The 8 Year Old Hacker

Rethinking our Unconscious Bias about Tech Skills and Ability

Written by Stephen Baker, Head of Education at STEMSmart, previously known as Fire Tech Australia.

In my travels as a teacher I recently discovered   story about a student in year 3 who thoroughly surprised all teachers with their ingenuity, creativity (and most of all, straight up stubbornness) to create YouTube content in the wee early hours of the morning.

Luckily at school, staff had discovered they were creating and posting video content on a self-made YouTube channel after sending invites to teachers to subscribe. After bringing the potential safety and privacy concerns to the family, the teachers were astounded to discover the parents had no idea this was happening! In fact, the student was using their parent’s phone to record and post onto YouTube! Sneaking into their room, using the fingerprint scanner on a parents sleepy arm to unlock the phone – then recording and posting away! They were even smart enough to delete the evidence after the fact.

The fact that this was achieved by a 3rd grader is pretty impressive. Whats even more remarkable is that this student was academically under-achieving, well below their age and year group. In fact, they could barely read and write. So where did this desire to produce, to share, to engineer their own access to creating content with tech come from? How does a student who is nearly illiterate and potentially unable to focus on lessons in a mainstream class come up with the idea to do something like this?

As an educator this was one of those aha moments where I looked at what we do, how we teach, how individuals learn – and question methodology. It reminded me of my first ever university lecturer imparting his wisdom upon us as undergrads… “If there was a perfect way to teach, we’d be doing it…” Luckily, equipped with this new knowledge, teachers and family have new skills to explore together and a great tool to discover further learning.

Every individual learns in their own unique way, so do we as teachers – it is our continual challenge to determine how to support all learners. Questioning our own bias about tech skills and ability to create is a great place to start.