In baseball they say, "Hit 'em where they ain't." In education, I think the phrase needs to be, "Teach 'em where they are."
Bringing technology into the classroom is an obvious goal and a worthy one. But it's not the only way to enhance learning in the gaming era. We can use technology to bring lessons to students on the devices they use, showing up with an activity that's engaging and cool -- outside the classroom.
The technology industry has a vested interest in getting kids interested in math, science, and engineering -- besides the fact that science and technology will enhance their lives, we hope to hire a number of them someday. We know an engaging educational experience is the key. We also know that learning by doing takes place every hour they're awake, wherever they are. And where they are today is on mobile devices like the iPad.
We recently invested resources in a new iPad app that we're not even charging for, and we're not hiding the science underneath it either. The free game offers challenging engineering puzzles and physics problems in which players toy with gadgets and assemble machines, then test and share their contraptions. Our thinking is that as students tinker with a video game like "erector set," they'll become engaged in the physics and mechanics underlying their creations. We also hope that they begin to understand that composing a simple invention is not twice as hard as composing a sentence. Not to mention the fact that it's at least as much fun.
There is a common perception that we need to sneak engineering references by kids because they think of science as boring or uncool, but research we recently conducted shows that isn't true. Yes, they think of engineering as twice as hard as other subjects, like English, but they also think it's important and suspect it may hold the key to their careers.
Technology companies have a great deal to offer education and the products they create are a key part of making the classroom more relevant to the workplace students will one day enter. But if we want students to be inspired to invent, we have to find inventive ways to engage them -- on their turf, in a way they like to be engaged. We don't even have to pretend we're not doing it.