PROCESS POST: What Guy Hoffman Could Teach Us About Our School Day!

There are so many reasons for educators to watch the TED talk below – “Guy Hoffman: Robots with Soul.” As for me, I am paradoxically inspired, mesmerized, puzzled and saddened by Hoffman’s talk.

When I watch and listen to Hoffman, I think of what he must have been like as a K-12 student. What amazing curiosity, drive, passion, and persistence this learner must have had – must continue to have. Through his work, I am inspired by what contributions robotics and roboticists will make in our lives.

And yet I am saddened by the conversations I can imagine that some (many?) schools would have regarding the content and context of such an idea-generating talk.

“What department would we place this course in? He wants to build robots as part of his learning, so it must be ‘Engineering Class,’ right?”

“We don’t have a course called ‘Engineering.’ Maybe we just put it in physics?”

“But how would we cover all the stuff we are already doing in physics? There’s no time or room to add robotics like this in my course.”

“Could it go in a math class? Hoffman mentions math in the talk, doesn’t he?”

“No, it should go in Drama class. Weren’t you listening? He said he took a drama course and method acting is what really helped him break through in the contrast between the computing mind and the adventurous mind.”

“But Drama is just a semester elective. Our kids could never get this work done in just a semester, given the basics of acting that we need to cover.”

“It should go in computer animation, when we get that class up and running.”

“What about psychology? He talks about emotions, and our ‘Human Psych’ course is the only course that has ’emotions’ in the learning outcomes.”

“Why not biology? After all, he is using human biology as a mechanism for understanding how to make the robots more ‘human.'”

“Are you kidding me? When would we have time to build robots in 10th grade biology? It’s AP, for goodness sake?”

“Look, if he wants this to be part of his schooling, he’s gonna need to find a faculty sponsor, and the faculty member will need to create a course proposal. It’s already December, so our deadline is passed. Any course proposal would need to be submitted by NEXT December, and then we might add the course the FOLLOWING year, if the academic committee approves the course. And forget about team teaching with a math, drama, physics, and biology teacher-team. That’s way too many resources to commit to an elective, non-essential course.”


OR — we could build in time during the school day for passion-driven, cross-curricular learning. So what if the 17-year-old version of Guy Hoffman’s idea doesn’t fit neatly into one of the silo-ed, department-organized, subject-area courses? Those course structures only represent part of our school day and school week. We don’t just organize by departmental subject area. We co-organize by student-interest and make space for just this kind of exploring, searching, questioning, experimenting, and integrating.

After all, we know that to nurture innovators, they must have time, room, and opportunity to practice observing, questioning, experimenting, networking, and associating.

Oh that we might make it so. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?