
- Show Interest
- Offer Free Food Intermittently
- Avoid Artificial or Fluctuating Deadlines
- Insulate and Protect Geeks
- Help Acquire and Provide Resources, Perspective, and Meaning regarding their Work

The truth is, being a teacher or leader of kid geeks is a very exciting and fulfilling job, just like for the grownup versions. But being a great kid geek leader or teacher means understanding that your role, context, and relationship in your job are very different than in the non-geek world.

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