#ISTE11: NWP's Inaugural Hack Jam

Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever , an exploration of the opportunities to fiddle with text and writing and code on the Internet.  It was a useful event for me, as we were able to think and play with ideas about what “hacking” means right now, and how it’s about reading and writing and thinking.

Masterfully facilitated by Chad Sansing and Meenoo Rami, the event took us to some interesting places and conversation.  Here’s my recap.

We started the day in table groups with a box of Monopoly and a simple task – hack the game.  Chad and Meenoo explained that our task was to fiddle with the rules until we found a game that was better than the one we were handed – and so Sandy and Gail and I tinkered our way through a version of Monopoly that was all about freebies.  Other groups fiddled to make the game about tossing pieces and giving to charity.  It was good1.

But the point of the hacking was to give us an opportunity to explore that games and systems have rules – rules that were made by people.  And we can mess with those rules if we understand the underlying principles involved.  That’s powerful learning – and applies not just to board games, but to school, and to work, and to civic engagement and to computer systems or the Internet.

Hacking matters.  Douglas Rushkoff would say that we need to Program or Be Programmed, but I’d fiddle with that statement and say instead that we need to hack or be hacked.  Someone made the rules and systems of the Internet, power structures, as John Spencer called them during out conversation yesterday.  And, as others have said before, we’ve got to help our students fiddle with them, understand them, and, hopefully, change them.

We moved from that work into a visual exploration of our definition of hacker – folks focused on several things, but I was reminded of MacGyver, and thought of duct tape and wrenches and making things out of what we’ve available.  Purposeful play.

This led to some interesting conversation that I think was my key takeaway from the day2.  Paul Allison, who is always thoughtful, wrote this during the workshop:

My first thought is that hacking sounds like an important idea, but really? Do we need another word that takes teachers out of the mainstream “common core” standards conversation? Does hacking get my students more college-ready? Like gaming, isn’t hacking just another thing that pushes the risk-takers into the margins, and makes risk-adverse teachers run? How do we find a way to be more inclusive in our language and processes? Is it just a language thing? What else might we call hacking?

Later on, Paul continues3:

So part of why we hack has to do with understanding our sources more deeply, and this is absolutely an academic concern. But don’t we need words like “analytical reading” and carefully sourced research? Right so what else might we call hacking? It’s about creativity, but it’s also about making new things by really understanding the old, and this is a traditional, academic exercise.

I’m looking for language that will encourage the risk-adverse teacher to join with us in these enterprises.

And that’s what I leave thinking about.  Hacking matters.  Academic reading and writing matter.  And they’re not unrelated things.  Groups like the know an awful lots about good reading and writing practice, and are exploring thoughtfully things like gaming and hacking – but can they do so in a way that doesn’t scare off the “risk-adverse teacher,” as Paul asks?

I think we need the National Writing Project and folks like them to help navigate these spaces, and to explore them thoughtfully with teachers – and to help folks recognize that reading and writing and thinking and gaming and hacking are related – but in a way that doesn’t lead to further fragmentation and paradox.  I think we need teachers to play, like we played in the Hack Jam, with the rules and ideas that affect them.

Yes, let’s teach kids to hack.  Both the Internet and Shakespeare.  Minecraft and Fitzgerald.  Wordle and essay.  Picture and paragraph.  Logarithm and link. Tweets and Tennyson.  Second Life and the State Legislature.  It’s a big world.

Worth doing.  If you get the chance to attend a future NWP Hack Jam – you should go. I’ll see you there.

  1. Because it was a event, there were snacks.  Good ones. []
  2. And I know I’ve buried the lead, but that’s okay. []
  3. Read the whole piece.  It’s good and I can’t stop thinking about it. []

3 thoughts on “#ISTE11: NWP's Inaugural Hack Jam

  1. Very thoughtful post. To me, the connection of hacking to writing also includes a consideration for responsible and ethical behavior. I’m reminded about the idea that given enough time a room full of monkeys and typewriters (or keyboards) will eventually recreate the entire works of Shakespeare, but that also implies a lot of writing that would be hurtful, defamatory, or even destructive. A call to hack is a call to bring into question the rules of the road, it calls us to think about the way we think. That questioning puts us in a position to think, and in the classroom, that’s almost always a good thing. For those of us not attending ISTE this year, thanks for bringing us along and I for one am looking forward to your sharing the rest of the conference.

  2. I couldn’t help but think about the larger institution that houses formal and mandated, learning: schools. Schools are made: not given enterprises that arose alongside democracy, regardless of how we might want to situate them, romanticize them. So what happens when yo “hack” school, reveal the given truth as something less than given–something that might reveal “truth” as power. What if we deconstructed terms like “career and college-ready” or “common core”. What does it mean to be “career and college-ready”? Common to whom? Are these aims for education?

    Deconstructing, pushing against the edges of ideas, matters and perhaps hacking is nothing more or less than a way of (re)presenting such actions. I know of nothing more important than this to a democracy–that its young people learn to push, to reveal edges, to think nomadically, and situate themselves and us in ways that make us a bit uncomfortable, unsettled.

    Hack the system we call, school?

    If only.

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