My son, who’s just started “Computer Labs” at school, came home all eager to tell us about this “Google” thing on the Internet. So far, we haven’t particularly encouraged computer use at home. We got into an interesting family talk which was reported back to the teacher, then Lauren and I found ourselves invited to come in and teach the Internet to the class. So we set up scratch blogging space; this ended up being instructive both for them and us.

I went and spent $8 for a decent class-related domain name, and Lauren whipped up a WordPress blog, which there was room for in her current hosting package (BTW, she’s been very happy with Canadian Web Hosting). My son’s in a learn-Mandarin program in a school where a high proportion of the students are of Chinese ancestry, so we used the nice Simple China theme.

Then I made a bunch of Author accounts for the blog, with names like “Bouncy”, “Chilly”, “Groovy”, “Happy”, “Jumpy”, “Peachy”... English has an inexhaustible supply of anodyne adjectives ending in “y”. I printed out a little slip for each student with their account and password.

I asked the class “Who’s allowed to write things on the Internet?” Blank faces; someone offered “The government?” I said “Anybody!” and had them visit the empty class blog-site. A chorus of “Wow, cool!” We showed them how to log in and use WordPress’ admirable “QuickPress” feature, and for their first outing I had them post what they’d had for breakfast.

Which went mostly OK, with only one post claiming “boiled human hearts”. Then I asked them “Did you all tell the truth?” and went with the homily about not necessarily believing what you read on the Net. I think it hit home.

Then I asked them why they thought we’d given them the funny names and they got it right away; I suppose they’d already had the dangerous-Internet briefing. Can’t hurt to reinforce it.

Next, we were going to teach the notion of a link, but the class, mad with the joy of posting, was slipping away from us; there over a hundred posts by the end of the hour. It started to get a little dicey, with one fifth-grader having “hated the frikking math test” and another making a jokey allegation about their teacher, but the joke might have gone sideways on the Net.

Anyhow, it was mostly OK and the kids had a blast and maybe learned some things. After I got back to my office, I deleted the questionable bits and disabled further posting while wondering whether it’d actually been smart to unleash 26 ten-year-olds on the big wild Internet. But on balance, my heart was warmed by all the raw giggly eagerness.

The last post before I shut things down.

ni hao i hav a gran gran she was great then she died

Awwwwwwwww.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Richard Conroy (Jan 25 2010, at 23:20)

There is something magical about bringing in kids into the IT world. Also relevant for grown ups who aren't so tech savvy. It is great to see the lightbulbs go off above their heads when they get to the empowering stages.

It really hammers home to you the teacher/trainer/mentor that IT is relevant and worthwhile, which is something that can be lost when you are migrating sloppy bug fixes across branches of a project that is probably going to be canned.

They get empowerment/enlightenment. You get confirmation that your line of work is relevant and worthwhile.

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From: Curtis Lassam (Jan 26 2010, at 01:03)

Have you seen MIT's Scratch? It's a project designed for getting kids in just-that-age-group programming - well, we know it's programming, it just seems like tinkering to me.

My girlfriend's a teacher-in-training, and she's run some successful Scratch lessons with classrooms of Grade 7 students...

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From: nick (Jan 26 2010, at 08:02)

You should use the "hated the frikkin math test" and like comments to highlight that what you write on the internet is forever, and traceable. anonymity doesn't stretch very far once every bit is tracked and traceable. Is almost as important of a lesson as the "dangerous internet" one.

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From: df (Jan 26 2010, at 08:03)

I was recently relating a story to one of my friends about a time when I was at work and I exited the elevator and a marketing person grabbed me and asked, "What's the capital of Malaysia?" I told them that I answered the marketer's question and she teased me about knowing trivia.

That story prompted my friend's girlfriend, an elementary school teacher, to lament that kids today don't "know anything." She explained that today her students don't have many facts at all on reserve and they aren't even interested in learning. When they are taught a concept, she explained, they often answer, "I'd just Google that."

I was on the internet when I was in elementary school in the mid 90s (which was weird at the time I suppose) but it didn't cripple my ability to memorize or to reason. Of course back then we only had Yahoo and Alta Vista :P. What's your take on that balance Tim?

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From: David Magda (Jan 26 2010, at 15:59)

MIT's Scratch is based on Squeak by Alan Kay, who has been doing educational stuff for quite a while. Doing a (video) search on his name brings up some good topics on the subject.

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From: PeggySu (Jan 26 2010, at 19:35)

Aren't these kids a bit old to be IT beginners? I thought my 20-month old granddaughter was unusual to be able to turn on an iPhone and locate and utilize her favorite apps ("Touch the red square", music, etc.) until I happened to run across a blog entry about an even younger child who does this regularly.

Meanwhile my 10-year old granddaughter is driving everyone nuts with her constant texting and sending of short videos.

I suspect the real problem is stopping kids, not getting them interested although I'm all for teaching them to program rather just being users.

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From: David Magda (Jan 27 2010, at 16:19)

PeggySu,

If you look at some of the videos from Alan Kay where he demonstrates the things he's done, you'll see kids doing amazing kids with Squeak (a variant of Smalltalk, for the tech folks).

The key point however is that the system is expandable and reprogrammable by the user--and you don't need to know "programming" via a language, the system can figure out what you mean. Most of the stuff people use in every day (Windows, OS X, Linux/Unix), is fairly fixed and rigid.

If you make an interface malleable people will change it. It's just that most commercial software is made for fixed purposes (accounting, Word, Photoshop, etc.), and thus kids and other people are stuck with whatever is given to them.

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