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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Constructing through Deconstructing: Using EMP to Understand the Digital Revolution



The first day of school was today and it was crazy for me -- as a teacher, 5 classes and 1 homeroom - with my IT hat - making sure all 100 computers and 3 servers were running, the new PowerLunch program went well and the upgraded gradebook to PowerTeacher was running smoothly.  Actually, it went very well (considering) today.

But, it was most exciting to me when I hit Computer Science first and second period. The first objective is to understand the digital revolution, and with some summer reading I had done this summer on EMP (electromagnetic pulse weapons and natural phenomenon) we started there.

If a nuclear device goes off in our upper atmosphere, the radiation that falls to earth will not kill us - instead it will knock out anything with a microprocessor.  It is pretty scary to think what could happen - but it hit me -- what better way to understand the impact of the digital revolution than to extricate everything digital from our lives to understand where an EMP would take us!

Now, the purpose here was not to cause fear (as I told my students) but to understand the digital revolution. It is also not to discuss the probability or viability of it even happening (there are many who feel that EMP's are very improbable and that the risks are overstated.) They've turned up all kinds of things affected by the digital revolution and had no idea!  I mean the obvious, cell phones, etc. but just how dependent we are on the microprocessor is blowing their minds!

The interesting thing for me is seeing how something can be taught by asking the OPPOSITE question -- they are agape at the digital revolution this way -- when last year, this topic met with a little bit of a yawn, like the digital revolution is old news for this generation.

Tomorrow, the students will tell their stories of a person and/or statistics about a society that is affected by an EMP.  Then, we will launch into a discussion about the digital revolution.

Also, as much as I love technology, as a farmgirl and practical sort of woman, I feel that it is important for my kids to know how to raise a garden, fish, and yes, hunt (although none of us really care for hunting, we make sure everyone knows how to do it - even my daughter.)  Being in the midst of an agrarian society, I see how much food is exported from this area, if refrigerators around this country went on a permanent hiatus, it would be pretty terrible (this is why my dad and many other farmers always state the importance of having food sources right here at home.)  While technology is great, we must always keep an eye out on the "what if" side of things and realize that it is better to plan ahead than to be sorry later.  Not panic, just plan.

The book, One Second After, tries to paint a picture of a post- EMP world, much like Alas, Babylon for schoolchildren of my generation.  And although most people agree that the picture painted in One Second After is extreme and that not as much failure would happen (not all electronic devices would fail and recent improvements in car shielding may actually mean that many more cars would work than earlier predicted), it is still a picture that I have in my mind of the dependence we have upon technology.

Approaching the digital revolution discussion by basically discussing a digital devolution created sparks and excitement on the first day.  It was also very interesting to see that two of my students used bing instead of Google and told me that they like it better (they saw the commercial.)  I am intrigued by that and will be talking to them more about it - looking into their minds is fascinating.

So, it has begun and the first day is always the toughest. 

On a personal note, I'm on week 4, day 1 of my Couch to 5K app and walked/ ran 3 1/4 miles today!  When I started 4 weeks a go, it was a mile and 1/4th -- what an improvement!  This great app on my itouch lets me be coached and listen to my music - I LOVE IT!  So, I do not wish for all this great technology to go anywhere any time soon - it has improved my life in so many ways, however, things taken for granted have a way of tapping us on the shoulder and taking vacations.

As a parent, I want my children to embrace and be fluent in technology but also, totally fluent on taking care of the basic needs of being human and perhaps this discussion is also causing my students to ponder this duality of ability and draw their own conclusions.
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