(Welcome to a special series on GrowingUpAustin.com, A Lithuanian Story – All the Way From Texas. I am traveling to Lithuania this summer to teach storytelling at A.P.P.L.E., an education conference that I first taught at almost twenty years ago. The new conference is fully of mystery and adventure. The first conference gave me stories I have been telling ever since. So, I decided to write about the trips here. If you have just joined, here is a summary of the posts. I’ll return to writing about hiking, live music and art for Austin kids when I get back in July. Information is always available at AustinKidsHike.com (hiking), AustinKidsDance.com (live music) and AustinKidsDraw.com (art).)
When I started this series, Babs asked this question, “What was Lithuania like the first time, in 1995?” I could answer this in a hundred different ways that won’t fit in a blog post, so I’ll pick one.
Some times even the best made plans don’t work out.
A few minutes into teaching my prepared lessons in the Computer Science strand, I had to ditch my lessons and make everything up.
The APPLE coordinator for this strand explained that the Lithuanian teachers wanted to know about computers, but most of them worked in schools that didn’t have computers and many of them hadn’t used a computer before.
I thought I came up with a creative solution. Computer Science theory uses symbol sets and rules of behavior that represent computer logic. The exercises can be done with pencil and paper. Computer Science theory doesn’t allow you to write a document or a program or do anything at all practical, but it allows a person to have a deeper understanding of what was going on inside the machine.
It felt like a good plan and it gave me confidence. My teaching experience was with adults in Junior College. Some of the students were eighteen-years-old, just out of High School and learning programming for the first time. But, others were older and more experienced. It could be that they had programmed for fifteen years, written patented, scientific algorithms and directed computer safety at the nuclear power plant, they were just taking my class to pick up a new programming language. It was a trick of confidence and grace, when teaching students with more experience than me.
Now, I felt confident. I had impressive and profound Computer Science theory lectures to present to students who could not be intimidating, because they were starting at the very beginning.
That is what I felt, anyway.
Until I started my first lesson.
I began with the initial explanation of what a symbol set is and an example of a rule. I paused every sentence or two for the interpreter to translate. I was looking around the room for clues that the students were engaged and interested.
Then, a woman raised her hand. She held up a 5 1/4 inch floppy disk. (Do you remember the kind that really were floppy?) She asked, through the interpreter, “How can I tell what is on this?”
The other students shook their heads up and down. They wanted to know too. They were not interested in Computer Science theory.
Computers may not be in their school now, but they were on the way, and they wanted to know what the computers could do and how they could get them to do it.
I set aside my lecture notes. I saw before me two weeks and twenty hours of class time that I was no longer prepared for. I drew the basic diagram on the board – CPU, RAM, inputs, outputs and storage. We would start at the beginning.
Stay tuned for the next post about why an American teacher, who was born in Lithuania, was the brave one.