I have begun the second round of computer programming training for elementary and middle school aged boys. I am somewhat experimenting by making a few of changes. The first change is location. A good friend of mine recently opened a book store. He generously made his facility available to use for the class! The store’s focus is Black/Afrocentric books, gifts and art. It is a very uplifting, positive environment. The second change is format. My friend suggested changing the class format from structured lesson plan to that of a workshop. This way parents and perspective students can get a quick, hands on introduction. If they like, they can return the following week and learn more. Lastly, I changed the day from Saturday to Sunday. Let’s see how all this works! More later.
(for info on the class, go to the Programming Class page)
Besides writing this awesome blog, what am I doing? I just finished teaching a six-week Saturday beginning computer programming class for five boys. I conducted the class in my livingroom. I’m doing it for free. Did I mention that I am not a computer programmer by profession? I make my living as a handyman. I did a little assembly language and BASIC some twenty years ago or so, but nothing current. I have an IT background, however my experience is mostly networking, systems, and PC hardware. I always wanted to learn coding, but never got around to it. Now I am becoming a Scratch and Alice expert, and working on Python! The point I’m trying to make is that we can teach what we know to those who don’t know it, and we do not have to be experts or have years of experience or a degree. Just a desire to learn and enjoy sharing knowledge, information, and inspiration with others. Is this something you can do? Please comment.
How One Teacher Built a Computer Lab for Free | iFixit.
I am inspired by this man because he did not let lack of resources discourage him from achieving a worthy goal. He had a vision, pursued it, and discovered that there are others who also wanted him to succeed and were willing to help and provide resources. His core statement is “The lead person takes the lead through a change in consciousness, awareness and belief, not an acquisition of expertise.” He accomplished this in Oakland, CA. (article and video)
Yesterday I held my first Youth programming class for two groups of boys totalling 8. The first group is ages 8-11 and the second group ages 12-14.
For the younger group I chose to use Scratch to introduce to them the concept of coding. Scratch has a lively, colorful, and engaging interface that lends itself well to individual creativity as well as a strong on-line community via it’s website. It did not disappoint. The boys were engaged and caught on quickly. My biggest challenge was to keep my words out of the way! My introduction strategy is to teach (help them to discover) how the coding blocks function and operate by dissecting and examining the sample programs.
As for the older group, I chose the Alice 3D coding environment. Alice introduces coding by allowing youth to create their own “virtual worlds”. This program is actually used in some colleges as an intro-to-programming class for non-programmers. The boys picked it up quickly. As an instructor (guide), my challenge is to make sure they master the fundamental concepts and to maintain a challenging lesson plan while keeping it lively and fun.
This is the first in a series of Urban Science projects I plan to feature on this blog. The purpose of the Urban Science series to demonstrate how easy and affordable it is, with a little time and determination, to assemble apparatuses that demonstrate scientific principles and can potentially have practical application.
Here, a Haitian brother creates his “Haitian Alternator”, a working alternator assembled from scrap parts. Projects like this are good for “generating” interest in and de-mystifying electrical current theory. Interesting? Let me know what you think?
A couple of months ago we had a birth celebration for my eighty-something year old mother-in-law, Wilma, at our home. My wife has a large family with MANY children, from newborn to teens. Last time we held this event, the young children ran around getting into things (playing) and the teens talked/texted on their phones or played Wii. We kept some busy by showing videos. I don’t like doing this.
I mean, I do not like succumbing to doing ordinary things in extraordinary situations. People ALWAYS watch movies and tinker with their phones and play video games. A family gathering is an extraordinary situation. I see it as an opportunity to influence youth we may not see regularly. Granted, we did play family games at the end of the day, which really bonds the youth with the adults. However, I feel an obligation to ALWAYS be an example for young people by sharing what I know WHENEVER I have the opportunity to turn on some mental lightbulbs, especially for Black children. How many times have you talked to a Black high school graduate and asked them what they planned on studying in college? The head looks down, then to the sky, then “I think I’m gonna major in this”, or “I’m thinking about that”. Or even worse, “general ed”. Why don’t they know what it is they want to do? Could it be because they have not been exposed to enough different activities as to where they can discover there God-given (non-entertainment) talents.
So, I thought I’d try paper airplanes. Why? Why not? It’s easy, cheap, and thrilling to make something with your hands and watch it perform! All the children loved it. Even the “cool” teens were attracted to it once the younger crowd at the table cleared. I had color markers there for them to personalize their creations. And they flew great! Some took theirs home with them. Am I a paper airplane expert or an aeronautical engineer? Nope. But to them I was. All I did was visit some websites and fire-up the printer. What did I achieve? I had fun sharing, and I did not go to bed feeling guilty. They had fun doing something new that did not require a USB charger. Maybe they’ll look at me as the relative that’s always sharing something new with them. Maybe one of them, years later, will say that I was the guy that helped inspire them to be an engineer.
…or How to not hear “But I don’t like doing math!”
It seems like all children love playing with video games and apps whether using a game console, tablet, smart phone, or web-based on a computer. Some of you have to pry your phones from your children just to make a phone call. Have you noticed how their interests seem to change as they get older? As two and three-year olds, they are challenged by mastering the motor skills of controlling the mouse, finding the keys, or understanding those strange symbols (alphabet). Some parents purchase educational software or direct them toward early learning websites, which generally take the form of games. Parents who have used these applications for their young children know that learing on the computer is fun for them (the children), not work. Children learn to read, add, type, and solve puzzles. My children loved Reader Rabbit and Puttputt.
By the time children get to their pre-teens, computer games are still fun, but no more learning. Just fast action or socializing games. The laptop or desktop is abandoned for the smart phone and game console. What happened to the learning? Imaging what may have happened if we introduced them to programming? Granted, this would have been very challenging for parents who are not programmers themselves. But now, with the Internet and powerful laptop computers, it’s MUCH easier. We can now keep that computer fun and challenging for your five, six, seven and older children by using the new generation children’s programming languages like Scratch and Alice. That’s what I’m doing for a group of eight to twelve-year-old boys in my neighborhood. For free. Maybe by the time they reach high school they’ll like doing math.