Just turn the controller around

I took my 6 year old to the dentist last week.  As soon as he walked in the waiting room, I could tell that he was far more excited than he should be at the dentist – no offense to dentists.  His eyes got wide and he marched directly across the room to a video game station.  It was as if the clouds had parted and everything was all of a sudden as it should be.

As far as I know he’s never played video games before, although I’m sure he’s heard a lot about them at school and from some of his friends.  The game that was ready for him was called Raymond Runs and all he needed to do was hit start and he would be playing his first game.  He picked up the controller and looked quizzically at the knobs and buttons.  I could almost hear the wheels spinning in his head.  But then there was a problem.  He turned the controller around so that the handles faced the screen.  It was as if he thought he was going to use the pointy handles as weapons.  He had it completely backwards and he couldn’t figure out how he was supposed to get his little hands around this thing.

I watched for a minute as his dreams of playing his first video game were starting to crumble.  Then I leaned over and said, “What if you turn the controller around?”

That’s all he needed.  By the time he got called into the dentist he had passed the first 6 levels.  He quickly (by simple trial and error) figured out how to run and jump and punch and float and grab onto things.  He figured out where to step and where not to step.  He figured out that there were certain characters that would help him and others that would force him to start all over.  He was allowed to fail over and over and through that failure, he started to problem solve.  All that he needed from me was help pointing the controller in the right direction (and he probably would have figured that out on his own too if I had just let him.)

It was fun to watch and it made me think about my students.  I introduced Photoshop today to my freshmen tech students.  I pulled up a blank canvas on the big screen in my classroom and I just started to play.  I tested different tools, layers, colors, and effects.  They watched for a minute and then I asked them to play with Photoshop at their workstations.  It was a delight to walk the room and witness innovation and problem solving.  It was fun to watch a student figure something out and get so excited about it that he had to show his neighbors.

After about 30 minutes, I had each student complete this sentence with a single word: “Photoshop is _______.”

I love the responses.

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