Let's K12 Better

Let’s Talk About Redefining Geek with Cassidy Puckett

May 21, 2022 Amber Coleman-Mortley (@MomOfAllCapes) Season 3 Episode 8
Let’s Talk About Redefining Geek with Cassidy Puckett
Let's K12 Better
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Let's K12 Better
Let’s Talk About Redefining Geek with Cassidy Puckett
May 21, 2022 Season 3 Episode 8
Amber Coleman-Mortley (@MomOfAllCapes)

What does it mean to be “good” with technology? What are the 5 hidden habits of tech-savvy teens? How can educators and parents support technology learning habits in young people?

In this episode, we sat down with Cassidy Puckett, assistant professor of sociology at Emory University. Cassidy is the author of REDEFINING GEEK: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens. Cassidy brings us research findings on digital equity; tangible tips for supporting young people of all backgrounds as they navigate (and build) technology; and suggestions on how we adults can reframe our understanding of what is the root cause of the STEM pipeline issue.

Connect on Social Media:

Check out Cassidy Puckett’s research, books, and more on her website!

Additional Resources:

Use the code UCPSOC for 20% off the book.
A portion of the proceeds goes to Urban Promise Academy in Oakland, CA!

Send us your community letters!

Are you saddled with a troubling situation? Curious to hear what we think about a certain issue? Send us your questions! Your query may end up on the Let’s K12 Better podcast in our community letters section.  Send your celebrations and questions to this form or email us: LetsK12Better@gmail.com

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter: https://bit.ly/LetsK12BetterMail
*Love our podcast? Rate. Review. Share!

Music written and produced by Garvey Mortley. 
The Let’s K12Better podcast is written and produced by Amber Coleman-Mortley, Garvey Mortley, Naima Mortley, and Sofia Mortley.

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What does it mean to be “good” with technology? What are the 5 hidden habits of tech-savvy teens? How can educators and parents support technology learning habits in young people?

In this episode, we sat down with Cassidy Puckett, assistant professor of sociology at Emory University. Cassidy is the author of REDEFINING GEEK: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens. Cassidy brings us research findings on digital equity; tangible tips for supporting young people of all backgrounds as they navigate (and build) technology; and suggestions on how we adults can reframe our understanding of what is the root cause of the STEM pipeline issue.

Connect on Social Media:

Check out Cassidy Puckett’s research, books, and more on her website!

Additional Resources:

Use the code UCPSOC for 20% off the book.
A portion of the proceeds goes to Urban Promise Academy in Oakland, CA!

Send us your community letters!

Are you saddled with a troubling situation? Curious to hear what we think about a certain issue? Send us your questions! Your query may end up on the Let’s K12 Better podcast in our community letters section.  Send your celebrations and questions to this form or email us: LetsK12Better@gmail.com

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter: https://bit.ly/LetsK12BetterMail
*Love our podcast? Rate. Review. Share!

Music written and produced by Garvey Mortley. 
The Let’s K12Better podcast is written and produced by Amber Coleman-Mortley, Garvey Mortley, Naima Mortley, and Sofia Mortley.

Support the Show.


Let’s Talk About Redefining Geek with Cassidy Puckett


technology, STEM, tech-savvy teens, digital media, parenting tips, K12 education, students, educational equity, digital divide, girls in STEM, bilingual students, research


Amber Coleman-Mortley 
Garvey Mortley 
Naima Mortley 
Sofia Mortley 
Cassidy Puckett, Emory University


Amber Coleman-Mortley  00:07

Hi! Welcome to the Let’s K12 Better podcast. This podcast is a project between me, MomOfAllCapes, and my kids.

Group  00:19


Garvey  00:23

In our podcast, we will cover a variety of subjects involving K12 education and family life. 

Naima  00:28

We will talk about the ways that parents, kids, and educators can improve K12 Education and family life.

Naima  00:35

Hit subscribe to get alerts when new episodes drop; and follow us on social media @LetsK12Better  

Sofia  00:40

Let’s jump into Season 3, Episode 8 of the LetsK12Better Podcast

Garvey  01:02

In this episode, we sat down with Cassidy Puckett, assistant professor of sociology at Emory University. Cassidy is the author of REDEFINING GEEK: Bias and the 5 Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens.  

Naima  01:15

Cassidy Puckett’s work explores 5 hidden habits of tech-savvy teens: 

Garvey  01:20

Number 1) being willing to try and fail 

Sofia  01:24

Number 2) managing frustration and boredom

Garvey  01:27

Number 3) using models like people and information to help with in the learning process.  

Naima  01:32

Number 4) “design logic”... thinking about why a technology is designed the way that it is and comparing your goals to that design 

Sofia  01:41

Number 5) “efficiencies” - seeking out more efficient ways of using technology, things like shortcuts or using keyboard commands.  We hope that you enjoy this conversation.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  01:59

We are delighted to have Cassidy Puckett, assistant professor of sociology at Emory University. Cassidy is the author of REDEFINING GEEK: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens - a topic that sounds right up our alley. Welcome to the podcast, Cassidy.

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  02:20

Thank you, I am so thrilled to be here. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  02:23

Oh, my gosh, we are so excited to have you. I'm really interested in this topic. I'm interested to hear more about your book, I think you have a lot to share with our community. So let's just jump right in with our first question of having our listeners get to know you. Can you quickly tell us about yourself? And like why you focused on geekiness? You know, as the study that you pursued, right? And, you know, like the habits component of this, as opposed to like skills and literacies. But first, who are you Cassidy first?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  02:58

Well, so all of this really started. And as I described in the book, this all started when I was teaching technology courses at this beautiful Middle School, in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland, California, I had gone out to California to as part of an AmeriCorps position following college, and I continued to work with a local school in the neighborhood that that I really loved. And I taught web design, and robotics. I was there for about six years. And so that that focus on on, you know, habits instead of skills and literacies. So when I was teaching, you know, there were lots of ideas I sort of went for Okay, so what are the standards like, this is the early 2000s. And I thought the smart thing to do would be to, you know, somebody must have the answer to this question of what are the learning goals? What are what should my students know and be able to do? And I found, so it wasn't that there wasn't anything, there was a lot of things. So all kinds of literacies, all kinds of skills. They could use all kinds of different, you know, applications, lots of ideas. But what I noticed was that there was really nothing that was focusing on the learning process. And of course, already by that time, I knew and many people knew that technologies they change. Right? 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  04:40

Right, right. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  04:41

So in order to stay skillful, it's it's not like something where you learn your ABCs and then you learn your words and you learn sentences and then you're you can read like chapter books and that there's this kind of progression it's, well you you know how to use this one type of technology, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can use another type of technology or do something else with the technology. So there isn't that kind of progression really. And so you really need to have a way to continually build your skills and literacies. And research shows that people who are experts in the field know this, they're constantly learning. And I'm sure people who are, you know, much more, you know, advanced much more, you know, sort of knowledgeable in, in the tech industry, that the skills that they learned very early in the early days, the languages that they knew don't apply at all today, right? So it's a constant learning, but there was nothing for me as a teacher to understand. Okay, so what is it that will help my students in that learning process? And how do I prepare them for a constantly changing tech landscape, there was just not anything there to help me. And that's what, that's what got me focused on on habits.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  06:13

I just really love the way that you're leaning into learning technology, and aligned with how technology just exists, right? As you said, it's not the static experience, it's an ever evolving experience. And so, you know, skills and literacies are often these concrete concepts. Whereas habits can bend and evolve, you know, with the space as we move forward together. So I just, I just want to I really appreciate that a ton. Can you just share, like why you got into education at all in the first place?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  06:52

Why did I get involved in education? That was really simple. I, I had an American Studies and Latin American Studies degree, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life, I thought maybe photo journalist, something creative. But I also liked sharing whatever it was that I was excited about with other people. And also, I was in that AmeriCorps job, part of my job was to establish relationships with local schools. And one of the very first people that I met was a person named David Montes de Oca, who was a teacher at this humongous middle school, called Calvin Simmons. And he invited me to come and to visit Calvin Simmons, to observe the he had created an after school program called Urban Arts Academy, it was amazing program. And he just said, come visit, observe, see what we're doing. And that is really what got me hooked. It was like, ah, there is so much... You know, these kids are really invested and excited. And I really wanted to be a part of that it was very creative. So that really got me hooked. The technology kind of came as this other interest that I was cultivating and learning along with my students. So I think I honestly, I think the creativity and the education piece of it came first.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  08:26

I love that. And you know, in many ways, the best educators are those that are passionate and intrigued and inspired by their own interest and can share those interests with the young people in their lives. So yes to all of that. So we'll move to our next question. You know, we want to establish this framework of understanding about what you've researched, and what you've dedicated a lot of time to for our listeners. So in order for someone to become tech proficient, can you tell us what are the like, maybe three to five or all five habits, you know that in your opinion that they'll need?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  09:10

Yeah, so I will share those five habits. But first, I want to say how I figured out it was the five habits and 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  09:19


Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  09:20

That is a really, really important piece of the of the puzzle. And the way that I did that. And so I you know, I mentioned that I was working at the school Urban Promise Academy, which is a wonderful school. It continues to this day. It's wonderful. And I knew in my role at the school, I had, you know, my ear to the ground hearing about all these wonderful programs that were going on all across the country. And I also got recommendations from other educators about programs where the population of the kids involved in these programs was not the same at all of the folks that we see in tech industry. So you know, one, one way that you could study, alright, so you know, what helps people learn new technologies and become experts is to study people who are in industry. But that's a very narrow slice of who is, you know, included in technological expertise. And so I really wanted to study the kids who were really good at learning. And so I did that by going to just a handful of these wonderful programs. You know, it's, it's operating under the assumption that there's a much more diverse tech, that there's much more diverse tech talent in this country, and going to those kids to say, Okay, what does it really mean to be good with technology and not, you know, creating bias just in who I'm studying, right? 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  11:08

So I knew these kids existed. And so that's who I went to, they are the learning experts. And so I follow those kids, I observe them in these programs, I ask them, what helps them. I looked for their thoughts, actions and feelings, as they learned, and some of this isn't, it isn't pretty or perfect. It's a learning process, it's messy. And they said that there are five habits that that really helped them. And so the three of them are general habits that could help you in any area of learning. But I translate them to, you know, what they look like when learning new technologies. And so those three general habits are a willingness to try and fail, managing frustration and boredom, and using information and people as models in the learning process. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  12:15

So those are the three general technology learning habits, and the other two are technology specific. And those two are what I call design logic. So that's thinking about why a technology is designed the way that it is, and how that relates to your goals, what you want to do with it. And then the last one is something I call efficiencies. And that's faster ways of using technologies, understanding that there are ways to use technologies faster and trying to find them. So things like keyboard commands, it just, it makes it so much easier, you don't have to think about okay, now I need to press this button, and then this vibe of you, you know how to do that. And that's not just a way for you to feel confident, and for you to be faster, and more adept at any kind of technology that you are trying to pick up. It also signals to other people. Because I heard this over and over again. Oh, well, how do you know that? You know, Stephanie is really good with technology. Oh, because she has these little tricks, right? And they would do something with their hands. These kids and they that that would be the signal of like, you know, the special keyboard commands. And and those two tech specific habits are definitely need explanation. They're a little bit more hidden. But they really signal, you know, being a part of the tech savvy, the geek. Those are, those are the geeks are when they have those tricks.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  13:59

Can I just say I really, my kids, you know, they definitely are always leaning in and helping me with the efficiencies portion. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  14:10


Amber Coleman-Mortley  14:11

Now they're like, Mom, you're so old. Let me tell you and I'm like, I'm not that old. Like I grew up with technology, you know. So I really appreciate you bringing forward expertise that young people can confidently share with the adults in their lives. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  14:31


Amber Coleman-Mortley  14:32

You honestly I just love all five of these habits honestly. Can you for our listeners who are educators and you know, parents and caregivers and trusted adults just share like, kind of like who the students were, that were part of, you know, your research or study or your classroom experiences just so they have a general idea of who these young people were.

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  14:54

Yeah. So in my class classes, the students in the schools were predominantly low income, predominantly from immigrant families. And they were largely Spanish, from Spanish speaking homes. The students that I studied who were these tech savvy teens and these award winning programs across the country, I oversampled, especially for students who were second language learners, heavily from Spanish speaking homes, that was something that I was really, you know, curious about, because I knew there were lots of these tech savvy teens who were, you know, bilingual, multilingual. And that was often in the literature seen as a deficit, but I thought, I don't know if I agree with that. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  15:45

Right. Right.

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  15:47

And so, and, and, you know, Black students, Latinx students, Indigenous students, really wanting to see the broad array of talent that we have in our country and really learn from them. So those are the kids who, who I studied. And those are the kids that I described, in written nice, rich detail in the book, it was so much fun to, you know, what I saw in them bring those stories to life, in in the chapters about the habits.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  16:24

Okay, thank you so much. And I thank you for just that clarification, and just helping to explain who these awesome young folks were. And also agree with this idea of, you know, if you are bilingual, you're thinking and viewing the world with two languages. So there is a level of intelligence there that many of us who are monolingual lingual, don't have access to definitely not a deficit. So I love the way you frame that I, which moves into kind of my next follow up for you is like, how can we understand, you know, why and how technology is designed to help us effectively use, you know, tech for our own advantage? Right. So essentially, leaning into your design logic pillar or design logic habit? Can you explain that a little bit more for our for our listeners?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  17:21

Yeah, so design logic. It starts with the basic idea that there is some kind of framework that the designers were using in any kind of technology that you see. One of the things that that was, you know, communicated, very clearly, in all of these programs, was that logic. Like, why? Why would people design something the way that and and the example that I love to give is, and is technologies that are designed based on physical objects. I mean, we can think of this as like a desktop with the file folders, right? That's not the way that everybody thinks, and not everybody has seen a physical filing cabinet. This point, right, so. So even that idea, it's called Skeuomorphic Design, it's when it's supposed to reflect something in the physical world. And I saw that all over the place, I saw that, especially in with programs that you know, where there is some kind of technology that is designed for music, for example, where it's supposed to be a piece of hardware, where you plug things physically into it, or you turn it all the way around to the backside of it. And you know, how is the kids supposed to supposed to know this? 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  18:57

And so often, what I would see is, adults, in these programs telling the kids well, you know, it's supposed to be designed as though you're plugging in this different piece of software. So you click these buttons to turn it around, so that you can plug those in, because it doesn't just automatically know what you want to do, you have to understand that there are things that you have to plug in, or things that you have to turn on, or things that you have to turn it around, you know, in a virtual sense. And that's really reflecting what you would do in a physical sense. And so sometimes they would even show kids what those old technologies look like. And this was something that I saw all over the place actually people for example, in Mouse squad, which was a summer program in New York that I found followed, it was a actually a relationship between Geek Squad and and Mouse. And they would have the kids physically open old computers to see. Okay, so how do these things connect? And you'd think, well, maybe that's not so, you know, important today or, you know, the technology has changed so much. But it gives kids a starting framework of visual and physical framework for understanding and also an understanding that you are fully capable of taking that design and messing with it. Right, you have things that you want to do with it. And so maybe it's reconfiguring things. One of the things I used to love in my and this is going to date me for sure. But the things that I used to love to do in my web design class as a teacher, was Myspace.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  21:02

I had one, I reluctantly moved over to Facebook. Yes, I was one Black Planet. Before MySpace, so like, you know, [laughter]

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  21:12

Yes. So, you know, MySpace, you could use cascading style sheets, you could use HTML in those programs. So I mean, they looked terrible. But

Amber Coleman-Mortley  21:27

I was proud of my page. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  21:28

Exactly. And student I had students who would like, you know, message me and be like, how do I do the crosshairs thing, and I would tell them, and that is coding. And it was all because the architecture was open, or more open than many things today. But that's the kind of thing like there is a logic to technology's design, and you have things that you, you know, as a, as a user, as a learner, that you I want to do this thing with this technology. In some cases, that's possible. In some cases, it's not. In some cases, it takes some hacks to get it, you know, working the way that you want to your goals for it. And just understanding that that is a part of the process of learning technologies is something that's really beneficial to kids.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  22:22

I absolutely love that. And so now I have a word for some of the things that I kind of conversations I have with my own kids. Right. So now I'm gonna start using design logic. Right? Yeah. Because I say it and, you know, well, what do you think the people who made this were thinking when they made this? That's what I say. So. Yes, logic. Excellent. So have another follow up question. Right? Just about how teens from so you've been you've worked with and studied and, you know, taught kids with historically marginalized backgrounds, right. So how do kids from these historically marginalized communities already use the five habits? And, you know, why are these powerful habits and how they've been used, you know, overlooked and rarely rewarded?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  23:21

Yeah. It's something that I, I think I already fundamentally understood this when I started, right. But to really unpack that and see what was happening, what I decided to do was create a measure of the habits. So I have something that's called the Digital adaptability scale, or DHS, and it's 15 items real quick, you know, kids take about maybe five minutes to fill it out. It's just a bunch of statements that, that capture the breadth and depth of the development of the five habits. And so I had this measure, I used it with almost 900 kids, you know, all across Chicago, in a survey from 27 different schools, there's a little map and the book of all the different places that kids lived in, in my sample, you know, in the study sample, so a very diverse group of kids. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  24:29

And I looked at okay, so what are the differences by race, class and gender in terms of the development of these habits because there's a lot of assumptions flying around, especially with digital divide rhetoric of... 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  24:43

So true so true, 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  24:44

...you know, always this expectation that like lower income kids, you know, there's access divide and so therefore, they don't have skills and the skills mean that they don't reap the benefits of technologies and I, I it just wasn't connecting with the things that I was already observing as a teacher and in schools, and when I was, you know, doing my preliminary research. So I had this survey, and what I found in my analysis is that there were no statistically significant differences by race, ethnicity or social class in these habits. And I presented that information and sort of academic setting. And someone said to me, oh, that seems like a missed opportunity. And I thought, that seems like racism and classism. So, you know, it's, it's bigger than that. And I even had people saying, Oh, well, you know, there aren't any race or class differences. So, you know, what's the point of your research really, if, if they're already using these habits sort of, like, then we don't need to, you know, there's, there's no intervention that's needed, in order to because the thinking is that with the digital divide, you've got kids who kind of need fixing. And that is not what I found, right? It's, it's really the environment that does not recognize and reward very talented kids and kids who are really ready for more. Right? 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  26:33

And, and yes, this might be a resource issue where, and I've seen it that schools don't have, you know, technology classes, like AP Computer Science, etc. Or they might live in neighborhoods where there's just nothing available, no, after school additional, you know, chances to really build these skills. But I've also seen, you know, people with with very low tech, things available to them doing amazing things. So it really depends on on how you use the technologies and and there's this treatment of technologies, even in the low income schools, that it's a reward. And often those rewards go to the kids who are seen as deserving that they sort of earned this extra time on the computers, they might finish their homework earlier or you know, classwork earlier, I saw this when I was doing the surveys, it was kind of the kids who finished faster, they got computer time, or, you know, they were helpful to the teacher. And so the teacher was sort of give them these extra benefits of technology learning. But that that really, really misses out on all of these kids who, who might need help, or they might really be ready for, you know, advanced learning opportunities, things that can challenge them things that really build on their, you know, the preexisting habits that are already developed outside of school. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  28:15

I love telling this story about a kid named Tomas, who was I was, you know, embedded in a school for about a month where I was following all these different kids with different levels of of habit development. And there was this student named Tomas, he was always late for school, he was the one who was causing trouble. And he was not actually identified to me for my study, and but I found out following another student, we were standing in line one day getting ready to go into science class, and we're all sort of like, lined up. And Tomas is just, you know, he's sort of dancing around and, and, you know, moving to the beat of his own drum. And someone said to me, Well, if you're interested in technology, like you should really talk to Tomas. And I said, really? I had never heard that. You know, I heard it from his peer. And he turns to me, and he's like, Yeah, I'm coding in C at home. And I'm like, Oh, my God, and he said, he, you know, he laughed, he said, I've got the blue screen of death right now. Right? So that's, that's, you know, managing his frustration very well, because he, you know, he messed up on his technology, but he thinks it's such a thrill. And, and then, you know, immediately he gets reprimanded by the teacher for not being in the straight line, and then we go into the classroom. It's a little portion that I described in the book. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  29:57

And it's just so clear to me that we're missing all this opportunity that's out there all of these kids who have so much to contribute. So that's the story that I tell over and over again. Because, you know, what I realized is that it's it's not about fixing kids, it's about fixing these environments where there's tremendous gatekeeping happening, right, the fact that Tomas was left out completely in a space, that's really important. Schools certified knowledge, they, you know, they tell people, this is a kid who knows this, we can we can hire him, we can move him into. So you know, we were in a K 12. School, excuse me, K to through eight school. So in high school, he's ready for, you know, computer science class, or what have you, if that's offered at the class, in the school. So it's a, it's an institutional certification of your knowledge. And that's key to a gatekeeping process that is just pushing... you know, we talk about a STEM pipeline problem, but I just think that we need to look at the culture and the structure of opportunity, that is really pushing them out and not recognizing their potential, and telling these stories about how they have to be fixed. And, you know, you know, habits and skills need to be developed. Well, I don't know that that's necessarily true. It's a it's a much, much more complicated picture.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  31:43

Okay, so hopefully, folks are gonna rewind, like a couple seconds ago, because I just love the whole way that you framed just every single part of this conversation that we've had, as far as school certifying knowledge. And your study is actually challenging us to reframe how we're seeing, quote, unquote, helping kids or teaching kids, because we're missing so many opportunities, with young people, with technology, and in so many other places, as well. So we can literally apply what you've learned to so many other fields where folks are missing out. So I just thank you so much. I have another follow up question about just gender, right, and gender gaps and how we address gender gaps. You know, there's also lots of rhetoric about girls being behind and girls not, you know, engaging in the STEM fields, et cetera, et cetera. So, you know, is there anything that you'd love to share when it comes to gender?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  32:43

Yes, so one of the years of my web design class, it just happened to be all girls. And so gender was something that I was really, really keen on understanding. I actually really thought that it would, because I've seen so many incredibly tech savvy girls, that I thought that the answer was going to be similar to these, you know, no differences by race or class. That actually is not what I found. So this was a big surprise. For me. What I found was that those two technologies, specific habits, so design logic, and efficiencies, those things that really do have to be explained in some way. Those are the things that on average, not every single girl, and there are incredibly tech savvy girls described in the book, there's a girl named Jasmine, who I gave this like, challenge to, and she finished it in the fastest amount of time. So I don't want there to be this additional, you know, stereotyping of girls as deficient in some way in these habits. But on average, girls do have less development of design logic and efficiencies. And the way that I interpret that is that they're, they're these, they're not being shared with them, right? And you can imagine how this could happen and very, um, kind of mundane and not, not, you know, I'm trying to keep this girl out of tech fields. But, you know, just from like, video gaming, I had an older brother who was really, really good at video games. And he and his friends would talk about, oh, there's this secret move that you do here or a code over here that you plug in, you know, thinking about, for example, efficiencies. How do you find those out? Oftentimes it is through your peers. And so I think that there is more of that kind of culture among boys would be would be my my interpretation of that. So I don't think it's that that people aren't necessarily trying to leave them out. But certainly, these these types of technology specific habits are not being cultivated in with girls as much as boys. And so that would be something right away, to address with girls. And you know, I see this, I see that the interpretation of not having as developed learning habits in girls, they they interpret it as well, I'm just not good at this. And I see that I've saw that in my middle school students. I see that all the way up to college age students...

Amber Coleman-Mortley  35:43

Grown women Cassidy, grown women.

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  35:46

Grown women absolutely. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  35:47

I definitely said that and my kids have been like, you don't let us say that. So you can't.

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  35:53

Good for your kids. Good for your kids. Yeah, so that kind of like, Alright, so I'm going to reorient how I think about technological expertise. And it's really just, you know, it's not easy to find out why was this technology designed the way that it was? What are people thinking? How does this work? You know, what are what are some tricks? And how can I practice because it is practice, it is not going to be two seconds, and you're done. Right? This is a practice over time. And, and, and these, you know, tech savvy kids know this, and they're using it, and they're developing it. And so I think we can follow their example, especially girls.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  36:42

So many nuggets of wisdom. Yes, to all of the things. So Cassidy we're gonna take a quick break. And we'll be back with more with you. Because, you know, we have so much more to talk about in the second half of our conversation together.

Naima  36:59

Are you enjoying this episode with Cassidy Puckett? We hope so. We'll be right back with more of her wisdom and a bit. Wwhile you wait, hit subscribe, or give us five stars on Apple podcast!

Garvey  37:18

What's on your mind? Do you have a question, an issue, or a celebration to share? Send it to us and we’ll discuss it.  Share what’s on your mind… the link is in the description, or send your questions to LetsK12Better@gmail.com. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  37:35

This has been an illuminating conversation with Cassidy Puckett, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Emory University. I hope that you all have had your notebooks out, we've covered so many topics already. And we have so many more to go. So super excited for the second half of this conversation where we'll focus more on, you know, your book and the content in it. So you are the author Cassidy of REDEFINING GEEK: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens. I want to know who is this book for and how you envision this book being used?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  38:18

Well, you know, honestly, I think originally I did the research and I, I wrote the book thinking about people like me, educators, right. And I think that parents as well can use this book as as educators of children, quite frankly, over their entire life course. And so, yes, educators parents, I also think and would love for, for researchers and scholars to and policymakers to look at the book to see the argument that I'm making, especially how we think about how inequality functions in the 21st century. That is another audience that I would love to read the book as well. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  39:13

In terms of the question of how it should be used, so of course, it's going to be used in a different way by different audiences. The the big thing that I hoped that people would, you know, use the book in order to do is to reenvision what it means to be good with technology, to be a geek. And to push back to have something really practical those five habits use that to push back on the idea of natural ability. Anytime you hear it or you see it you can say no, actually, I know that. There are five habits that can help you and these are the these are the five habits, just having Those, that orienting belief that being good with technology is something that you develop that you it's a learning process, it's a learning process across the lifespan that can help you to also to develop the habits, that's the number one thing actually, I found in my research that helps kids is just having that idea that, that they, you know, what it means to be competent with technology is to develop learning habits. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  40:39

The other thing that can be done with the book because it describes the five learning habits in detail, it also describes how to measure them, how to observe them both qualitatively and quantitatively, why they're important for kids' future aspirations. And then, in one of the chapters, I describe ways that we can understand where kids are developing these habits and ways of intervening as educators as parents, we might assume, for example, that kids are getting, you know, developing these habits in a school where there may well be a computer class. In the school that I just described, where I was embedded for a month, with, you know, where Tomas attended, that school did have a computer class and a computer teacher, which was remarkable, because we had, you know, we didn't have a full time computer teacher in the school where I worked in California. So, you know, you might make that assumption, okay, this school has a computer teacher, they must be learning these habits. But in fact, one of the things that I found is that, and this probably is not surprising, that those computer classes often get taken, taken over by testing. So in the entire month that I was there, and I was following these kids around, you know, they had computer class, they had it once a week. And every single one of those classes, except for one was devoted to test prep. And then the only class where they actually learned something about technology was learning how to use Microsoft Word to put to insert a picture into Microsoft Word. And they did that through step by step instruction, press this, press this, press this, it was not it was not dynamic, it was not creative. It was not based on, you know, students interests, or any kind of real life application of learning. So...

Amber Coleman-Mortley  42:57

That also sounds like a huge like, wamp, wamp, wamp...

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  43:00

Yeah, yes. I think it was really that the in the technology teacher talked to me about it and said that, you know, he had this very well developed curriculum. But you know, we're down to like, one hour, what can we do with one hour? And kind of very little, and so it just ended up being focused on on that one thing. And so, you know, how this book can be used is to understand what is that learning context like for students, and assuming that it's not going to be the same for even the same kids in the same schools, because there are some kids who are considered more deserving than others and get opportunities at school than other kids. And but then those kids might be getting, which I found quite a bit, they might be getting it outside of school and wonderful programs, or at home with, you know, wonderful parents or peers that are sharing these kinds of things. And so it's just understanding what's going on in kids lives is another thing. And I described the ways that award winning programs develop each of the five habits. And so there's some very concrete like, try this, try this. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  44:22

One of the big things that I saw that parents could do today is to ask their kids to use different kinds of technologies. So Digital Youth Network in Chicago did this thing where they developed what they call the Renaissance Learner. So they had students, maybe they were recording music, you know, a song. And so it wouldn't just be a song. They might create an album that they have to make you know, the cover art for it, they have to make a video they do a, you know, a publicity release all kinds of things using technologies in different ways in service to that one project. And so it gives the, the, you know, technology learning some context and some investment by the students. And it helps them to practice the habits as they move from one technology to the other to the other. And there are all kinds of activities that are available for free on websites like code.org, and Girls Who Code. There's many, many online communities where they have all kinds of ideas about different activities, and they don't have to be fancy technologies, many of these kinds of resources are free online. And so that's one of the things that I that I say, in the book, you know, offering different ways that parents and educators can help kids. And then of course, there's understanding gatekeeping. And when that's happening, especially in schools, where where knowledge is, is certified.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  46:25

Yes, yes to all of that. I just want to go back to, you know, parents, educators, you said policymakers and other researchers, so y'all, you know, forward this to your policymaker, you know, your school or district leaders, they could all benefit from reading Cassidy's work. So I really, really appreciate you for that. And I appreciate you again, just reiterating this, you know, idea of habits being very important, you know, kind of debunking this idea about our talents, but our habits, habits, habits, habits. A friend of mine was helping my daughters learn to code and he was reminding them, you know, you gotta get your reps in, just like you would with lacrosse. Yes. You know, so, you know, like, Yeah, same. So you've talked about all these amazing resources, you've shared how your book can be used, can you quickly share like any more, right, like about any tips that parents caregivers, you know, trusted adults can use, as they help young people develop, you know, healthy habits, at home or at school or with friends?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  47:35

I think that the biggest thing, honestly, as adults is to just assume we don't know, right? We don't know what kids are capable of. We don't know what the, you know, what, what future technologies holds. And so it's, it's really a matter of, you know, using things like the Digital Adaptability Scale, to say, alright, I don't really know, like, you know, I might hand you a technology and you might struggle with it. What does that tell me? Well, let's, let's see, tell me, which of these habits are you? Do you already have, have you already developed in which, which are the ones that I can really help you with? So not necessarily, you know, assuming that all girls need design logic and efficiencies, but just saying, okay, so what, what, what, what have we got here, and then also assuming, not assuming that you that you might know what's going on at school or at home? And so I actually have some measures to help with asking those questions. They're really, really quick. It's, you know, basically asking, do they teach design logic at school, for example? And so there's a set of questions that I include in the book that anyone can use, parents, educators, just to understand, alright, what is this learning environment like for this particular child, that's, you know, really, really important. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  49:05

And, and one of the things that another thing that the kids said to me was, you know, and that they showed in these programs that every attempt at at trying these things was a success. And they would rejoice, they was just wonderful, magical to watch in these programs, they would say, you know, they would say, Oh, my God, I failed so terribly, and everyone was sort of like cheer, and keep going, because it was really the process. That was the achievement.

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  49:05

And then being okay... And I think, honestly, I think that parents could, I haven't studied this unnecessarily, but my instinct is that, you know, in order for, for parents to teach these habits, to really just practice them along with your kid, right? So there's a lot that that kids may know if, if the kid is, you know, stronger in in these habits, maybe the adult is stronger in some of the other habits and they can sort of share those back and forth. So it's understanding that it's a practice that you're doing together, and learning together and, and quite frankly, I think one of the things that a lot of people say as well, if I'm not good at technology, especially teachers, if I'm not the expert expert, then I can't teach these. I can't use it in my classroom. I can't teach these kids is what am I going to do? And I? Well, number one, nobody's an expert, as, as one of the kids who I, you know, followed in these award winning programs said to me, and this is when we were talking about management of frustration and boredom, he said to me, and forgive my language, I've said this on the radio a few times, and I, so forgive, forgive the lingo. He said, "You're going to suck." And that's true, you know, you're not going to be good. And you're probably, you know, you might get a little bit better, but you might continue to not be good. And that is the nature of technology learning. And it's something that you just kind of have to get used to, and, you know, not being a complete expert at everything, if you are, you know, sort of like taking your grip, off of having complete control. And that's kind of a part of the process is it's good modeling for kids. That process of being willing and open to learn new technologies. And I, I saw this with a grandparent teaching a very tech savvy student who I call Summa Lee, she was wonderful, she actually, you know, helped me to, to come up with the title of the book. I described her in the in the intro to the book. So her grandmother would ask her to do anything with technology didn't assume that, that she needed to know, which, which was kind of good that she didn't know how to use technologies in the, in the ways that she was asking her granddaughter to use it. And she was saying to her granddaughter, Here, take this technology, I'm not afraid of you trying to figure this out. And I have confidence that you will figure this out. Go ahead, try, fail, it doesn't matter. Right. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  52:39

I love that. I can definitely say that there is a bit of relief, involved in relinquishing control and being vulnerable, and allowing the young people in your lives to help you with technology. I've watched some very beautiful moments with my kids and their own grandmother, you know, navigating the iPad, or Facebook or some other technology, updating software on on a hardware device. And so, you know, just yes to all of that. I can definitely agree with all of that. I do want to, because we have a little bit of time. So I do want to ask you just a big reimagining question, right? You've talked about like gatekeeping, you've talked about restructuring the ways in which we look at students who are environments that need more supports, but they are talented still right, and how we create narratives around them. So just any other big imaginative ideas, we often like to close with this hope that we can collaboratively build a way forward and allow innovative ideas lead us because you know, common sense is awesome. And you know, and how those things can support the holistic development of all young people are everywhere. So, you know, how would you reimagine this role that technology plays in the lives of young people?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  54:08

Yeah, so this is something that I argue in the book that you know, that whole gatekeeping dynamic that's going on there engines that are fueling that, and especially in schools. So there's there's three different ways that we think about education in this country. One is Democratic Equality. And this is the idea that everybody needs, you know, a basic level of competence and literacy to participate in our democracy. That is not something that we have fully realized ever in this country. But it's something that we have always thought of our educational system as being you know, foundational to that effort and to that ideal. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  55:06

Another way that we talk about education is for what's called Social Efficiency. And that's sorting people by their innate abilities into the workplace. So this is sort of meeting the demands of the market. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  55:23

And then the last one is for Social Mobility. And that's really, that can include upward mobility. But it could also include social reproduction, where people have advantage, and they keep their advantage. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  55:36

And these three goals really march towards very, very different ends, right? So Democratic Equality is supposed to lead us to a more equal society. While Social Efficiency and Social Mobility are really leading us towards inequality, it's assuming there will be winners and losers, there will be some people who get to the prize, which right now is, is technology. And then, so we have these competing logics. And really, in our history, education has really been focused on the last one Social Mobility in the most recent history. And it's kind of at the same time that technology, education was an digital education was added into schools. And so of course, you have these very problematic competing logics happening in schools, and then you add in technology, and you go, Oh, gee, why? Why does inequality continue? It's because we already had problems in education. And, and so that's where we get these gatekeeping mechanism when technology is, is considered a prize and a reward for really, the more advantaged kids. And when that happens, when we start excluding people from participating in our digital world, right, we know how much of our world is really reliant on technological systems at this point, it's everywhere, it's in all sectors. It's not just in tech industry. When we, you know, bar people from participating at all levels, including, especially in shaping and creating those innovative systems, it prevents us from having a more democratic and inclusive technological future. And that doesn't just hurt the people who are excluded. It also hurts all of us, because we miss out on so much potential and innovation. And quite frankly, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that the problems that we face in the future are really big. And we need everyone at the table, thinking about, you know, how to solve these problems in innovative and creative ways. So that's the vision that I hope with these tiny little things, these tiny little habits, that we can practice every day, and that we can think about people in a very different way that can help us create that more equitable, technological future.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  58:34

Preach Cassidy, you better preach. I stayed on mute, because I was like, I don't want to interrupt her. And at any point during this, every bit of it, which makes me sad, because like, here, we are down to our last question, which in my opinion, is probably one of the more important ones and how folks can continue this conversation with you everywhere or anywhere. So where can people find you? And you know, what else would you like to share with our listeners, if you have stuff coming up? Or, you know, that kind of thing where we're working folks connect?

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  59:13

Yes. So my website is CassidyPuckett.com. That's CASSIDYPUCKETT.com. So other things that I want to mention, there is a link to the University of Chicago Press website for the book. And if you use the code, UCPSOC, you can get 20% off of the book. That's UCPSOC. And then finally, what I want to say, just something that I'll share with your listeners is that a portion of the Book proceeds will benefit the middle school where I taught in Oakland, California, called Urban Promise Academy. I feel very indebted to them and to the kids there and the families there. And so that's another benefit of of the book.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:00:05

Yes. All right. So we will also link the site and a link to the book on University of Chicago Press Correct. Yes. Right. Okay. Awesome. Awesome, awesome, good listener. So we will link both in the show notes. We hope that folks connect with you hope that folks purchase the book, hope that folks can evangelize some of these great ideas that you shared. I just want to thank you so very much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to join us on the podcast. This has been an amazing discussion, really appreciate the work that you have done and the research and all of that. So thank you so much, Cassidy. 

Cassidy Puckett, Emory University  1:00:48

Oh, my gosh. Well, thank you. This is so thrilling, it is just such a joy to share this and especially with a person who is so I don't know, just well versed in the book and what I'm, you know, trying to put across a thank you. Thank you.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:01:11

Yes, yes, yes, yes. fantastic.

Garvey  1:01:20

How do racist, sexist and classes assumptions about natural ability and natural differences in technological competence, determine who should take computer science courses, and ultimately, influence and design the technology we use. 

Sofia  1:01:35

When we use technology as a reward and not a necessity, society loses the potential to benefit from brilliance because certain people and what they can bring to online spaces was never engaged.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:01:48

There are two key takeaways from this episode with Cassidy Puckett that require us to really go after systems change. The first that schools certified knowledge, educational institutions verify that a person knows something. Schools are often positioned as gatekeeping spaces, rather than enrichment spaces. And many great young experts and great young thinkers are lost because of behavioral issues, biases or other extraneous issues. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:02:22

The second takeaway is we could address the STEM pipeline issue if we just saw tech skills as a competency that people could learn, it's not an innate ability that folks were born with or just a magical gift that a few people have. And as you move in your own awareness and advocacy, around STEM issues, whether it's stem for folks of color and BIPOC, folks, whether it is stem for girls, we need to keep in mind that it's inequitable that only a very small and very advantaged segment of our society gets to shape how technological advancements come to us, and how online platforms work.

Naima  1:03:11

If you enjoyed this conversation, and you want to learn more, we encourage you to check out Cassidy Puckett and her book, REDEFINING GEEK: Bias and the Five Hidden Habits of Tech-Savvy Teens. We linked everything you need to know in the show notes.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:03:30

Alright, we are going to come back next time with what's on your mind. Again, please send us your questions, comments, things that you want us to talk about. We love hearing from the community and our community letters. The link is in the show notes. And you can email us at LetsK12Better@gmail.com. So we're going to get ready to close out and we're going to ask each person, what do we hope for our listeners until the next time we see them or not see, but we're with them. Sofia, you're going to start off first.

Sofia  1:04:10

Even though it's playing and it's really hot, maybe like spend some time with family. Maybe like play some games if you can if you have time. But if you don't maybe you know, just like see some relatives you haven't seen in a long time.

Naima  1:04:25

I hope that you try something new this this past time. It's spring. So a lot of things are like changing and it's getting ready to be summer. And I feel like since getting nicer since there's more opportunities to get out. Maybe go out and try something new or stay inside and try something new. I don't know. Go donate to my GoFundMe, you know what

Garvey  1:04:51

I would say all of our listeners to spend time with people but also spend time with yourself and get to know yourself. Like, a lot of the time, people are like, Oh, spend time with friends and family. But like, a lot of the time, people don't even know who they are and what they actually like to do. So I would go along with names message and say, Get out and try new things. And yeah. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:05:15

Alright, what I hope for our listeners, you know, I'm not gonna lie, the news cycle has been not that great. We have had another racially motivated slaughter and murder of Black people and people of color at a grocery store. We're looking at women's reproductive rights, however you feel on whatever side of it, it's still an issue of government controlling people's bodies, right. And so we really need to think about what all that means and what that means for the future, what that means for future generations. I will say, we are not going to release an episode to talk about all of this, because you can go back and listen to the many other episodes in which we've talked about race, we've talked about injustice, we've talked about racial violence, against communities of color, so please go back, do your homework, listen to those episodes, because they're still unfortunately, applicable in this moment. I'm not into inflicting what I would consider a trauma or my kids to have them continue to have these conversations for everyone to hear. 

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:06:31

But I do want to say that you should be talking about these things in the news with the young people in your lives not shying away from these tough and challenging conversations, giving them the space to talk about racial violence, to talk about reproductive rights, right, so that they can formulate their own opinion about what should and should not be happening, for them and for folks in their communities. I think as adults, we often dismiss what kids think when it comes to these important topics, and we really shouldn't. So I wish rest and peace of mind, especially for any community that feels the impact of the news cycle directly. So if you're a woman of color, if you are a person with a uterus, if you are a person of color, if you live in or near the community that is impacted by the racial violence of that mass shooting, I want you to have peace of mind and rest and I wish for you to have some sort of calm and solace to wash over you. I do encourage those who are not directly impacted by the things that are happening in the news to engage with empathy around these issues, to not over talk folks who are directly impacted by these issues, to listen, to also open their minds. And so you know, consume as much media as you can and engage with people in the ways that you can but just know that we cannot stop doing the work and we cannot stop caring for each other.

Sofia  1:08:26

Thank you for listening to the Let’s K12 Better Podcast 

Garvey  1:08:29

You made it to the end… Please like, subscribe, and share.

Amber Coleman-Mortley  1:08:33

We want to hear from you. Connect with us on social media @LetsK12Better on all social media platforms. Or connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse @MomOfAllCapes. The Let’s K12 Better podcast is available on every podcasting platform; so if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review our podcast. This is a family project and your feedback helps us grow. Thank you so much for listening. 

Naima  1:09:07

See you next time.

Who is Cassidy Puckett?
How can design logic help us understand how to use technology to our advantage?
How do kids from historically marginalized communities already use the five habits?
How might we approach the gender gaps that exist when it comes to girls and STEM?
Tips for parents, educators, and trusted adults as they help teens develop the five hidden habits.
How would Cassidy reimagine this role that technology plays in the lives of young people?
What do we hope for our listeners until we are with them again?