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Computer Curriculum for Inner City Kids? 267

manicmailman asks: "I have recently (and probably somewhat rashly) volunteered to help teach computers at a local inner city school's summer camp program. I am really excited about this endeavor, but I have absolutely no experience. I was wondering if anyone else had experience teaching computers to elementary school students, particularly inner city ones. I'll probably only be there for 4 to 6 hours a week for about 8 weeks. The principal has given me almost total freedom with the computer class, so I am looking for suggestions about where to start and what to cover." Children from all walks of life deserve an education, and like it or not, computers are becomming as much a part of our lives as reading, writing and math. What lessons are kids ready to accept about computers at this stage, and how does one keep them interested?
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Computer Curriculum for Inner City Kids?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    I don't see why asking a legitimate question about experience in elementary computer education is a sign of laziness or stupidity. When it comes to grade schoolers, one can't just RTFM. Experience is valuable too.

    Some of the Ask Slashdot questions are dodgy, but this one isn't one of them.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    When I was probably 13 I got a PC with 2 whole megs of ram. at the time I thought it was so cool. Looked at the dos manual learned how to manage DOS, read about configuring autoexec.bat, config.sys. Taught myself about loop controls in the autoexec.bat files. Remember I was 13 so I thought it was cool. Then I found the world of BBS's and I knew nothing about downloading files. 2400-baud modem with a crappy term program (pro something). Found a board with bbs lists. Wasted time. Found those wonderful Warez boards next was just getting leech access. Then found Linux when I was 15. 6 disks for a basic text based slackware. Someone just giving me a c:\> was probably the most beneficial thing that anyone could have done.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    First decide what you want to teach them. Not what specific subject matter you want to teach but what concepts you want to teach.You need to have a solid goal you are shooting for.

    I'd focus on developing the ability to break a task into it's component tasks. This mental skill is essential for problem solving, math, and programming.

    One of the best/fun activities was to have the kids write up instructions for making a peanut and jelly butter sandwich.

    Explain that computers do exactly what they are told, nothing less and nothing more. Telling a compter what to do is pretty hard. Then have the kids write out instructions for making a peanutbutter, and jelly sandwich.

    Collect the instructions, then you put on an apron, pull out a loaf of bread, peanut butter, jelly, and knife, then follow the instructions. Follow the instructions exactly! Be a computer, make a HUGE mess, and the kids will love it.

    Growing up I had a teacher do this. When instructions told him to put peanut butter on the bread, he picked up the jar of peanut butter, and put the jar on the bread, then it said to spread the peanut butter so he moved the jar around. After 5 or 6 sandwiches the kids will be ROFL and your time will be up.

    The next lesson is perfect for explaining simple programming. Preferably with a LOGO system. Explain how they can tell the computer what to do like the instructions for sandwiches. Cover the LINETO, and MOVETO, commands, and write the syntax on the chalkboard. Then let them fool around with LOGO for the rest of class.

    For the next class give them the assignment to make a square. After that is done cover relative movement and rotating of the turtle. Have them make a square by using relative movement only.

    Next you can introduce looping. Have rotate relative squares around and move the turtle around and rotate shapes for a long time. They will probably be able to spend two whole class sessions playing with the fun designs they can make.

    After that you can introduce sub-routines, have them call a relative square routine from inside a loop. Show how making pictures is faster because they don't have to write the square instructions over and over.

    After logo you could introduce Python, and explain that it is a different way of telling computers what to do. Then have them write Hello World. Do input, output, looping, and finally cover the if statement. It is amazing but kids do get a kick out of printing "Ed is cool" 500 times.

    The biggest thing to do is keep the kids engaged all the time. Have them typing on the computer, or watching you do a comedy routine. Ideally, the kids would listen to you for 10 minutes then they would work on the computers for 50 minutes, while you walk around the class and answer questions, and gather people around to see someone's "GREAT" program. Be very positive, and be real cheerleader for the kids. All kids need that.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Open one up and show them the components and talk them through how they work. Kinda computer gross anatomy. You can teach them how to build and operate and maintain a machine. With those skills they will be much more prepared for high school. I also recommend teaching them about free/open source software. Computers have some significant $ barriers for entry as a field of expertise. Teaching them that there are cost free alternatives lowers that barrier. If they also learn about components etc... they can learn how to purchase them cheaper and better configured for their needs than something off the shelf from best buy. Historically one of the biggest problems for underprivilaged persons is awareness, and access to opportunity. By them participating they have some very basic level access. Now teach them awareness so they can get more access. A computer job/internship in high school for a suburban kid would be fun and cool and extra spending cash. Having the skills to do that and getting one for an inner city kid could be life changing and an income. Don't teach them to play (they'll figure that out themselves if they keep going) teach them real skills as if they are young adults. It could make a big difference. You will be surprised at how fast they will learn if you push them.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I work for a large Houston,Tx area school district and I have to say that most of the kids running around today have more knowledge of computers and the things that run on them think. My 10 year old nephew is writing basic programs in C and PERL. He has a 133mhz acer with 32m RAM. Computers are cheap enough for even the poor people of our nation to get one.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I didn't think of it as rascist at all... I thought he was emphasizing it so that the readers of /. might consider what resources these kids have, and their computer experiences. How is that rascist? Its a fact that kids living in our urban centers don't have what kids living in the higher income suburbs do, be they white, hispanic, black, asian, or martian! I'll bet that few children in that classroom will have a computer at home, no matter what their race or ethnic background - simply because their money situations at home won't allow it.

    There wasn't a prejudiced comment in that post at all, you just jumped on 'inner city' and took that to mean 'too black'.
  • Anyone know if that game (Oregon Trail) is still available, preferrably as a C program that can compile on Linux? I'd *love* to play that again!

  • You must have a low opinion of kids to think they're only capable of THAT.

    Teach an OS design course based on Tanenbaum's book. Then give them a copy of Linux 0.1.0 and tell them to add a virtual memory swapping system.

  • Get a salary printout from dice or computerjobs.

    Oracle is the most valuable certification, but IBM DB2 certification is free until the end of September.

    Oh, you weren't serious about teaching them something useful?

  • Agreed, but it cuts both ways. get someone who can barely read interested in books and before you know it they will be reading.

    These kids are probably too young, but most 13 year old girls I know could quickly get into plundered hearts, and that is motivation to learn to read. there are other adventures good for young boys. (Despite efforts to rid the world of them, sterotypes still seem to hold)

    Remember, if you make it interesting they will learn what they need to become good. If you make it boring they will learn to avoid computers. Most inner city kids are smart enough that they could know a lot more then they do if they would apply themselves. Come to think of it, most kids to learns as much as they can. Be alert for exceptions, but be sure to seperate the exceptions from those too lazy to learn.

    PS: inner city kids may need an example of a person who has made it more then anything else. Many of these kids do not have a good adult example to look up to. Keep in touch with them, encourage them to make something of their life. There is nothing wrong with not liking comptuers, there is something wrong with not making something of your life when you can.

    PPS: I agree with other posts that inner city is a bad term to use here, but it is all we have.

  • The guy running Linux Mentors [] teaches underpriveleged kids using donated 486s running Linux. He says that 11-year-olds were able to pick it up without any computer experience at all. He uses X applications to teach them how to use the mouse, GUI apps, etc. He said that some of the kids even went off on their own to learn the Linux command line.
  • Then teach them to do some general tasks like launching programs, deleting files, etc.

    Uhm, yeah, but make sure that they understand that they shouldn't go around deleting *random* files.. I showed my college-age friend gmc/linux and the first thing he tried to do was delete the dynamic linker... sheesh

  • A lot of your students will not have a computer of their own. You should probably heavily research where people can buy very inexpensive used computers in your city and present that material to your students.

    You might find that you have a star student in your class. After the class is done, you could tell that star student that you'll make them a deal (if you are in a position to do that). You could give them a summer job mowing your lawn. If you pay them $20 each time, they could buy a machine from you for $100.

    You can't help every child by yourself, but you can pick your most promising student and become a mentor to them.
  • Get ToonTalk [] from []

    Unfortunately it requires associating with the Evil Empire (M$), ( Wouldn't work under WINE either last time I tried it a few months ago. It needs ActiveX but it's pretty good stuff none the less. )

    Message for moderators:-

    Please boost this up it's really good stuff!

  • Don't try to "hook" them with flash (video games, movies, music, etc) - the point is to teach them that computes are more than all that.
    • Start by convincing them that computers are general-purpose things that are ubiquitous and are getting more so: take apart a video game, show 'em where the computer is, put it back together and it still works... take apart a cellphone or pager, point to the TV, dig up a smart card, etc. It isn't what they do that's important: it is what they can be made to do that is cool.
    • Next, go outside and do "people programming." Get a volunteer and have your class figure out how to get the volunteer to do something useful: make sure that the instructions are declarative and are followed verbatim.
    • Next class, take the instructions that worked and program a Lego robot [] to do the task (or any logo [] with a turtle, etc). Seeing a lego monster doing the same things that the volunteer did outside should be suitably cool as to hook 'em.
    • Keep the action going: robots are good, but glowing turtles (especially dynaturtles!) are ok, too.
    • Don't play games - write games that the kids can extrapolate into the video games they see all the time. Mugwump and daleks aren't substantially different from Quake (illustrate the point by playing quake for a bit after writing daleks). Maze generation and solving is a good one to try: simple but powerful algorithms.

    There are a zillion sites on the subject of teaching computer science to kids. The net of a million lies [] might not be your friend, but it can be a valuable source of information.

  • These AIs then pilot robots that try to kiil each other. (Kids love robots and violence).

    Sick, but only too true.

  • Believe it or not, it's been my experience that kids that young, when plopped in front of a computer, become virtual vacuum cleaners of knowledge. They suck it all up...their minds are so open, and so curious, that they truly can accept a LOT of information.

    In terms of applications, other than educational games, I'd look in the direction of maximum creativity. Hypercard's great, as would be any multimedia creation tools...

    One project in particular that the kids LOVED was to create their own commercials using a mix of live-action shots and hypercard frames...that's pretty dependent on yer budget though.

    (Although i'm not a professional educator, I have taught elementary school level computer classes at a summer camp and a local YMHA...)

    hope this helps,
  • You will get two types of students. Those checking it out to see what it's all about/mommy made them go, and those that are already into computers and asked their parents to go.

    So, try to find something that a) may be seen daily/apply to everyday life for these kids, and b) is reasonably technical if they want to dig in.

    Sending email by hand? The anatomy of an HTTP request?
  • I go with most of this post, but as someone who has had experience with this, I'd like to offer another suggestion. Schools usually get alot of old worthless computers. See if this school actually holds on to theirs. If they do, get a hold of them and stack them in your classroom. On the first day, let everyone know, "At the end of this class, you will build and take home your own computer."

    Teach them about computers, and then let them put their own together. If the school does not have them, contact corporations in your area, etc. Also, check about unused Windows licenses for the computers, or else you'll be sending them home with Linux. (Corporations are a great source of these.)

    The kids will stay more interested, and you can teach them skills they will actually be able to use. I first started doing this back in 1995, and one of my first students just got a job as a Unix admin.....

  • I teach computers at an elementary school (see URL above). I'm too tired right now to go into all the stuff we go into there, but probably their favorite activity that we do (in the upper-grades, 4th and 5th) is HTML. I teach them to create web pages using Notepad. Of course, this starts out with them getting used to the web first (I set up a 'portal' for the school, again see web site, and feel free to use it if you have net access there any find any of it to be of any use). This starts at the end of the first grade year or beginning of the second grade year, depending on reading levels of the students in each class.

    Whatever the case, I have a handout that I give the 4th and 5th graders that I created and it gives them directions to create 1) a simple web page, then 2) a still simple web page, then 3) their own web page from what they learned and what they find in the source of other web pages on the net of their choosing. I always have a problem with time constraints, but I am still always really impressed with what they come up with anyways. There are some examples of their work on the school web site ( Unfortunately some of the better work got deleted by mistake, ironically by a teacher at the school and not a student.

    I remember that feeling I had when my first writings went up on the web. It was... amazing somehow. You see that same feeling/connection happen in the kids when their work is uploaded and available for everyone to see. Not only does the web make more sense to them through the process, but they become a part of it instead of just another spectator. Some of the students that really liked it would go home or to the library and practice. A couple of them were learning Javascript on their own by the end of the year last year. Maybe not the best start towards programming, but better than nothing I suppose.

    I also have students do stuff in Word (starting gr. 1), Power Point (gr2+) and Excel (gr. 2-3+) (hey, its what's available). They really like Excel - I have them do surveys and grade books using the formulas from the beginning. Web scavanger hunts are fun too, from the portal search page usually. For younger ages, graphics programs are good for mouse control and teaching copy/paste and that sort of thing. If you're on Win32 even just Paint goes a long ways. Then for the upper-grades, teaching them basic networking is always good too. How your browser loads a site from a server across the world thru routers etc. I even use traceroute and ping with the fifth graders so they can see how many hops it takes to get to their favorite web site and that sort of thing.

    I think the key to the whole thing is to lead them to discover things; they don't enjoy learning the stuff nearly as much when they're told about them as when they feel like they're the first to discover it. Then they learn other things along the way and remember what they learned. It's really a shame that more teachers don't remember that.

    I'm really rambling but I hope I gave you at least a few remote ideas. Good luck, and be sure to have a look at our school web site. My e-mail address is the only one on there - feel free to use it. Hopefully my respose will be a little more coherant than this one. :P

  • Making kids just surf the web to buy time didn't go over very well.

    I once, at a camp, had students making web pages. They were told some ways to find information, one was to try One student was making his site on Friends (the sitcom). At the time was hardcore porn.

    Now, we had warned them about looking at "inappropriate" web sites and how we were going to send them back to their parents and tell them why. So the kid freaked. One of the less knowledgable counsellors arrived on the scene first and also freaked.

    One of the funniest memories of my life is watching a counsellor cover the screen with his body, yell for me, keep other kids from coming over and try to calm the kid down at the same time.

    You just don't get that kind of fun in an office.


  • You might want to look into Squeak. Part of their project goal appears to be the realization of Alan Kays original DynaBook idea, which was envisioned to be "a computer designed in such a way that people of all ages and walks of life can mold and channel its power to their own needs." (In fact, Alan Kay is part of the core Squeak development team).

    Squeak is based around a very portable and graphical Smalltalk environment. Squeak is GPL'd and available for a wide variety of platforms including MAC, Windows, and Linux.

    Here's a quote about Squeak stolen from the web site:

    Squeak Is An Idea Processor For Children Of All Ages! ... an instrument whose music is ideas ... We all know what a word processor is, but what is an idea processor? Of course, we can play with some ideas and express them in a word processor, but a lot of important ideas need more, for example: art, music, math and science. And some of these ideas really need a "dynamic medium for creative thought": music, animation, and many areas of science. Squeak aims to have "no threshold", in that many five year olds can explore ideas in it; and "no ceiling": its range includes all of the things that can be done with computers. When five year olds learn English, they are starting to learn the language of Shakespeare and Feynman. Their journey through the next decade will enrich their vocabulary, ideas about people and the world, and give them stronger ways to structure ideas in language. In a similar fashion, the language learned by the five year olds to do simple projects in Squeak is also the language used by the experts to make 3D graphics engines and get things to happen on the Internet. All the projects done in Squeak are directly transmittable to others over the Internet. Users can chat (by text or voice), send and receive email, exchange objects by dragging and dropping, and multiple users can share a project to interact in real time. Each time a project is created there is an opportunity to set up a new interest group that can provide mutual assitance and kudos.

    Here are some links about using Squeak in education. [] /steinmetz.pdf []
  • Which you are not. Computers are not as much a part of our lives as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Try this [] and then come back and talk to me.

    Now, to the poster. Don't hurt yourself. Don't hurt them. You aren't a teacher, and don't know how to be one. So at least be a babysitter for a while. With the limited amount of time you have, there are only two possible goals to shoot for, depending on the kids in the class.

    If the kids are scared of computers, a familiarity and comfort level with them is not bad after a few weeks. Playing solitaire, hitting a few sites.

    If they are comfortable, best thing to do is teach 'em how to use the net. sorry, but any form of programming (even logo, and other languages that will give results quickly) is a waste of time. This is the old viewpoint that computer users also had to be computer mechanics. Doesn't wash in this day and age. They'll get just as much from learning WordPad as learning the same basic functions in Word. (and don't even think of giving them emacs. They'll definately never touch a 'puter again, and that's coming from someone who likes emacs)

    You have no idea what you are going to get from the students. Some may be geniuses, others not. Aim for the least common denominator, and give some free reign to the ones who have a clue. Resign yourself to reinstallations. No big deal.

    But if you get a kid who can't read or doesn't know his multiplication tables up to 10x10, don't waste his time or your time. He'd be much better off learning those than dicking around playing Doom.

  • While you're at it, work with them to solve the traveling salesman and halting problems. Also, run them through the process of creating a 1 GHz processor from materials available from the nearest part - make sure that the processors they make are improved from commercially avaliable ones. Teaching them how to break into any government system in 60 seconds or less may also provide useful experience they can make use of later in life.

    Oh yeah, get world peace and eliminating hunger in there also.

  • Here's an idea you can probably steal from millions of teachers across the country for teaching the scientific method:

    Have them write down instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You then follow these directions exactly, as a computer would. Likely to get a laugh out of them when you start spreading the peanut butter on the bread without taking it out of the bag first.

    This teaches the fundamental rule in computers - they "do what they're told." exactly. without interpretation.

    Food for thought.. (Pun intended)

  • I've personally mentored several kids from late grade school to high school seniors. Here are some things I've learned:

    1) Be careful not to overestimate the understanding of your students. Over the years, certain computer concepts have become second nature to me, but most average students have a really hard time with them. I'm talking about things like if-then statements, functions, and loops. If you want to teach programming concepts, try to keep it extremely simple.

    2) A lot of people seem to really grasp on to the concepts of customization, paramaterization, and formatting. That is why a formatting language like HTML is so readily picked up and embraced. On those lines I might suggest POVRAY or MIT's LOGO programming language as something to consider.

    3) The more you can incorperate graphics into your presentation, the more it will captivate your audience. Digital manipulation of video and audio can keep kids busy for hours.
  • Take it from Guido: d0 01.htm

    Python is a good way to introduce non-programmers to programming in general. From Python you can realistically branch into simple C [I wouldn't recommend C++].

    This is currently taking place in high school comp sci classes ng s/papers/elkner/pyYHS.html

    Steve Wozniak has been teaching children computer science for quite some time now. If you can get in touch with him [I have no idea how to do so], he would most likely give some very valuable pointers.
  • you don't say how old they are so it's a bit difficult, also it probably depends whether you have each kid for a week or all 4 .... I've done some volunteering in inner-city high-schools but take the following with a grain of salt:

    • Teach them how to access the web - show them some content they might want to come back to (music/culture pages are good) use this to explain a URL and what it means
    • get them to set up hotmail accounts - get them to send mail to each other (a great way to learn typing)
    • borrow some digital cameras - go on a day trip somewhere - have them take photos, come back and use them as a basis for learning simple web page design - write a report of the trip
    • now use the same photos to tell another completely different story - use that to talk about using things out of context - what is reality? - how to be skeptical, maybe segue into something about online safety, anonymity, how people aren't always what they seem etc etc
    • your budget probably doesn't extend to Lego Mindstorms/Robolab ... pity it's a great way to introduce programming
  • I'll probably only be there for 4 to 6 hours a week for about 8 weeks.

    First of all, that may be all the student contact time you have, and that may even be all you get paid for, but you're probably in for a hell of a lot more than 6 hours a week to get this program off the ground.

    I've had to "teach" inner city youth in a summer camp, and I helped teach a high school AP computer science class. The 2 experiences were totally seperate, however.

    The reason I put teaching in quotes for the summer camp is that the program I participated in was VERY poorly organized. I signed on to teach creative arts to the kids, but in the end, all they really wanted was a playground supervisor. So, step one, make sure you get a realistic idea of what you're expected to do. In the end, it turned out that it was okay I didn't have to do any teaching, because the times I did, it was a disaster.

    I think it depends a lot on age, but many kids, particularly inner city ones, have become disillusioned (or worse) towards school by the time they're in 5th or 6th grade. You have an uphill battle ahead of you getting these kids to even respect your program. You must make it pertainent to their lives. You can't, for one thing, dive into coding, assuming everyone will think it's interesting. Depending on the general experience level, you might very well end up showing the kids how to browse the web and not much else.

    Over all, I'd say be ready for anything, and don't get discouraged when your first effort goes down in flames. Make honest assessments every single day, and be flexible and willing to do whatever the kids seem interested in.


  • Install mIRC, and direct them to the #hax0r, #7337, and #teensex channels so they can learn to be annoying, whining, script kiddies like all of the other lame ass kids surfing the 'net today.....

    I'm not bitter.....
  • Im second that emotion ... a few years ago my cousin came over (was in the 4th grade or something) and he saw my bryce 3d box ... hes like "ohh you have bryce ... I have that to ..." Im like "whatever" ... So I was completley frustrated with bryce a few hours later and give up ... he sits down at my computer and makes a whole scene, then starts to ANIMATE IT! Anyways, I ended up quite humbled that day getting a lesson on how to use the keyframer from a 4th grader! :)
  • You have a very limited time. Concentrate on the essentials! Skip the use of various programs - by the time your students want to use them, it is too late, they are out of date.

    What is it that computers do? They follow instructions, fast, effecitvely, and literally. Instructions that are difficult to write - that is why we have highly paid professionals to write them - and that can go wrong. When they do go wrong, they do so fast, effectively, and literally.

    Think of your classroom. Not necessarly the middle of it, but the fringes. You should be able to give something to the top 10% and the bottom 10% - at every lesson. If you get those 20% interested, the rest will follow without problems!

    Most of all, do not teach practice, teach theory. For there is nothing as practical as a good theory!

    Do not make the same mistake as the students are supposed to make - do not aim at the next test, or the yearly grades. Try to find something those kids will find valuable in ten years - and still be interesting today.

    If I only had two teachers who grasped half of all this... May your students fare better than me...

  • Come on now. Think about this decision of yours:

    "I can guarentee that my children will be starting out with an oldie 8bit computer and some interesting games the first second they show interest in computers."

    While I'm certain your fond memories of your early computer explorations are just as hearttouching as my own, I think your plan to shackle your own children to 20+ year-old technology is the best way to snuff out that interest as soon as it crops up. Consider how your introduction to computers would have been had someone restricted you to using 20+ year-old technology. In 1978, that would have been slide-rules. Would you have gotten so excited about computers if you knew your neighbors were playing Wizardry and saving their data on 5 1/4" floppy disks while you're having to write a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper playing whatever games you can play with a slide rule?

    If youre kids are watching movies like Shrek and playing games on PS2 that illustrate what computers can create, handing them an old Commodore 64 or Apple IIe is going to disappoint them beyond belief.

    I'm not advocating you give your kids the best and shiniest computer. Give 'em something that enables a soft introduction, but provides limitless opportunities for exploration. I'm not quite sure the Linux desktop is quite there yet, but Mac OS X probably is. I am not suggesting this as a flame, either. I had a run-in with setting up my computer-illiterate roommate with a linux box as his first computer. He became frustrated with not knowing how to download and install anything, and cdrom burning was just not intuitive enough for him. He got fed up and resigned himself to 'not being smart enough for computers.'


  • We've all heard somebody say they got 1 GHz of RAM and a 20 GB of memory.


    I wish I had 20 GB of memory running at bus speed of 1 GHz... :(

  • machine lies


  • You realize of course that most of the these people have no idea that "Ninth Ward" == "Inner City" right? :-) Where's your dad the Principle? I used to teach at Colton Middle before I started sys admining. As I recall they had a small computer lab, but it was just going in when I left. BTW: Ain't this eather fun.

    As to the question at hand, a bit more information would be useful. Elemntry school covers a lot of maturity levels. For fifth and sixth graders (I used to teach sixth grade) I might get a little more in depth than the previous poster suggests. I found that most of my students, while they hadtrouble with basic skills like reading and basic mathematics, they were also often frustrated by a system that associated their lack of skills with being stupid. They aren't stupid, and books made for second graders (while they fit the reading level of some of them) just don't interest them. The other problem with teaching inner city kids is their VERY diverse levels of education. I had kids who were average to above average sitting next to kids that couldn't read. Alot has to do with the motivation and parental support that each kid has individually. Even if you know a class is, say, fifth graders, you are likely to have math and reading levels from the first to the sixth grade levels. Be sure to plan for this. The more advanced children will be VERY bored by the things that the less advanced ones won't understand. Your best bet may be groups, but that has the diadvantage of putting all the slower kids together, with no help from the more advanced ones. A better option might be a "mentor" type deal, but sometimes the kids that need help resent the helper. I can't really say with out seeing the dynamic of your class, but all these are options

  • A favorite exercise, for early on: Make the computer display or print
    2 + 2 = 5

    Maybe not necessary, but every computer course ought to go near the issue of how the machine lies.

    Henry Troup

    My .sig is in the .shop

  • you cant teach the ones that refuse to learn

    A good teacher will get at least some of those who start out refusing to learn to end up wanting to learn.

  • HTML easy?! Even Slashdot gets it wrong! The home page [] has some very SERIOUS HTML coding errors:

    Like this little gem (as of this post) right in the main navigation area (!):

    <A href=/code.shtml>code</A>

    An unquoted attribute (not XHTML compliant), actually an unquoted non-numeric attribute (very bad, always), and non-XHTML compliant uppercase tags. Surely a GEEK site should get this right by now...

    So if you can get these kids to code correct HTML, have them make extra money this summer working to fix Slashdot ;)

    Try validating sites with [] and see how FEW pass! See how many big name commercial sites have SERIOUS errors.

    As for Java, it is very slow, NOT truly cross platform, and just restrictive and anal to try to program in.

    As for teaching MAC addresses versus IP addresses, even most IT people don't even know the difference (I kid you not!).

    These are ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KIDS, not TCP/IP gurus (yet ;).

  • My mother has been part of a pilot program put together by Microsoft and Toshiba. She teaches a fourth/fifth grade split class. The long term aim of the program is to get laptops into the school for each child (Toshiba laptops running Windows, of course).

    It is interesting to see how what they do in her class deviates from what I learned about computers in elementary (I am 26 now). I learned LOGO and BASIC on an Apple ][. In my mother's class, they are learning how to use a computer as a tool for their other work. They use Powerpoint to do presentations for their science project, and Word to write their paragraphs. IMO, the kids in my mother's class are probably getting a better taste of getting comfortable using a computer for tasks they can apply to any path they choose to take than the kids in my class 'back in the day'. *insert creaking rocking chair*

    Tangent -- I will agree that it is good to teach some programming skills early on to kids who might be interested in it, but in general I feel it is probably best to hold off on that until they are a little older and can get more out of it. I know that I didn't get much out of BASIC and LOGO and only started really getting into programming when I learned Pascal later on. That may of course be because I had a Commodore 64 and the games were all so cool I didn't want to waste my time trying to write some little dinky BASIC program.

  • Check out Sun Micro's [] Open Gateways program. It is primarily a grant program, but they also post suggested lesson plans [], and training materials for teachers. It could be a start anyway. Keep in mind, you may need to start very basic, like mouse and kb skills, for some of the kids.
  • Whatever you decide to do, try to run your ideas by the students teacher(s) first. The teachers will know better than anyone what holds these students interest and what does not. They'll be able to tell you whether you need lots of pretty pictures/graphics, or can delve into some more advanced, less flashy topics.
  • Sit them all in front of a linux prompt (no X, just a prompt).

    After about 30 minutes of them staring at the screen, yell something like "Well? Do something!"

    Honestly, I'd take apart a computer in front of them and show them the parts, and use good analogies to explain how everything works. Watch "The Magic Schoolbus" when they dealt with computers. They had some good analogies.
  • You can't cover everything, and you should not try.

    Each week should make them familiar with some aspect of computers, with some practical info

    something like:

    week 1 basic ideas of computing. calculations. relationships of bytes to character to dots on your screen, etc.
    week 2 computer insides. Open one up. see what happens if you disconnect somesomething. (error messages etc)
    week 3: basic Concepts of OSen [guis, command lines, etc.]
    week 4 basic concepts of word processors
    week 5 basic concepts of spread sheets
    week 6 basic concepts of databases
    week 7 basics of games and networks
    week 8 basics of programming and loose ends - how to learn more

    make sure as you go along that you cover the things that make people truly clueless. Like how to follow directions, etc.

    Make sure you give lots of practical details. (what to do when the computer catches on fire, etc) and what is wrong about computers you see in movies, etc.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • remember that computer training for first and second graders is very different that training for 5th and 6th graders - make adjustments accordingly

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • When I started working I got a job as a teacher. I was teaching ATARI LOGO to kids on elementary school, and let me tell you two things:

    If you have no experience dealing with children you will go crazy at the end of the first week. Treating children is not an easy task, you have to gain their trust and their confidence. At the same time you have to keep them under your control, and the only quiet, calm children are those who are sick.

    On the other hand LOGO was real great to keep children interested. I showed them great games written on LOGO and promised them that if they behaved and paid attention they would learn to make their own games. That make them interested enough to be quiet (most of the time)

  • We all remember using EDU the turtle on the old Apple computers. There are pay-versions of LOGO still out there. But, you can also get it for free. Some links for ya:

    Turtle Tracks [] - A Java version released under the GPL. Requires a Java 1.1-compliant virtual machine.
    MSWLogo [] - A windows-only version. The source is available, but I'm not sure what license it is released under.
    Other logo software [] - This list, at the Logo Foundation's website lists commercial and free versions of logo.
    rLogo [] - An online in-the-browser logo interpreter.
  • I did this back in my high school days. It wasn't kids, it was adults, but the same ideas apply. You need to go over the basics. Don't get overly technical, but get started on some of the jargon like RAM vs. HD. The thing that keeps most adults from getting a clue is that they hear a term and associate it with the wrong thing. We've all heard somebody say they got 1 GHz of RAM and a 20 GB of memory.

    After filling them in on the terminology, go over the wide variety of uses for a computer, from things like databases, to complex calculations to games and the internet. It's best to give a wide variety of examples and show them that computers in general are not as limited as what most kids have as far as applications on their home computers. Using examples like the movie Toy Story for animation would be good to, so that they can associate with something they've most likely seen.

    Then get into explaining a certain OS and some of the mundane things.
  • When I was still in university, our engineering department ran a summer Eng. camp for kids in both elementary and high school. While the primary focus was on engineering techniques & process in general (you know, building popscicle stick bridges etc.), there were some dedicated courses we ran on computing.

    For the elementary school kids, we didn't try to overwhelm them with technical details - we found that starting with some webpage making, following up with some basic JavaScript was sufficient. We also started further back with an introduction to proper typing. The kids at this point didn't seem too interested in programming per se. Rather were more interested in how to *use* a computer - surf the web, use Windows, how to use Word to type a letter to Grandma etc., how to use PhotoShop to create cool graphics for their webpages.

    The high school kids were a bit easier. All of them had had exposure to computers - they wanted to know C, C++ and Java. While game programming would have been nice, none of them had the necessary math background required for graphics (well, 3D graphics anyway.) Noone expressed much interest in knowing how to use Excel (whats the point, when do you use a spreadsheet in high school?) or MSAccess.

    So we kept the programming exercises pretty simple. Essentially we asked each team what they wanted to do and helped them out as best as we could. One team came up with a pretty slick text based RPG a la Zork (You see a grue. Eat grue. The grue eats you. End.)

    Also, don't forget the power of the Hello-World program. Nothing's cooler then seeing that first *anything*, that you programmed yourself... so it doesn't have to be fancy.

  • First you need to determine their level of experience. Don't make any assumptions about how much you think inner city kids know, they might surprise you. Just as important is to keep your own mind open to their insights to computers. Kids are great at asking why - don't blow off those questions. Great innovation comes from asking why with enough persistance to get the answer. Find out their itch and them help them scratch it.

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.

    • Is this one 8-week course, or 8 one-week courses?
    • What age group?
    • What hardware, software, books, and other resources are available to you?
    • Is there money for field-trips (or other off-site excursions)?
    • How old are you?
    • Do you have professional contacts that could do presentations, demos, etc.?
    • Has this summer camp course been done before? If so, can you get the previous years' course notes, study guides, demo programs, etc.?
    • Does the school have a computer class for this age group during the school year? Can you get the books, notes, coursework used for that?
    • Do you have any teaching experience? (if not, talk with professional teachers)
    • Do you have any camp counseling experience? (if not, talk with those who have done this before)
    • How many kids will you have?
    • How is the day broken up? Do you have one class all day? Is it several classes, possibly of different kids in each one?
    • Will you have assisstants?

    Those are just some questions to get started. While the general curriculum might be independent of the class size, age group, computer hardware available, and time spent in lab vs. in other parts of camp, the thousand details of just how you will run the course can be very dependent on those issues.

    Get the best information you can about what's been done before and what the situation will be for your camp, to help you prepare.

    Hope it goes well -- this could be a lot of fun and extremely rewarding (for you and the kids).
    D. Fischer
  • My favorite part was your racism when you said "too black". All the inner cities around here are hispanic. Ah, the closed minds of the open-minded...
  • experience teaching computers to elementary school kids

    The key words in the above line are "teaching" and "elementary school kids." For starters, kids don't have long attention spans, so whatever you come up with, try and keep the "ooh-wow" factor up there. This probably means discussing the finer points of the GPL probably isn't going to make it.

    Your lesson will inevitably depend on their background. Are you going to need to teach them how to interact with a computer? Maybe. Demonstrate how to use a mouse (the little Java/Javscript game in which one tries to click on the button that moves onmouseover comes to mind).

    Showcase some of the strengths of computers--speed and accuracy, for one, and availability of information. Keep your demonstrations brief and highly interactive or you'll lose people. Maybe have the kids add 10 numbers as fast as they can and time them. Then let a computer do it. See who wins...Talk about the Internet, and show them some flashy (or even Flash-y) things (like /.!). Maybe coordinate with a friend and show them email and maybe instant messaging. Depending on the resources you have at your disposal, teach them to email each other. Show them how big the Internet is. Visit sites from around the world and describe what's happening (the Internet is Big. The Internet is Fast. Big and Fast are Good when one is in fourth grade).

    A developer from Dragon once impressed a college CS lecture with a NaturallySpeaking demo just before it was released. I'd be fairly impressed by speech recognition software if I were a fourth grader. Something to think about.

    Show them different kinds of computers if possible (calculator, Palm, laptop, desktop) and let them come up with other places that one finds computers. Have them talk about where they'd *like* to find computers, or what they wish computers would do.

    My examples are primarily of the lame "off-the-top-of-my-head" variety, but I think that the overriding advice is sound. Keep it interactive, and always have something for the kids' hands to be doing (even if it is just raising them to shout out answers). Keep their attention, and you'll have success teaching computers or anything else. -db

  • You did read where it said elemenrty school students, right?
  • Be sure to teach them about computers and how they work, not just how to use specific pieces of software. Despite the fact that they're from the inner city, I'm sure they'll be told how to search the web or format Word documents thousands of times by the time they leave high school. Instead, try demonstrating how software is written and executed, or how files are downloaded from the internet or something. It wouldn't be good for their knowledge to be worthless as soon as the next version of Netscape or Windows is released.
  • I was responsible for several students at a local K-5 school during a summer program which was a citywide initiative by the mayor and included sports, arts, etc. It wasn't inner city, but middle-class.

    I was teaching a general class about computers, a band of over 25 teachers and others who didn't have any idea of what to do besides sit the kids in front of a bunch of Macs and have them click blindly. (Memories of my own days going to 'computer class' where you would sit while the teacher talked to the librarian flashed into mind).

    I would suggest you go the route others have mentioned with LOGO. It's an excellent learning environment, especially for higher thinking. Most kids don't realize there is a process for everything we do, and when they do (usually in a sudden epiphany while learning Algebra years later) it's too late to build upon in their early years.

    You should also expect to have some students not interested in anything at all. Some of the kids I had, for example, were being forced by their parents into this 'free' summer program as a solution to daycare. I can only imagine what inner city parents might do to get their kids a free babysitter (my experience was from dual income $50k+ parents). Anyway, there were a few kids, especially two little girls who refused to do anything and wanted to play with a bag of toys their mother had dropped off. Several of the kids were only in the program because the sports and arts programs had filled up. You should be prepared for kids like this, and remember not to take it personally. Try to isolate them from the other children to avoid their influence on the group (e.g. "This isn't school, I don't have to do it, and I want to play."). Kids can cause chaos just a well as rioting adults can, and you don't want 24 kids running around throwing paper, eating gum from under the table, kicking each other, and crying in the corner.

    Sound like the voice of experience?

    I don't want to dampen your optimism, however. In my case I wasn't using LOGO but was teaching internet browsing basics. I thought I would start the kids off at some of the well known kid hangouts, etc. such as,, back street boys, etc. This ended up working well and many kids said they would go to the public library to use computers or ask their parents if they could learn more about using their home computer, which, for many, was most interestingly off limits.

    But you should remember you are no teacher and that those in the field go through just as much behavoiral traning as that in academics. Especially with young kids, some of the methods aren't immediatly obvious because we haven't been kids for at least a little while and once you go logic/adult you never go back.

    So be prepared, and be flashy: teenagers have trouble sitting through a lecture, and you expect kids to? Identify those interested and those not, maintain control at ALL COSTS, and be prepared for night-flying parents with the $120/week daycare payment in mind...

    Also remember to keep in mind that your main goal isn't to teach a computer science class, but get disadvatged kids interested in something which is certain to bring them out of poverty. You want them to leave with a "all the possibilities" and some grasp of just how important computers and how big they are. Little kids especially can't understand large differences, for example a thousand and a million are about the same to a 1st grader. Try to make them understand computers are much larger than any known number and that if anything is possible using computers. Some kids may like the fact that you can tell a computer to do whatever you want and it will always obey like a perfect-best friend (for an 8 year old, that is). You want to impact these kids that they go home and are excited about coming back and begin to look at the world differently.
  • When I was a teenager I taught an astronomy class at a Scout camp one summer. It wasn't the easiest subject to teach (especially during the day) and most kids were interested in getting some requirements fulfilled and getting on to rifle or archery class.

    My first mistake was opening the class with "There are 2 types of telescopes we'll be working with. Let's talk about the differences."

    At that point, I knew I had already lost them and I was beginning to flounder. Immediately, one of the teachers who was there as back-up stepped up and said "Who wants to grab a telescope and spy on some of their friends in the boring classes?!!"

    I came to the quick realization that we could teach the kids everything they needed to know without boring them with details. Show them what's really interesting about the subject and let them ask you the details. One of the kids asked me later which telescope would be better for spying and I was able to explain the differences with complete attention from the class... and without sounding like I was lecturing.

    With younger kids especially, the teaching style has a lot more influence than the subject matter. Make it sound fun and the kids will like it no matter what the curriculum.
  • Must...kill..all...deer.

    Your daughter, Jamie, has just died from typhoid fever.

    You try to ford the river.
    12 horses and 42 of your children have died.
    Do you want to buy more bullets? (Y/N)

    God, I loved that game.

  • It sounds like you are the one who has the prejudice. He never mentioned anything about these kids being different, you brought that on, don't project your feelings and overly PC attitude onto others.

    Wake up, inner city is different, the kids aren't dumb, they just aren't the same as more suburban kids, I know this from experience, having lived in both environments, and it is a fact that many inner city kids have had less computer experience then those in other environments.

    Understanding the world isn't racism it's life, If he had said, "now what am I gonna teach these getto monkeys?" that would have been racism, but no, you covered that for us.

    I don't work here, I'm just along for the ride.
  • My father is a principal at a New Orleans school deep in the Ninth Ward, and his is the only school in the area with computers. Good ones at that, with even a full T1. It's a very rare thing to see. Yes, everything is CHAINED to the desks and every door has humongous bolts on them. There's even an impressive 'server room' that holds all the routers and stuff. HUGE BOLTS and lots of alarms. ANYWAY, from the experiences he's told me, it's best to use the very basic programs. The Typing Spelling and Math Blaster! programs (something like that) he uses a lot and, of course, OREGON TRAIL! Ah yes. And don't try to get too multi-tasked on them. Keep it simple. These kids will pick up quick and you will be amazed. Most of them had no problem at all getting used to a mouse and keyboard, either. So don't fret that.
  • This may be their first real contact with a computer, correct? Or if it isn't their first, that first contact was probably to informal all it taught them was misconceptions.

    I am not suggesting you cover boolean algebra, or binary arithmetic, because these are just kids. But you could teach them what an algorithm is.

    I taught computer literacy, a couple of generations of software ago. And I helped friends who had been taught badly unlearn their bad training. Based on that experience I would strongly urge you to avoid teaching specific task-oriented skills, alone. Yes, people get impatient with abstraction -- particularly if they don't really respect you. But tightly focussed, practical, training, that avoids putting the skill or application in a wider context, can be absolutely crippling. Many people who are given a-theoretical training cannot adapt to using systems that are different than those on which they were trained.

    You never want to have your students asking "How do I do a 'control KR' in this program". Rather you want them to know that ^KR is a specific instance of a more general operation.

  • Like Oregon Trail had anything to do with the real progression of the frontier. I don't remember anything about stealing land, raping indians, and turning the land into shithole it became. Yet it was educational. I say dopewars is more educational than oregon trail.

    Oh well.


  • Here's a perfect game []. And it's open source.

  • I used to work as the tech guy for a grade school, and had the honor of getting to teach for two hours a day in the process. Teach the kids how computers work, as in binary math. Nothing complicated, just a little addition and subtraction with very small numbers.
    Then, show them how a computer draws a picture. draw a simple picture, then cut it up. paste an address on each one piece then mix the pieces up and hand one out to each kid. Have them line up as you call the pieces in order. another way is to give each child a few pieces of colored paper, then assign a value to each color, then write a series of number on a chalk board, and let the kids make the picture.
    Be creative, have fun, and just remember, the computer can only count to one, even if it can do it 100 million times a second.
  • I didn't take this as being racist.

    By emphasizing that the kids were "inner city" kids, I suppose it implies that they are disadvantaged economically, and maybe don't have computers at home. Or maybe that as a part of avoiding the daily violence of the inner city they may not have as much time to study as suburban kids.

  • Nothing was more influential to me than learning LOGO in grade school.

    I still don't know my times tables.

  • Inner city schools tend to have low-end computers which are often donated. Also, inner city schools tend to have a less computer-literate/experienced staff and user base. While the computers are likely to have Internet access (thanks to all of you who paid your phone bills with the 'tax' for wiring schools included), the time spent using the computers isn't so great.

    The computers you will be working with will likely be 3-5 years old and possibly in partial functioning order. Bring your tools and some system disks if you have any. Some schools are better than others at maintenance, but be prepared for the worst.

    First, let me recommend two resources for you:

    T.H.E. Journal -
    Education Week -

    These will lead you to other resources as well.

    I recommend teaching students how to utilize the Internet as an education resource. Research and communication are the key benefits for the students you will be working with. Get them free e-mail accounts. (Be careful about personal information, especially with students 12 and under. Federal law heavily restricts that information online.)

    Through those above links, you will find activities for the students online; I also recommend sites like The Learning Network ( for student activities and teacher ideas. These will let the students begin to see the potential of the machines in front of them.

    From there, you can continue to build a cross-curriculum focus by teaching the students how to use computers to write. Journal responses, perhaps in combination with the above-mentioned research skills. This is a great opportunity to show the children how to use office-type software, especially for formatting.

    Finally, if PowerPoint is installed (or a similar kid-centric multimedia slideshow program like mPower), you can allow students creative outlets in building multimedia presentations (again, using information from the Web combined with their own writing). The New York Times had a recent article on this new phenomenon.

    These are just a few ideas; many more are located in the few links above and elsewhere on the Net, natch. All of the above ideas take advantage of the likely circumstances you will encounter. Just remember to go in prepared, including backup ideas when something goes wrong. Computers are less than half of your job here; learning how to prepare a lesson plan and executing it is probably the hardest part. Again, the above links will assist you in that task.

    Good luck! I've done this before and currently work making educational software for schools; it's terribly rewarding work. I wish you the best.
  • by Ian Bicking ( 980 ) <{ianb} {at} {}> on Friday June 08, 2001 @11:51AM (#165602) Homepage
    Oh, and to counter some people's criticism that inner city kids need vocational training... (which Logo is not, but word processing is): don't sell the kids out.

    They aren't going to be working as secretaries at age 10. They don't need those skills -- they need the skills to think. Underprivileged kids are often deprived of this in school, at least in enrichment programs they should have this chance.

  • These are topics either used by, or based on, ideas covered by the NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) in the UK, for around this age-range:

    • Abstract logic. One place to start, here, is to define "plink" as 3, and "plank" as 7, and require that the kids substitute accordingly. This teaches kids the concept of variables and constants, in a way algebra classes -should- but don't.
    • Identifiction Keys. One of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to identify an unknown is to run through a series of multiple-choice questions, where each question is based on the previous answer. "Animal" is a good example of a program that uses this kind of logic. This teaches how to construct and use n-ary trees, and why you might want to, in a way that isn't so high-brow that kids can actually afford to enjoy this.
    • Animation using colour-cycling. This is one of the oldest techniques, and is really no different from the old technique of sketching a picture in the corner of a page, a similar picture in the same corner of the next page, etc., then flicking the pages to produce animation. This technique has many advantages, in that it's (a) going to be similar to stuff they've covered in art class, for animation, or at least close enough that they'd recognise the idea, and (b) it doesn't require worrying about machine speed, getting image components transformed correctly, etc. It just works.
    • Simple message passing. This would allow one machine to send some simple piece of data to another machine.

    Ok, that's three lessons covered. What could you do with those lessons? Well, how about having a stick-man figure that can walk around one screen, off the edge, and onto another screen? Right the way round the room?

    IMHO, if a bunch of kids could put something like that together, and could see "their" creation hop from machine to machine, around the room, those kids would feel more of a sense of achievement than any one-armed bandit, space-invader, or pac-man clone could ever do. Sure, each of those requires more graphics, and more logic, but nobody sees logic, and any graphics they do will not compete with the latest console game they just bought.

    Give them a problem that grabs their attention, but doesn't compete for it with the cartoon channel or the latest video game. Running an animation across a massive virtual distributed computer (even a game of "pong" across multiple machines!) will appeal in a way that almost nothing else will.

  • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:39AM (#165604)
    I learned to program because I needed more photon torpedos than the Star Trek game gave out. You know, the ancient one with the square grid of dots?

    Learned about the limits of precision of variables, too, when I figured out why I could only have 32767 ptorps at a time.

    Taught myself BASIC on a Wang System 2200 at age 14 (and I can still RTFM today).
  • by jonathansen ( 68749 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:25AM (#165605)
    I know what kept me interested in computer classes in elementary school... education video games! Ah... Oregon Trail. It'd be worth checking into what games are cheap/free for education purposes.
  • by ravrazor ( 69324 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @11:40AM (#165606)
    FWIW: i agree w/ the parent post.

    just read slashdot at 0 and read all the rascist shit that ppl just post for fun, unrelated to whatever topic is being discussed.

    all replies to this thread, and its moderation as flamebait show me that here are ppl who will argue all day that alewando is projecting his/her internal biases on cliff, but it's a fact. to say these kids as "inner-city" and assume that there is some inherent quality that they share (whether in terms of intelligence or economic status or whatever) is both classist and racist.
    i wonder when most slashdotters will wake up to the fact that a lot of ppl have prefabricated notions of what it 'means' to be a certain race, and while not on the same scale as the KKK, it's still racism.

    keep your opinions, but question what's being fed to you. last week in toronto, there was a front page story in the NATIONAL newspaper about government beureaucracy causing the deportation of a polish immigrant family that underpaid some immigration fee by $50.
    ask yourself why that's front page news, when non-white families w/ similar or even more tragic stories are deported daily.

    and at one point, yes, i would have argued it over and over like most of the replies to this thread, but at some point, you must recognize that not everybody even cares enough to think about motivations for people's behaviour, but that maybe you should.

    so, all i'm saying is think about it. put that rational thought that everybody here seems to prize so much to good use and realize your own motivations and the realities that ppl can't be lumped into categories based on superficial similarities.

    hopefully someone'll read this, as for how many years it'll take to be able to salvage the damage to my karma, that's another story...
  • by mach-5 ( 73873 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:53AM (#165607) Homepage
    I think you definately want to stick to the basics, especially if they are younger kids. First start out with hardware..."this is the monitor, the keboard, mouse, CD-ROM" and teach them how to use each one. Then teach them about proper bootup and shutdown. Then move into stuff about Windows in general, this is the taskbar, start button, etc. Then teach them to do some general tasks like launching programs, deleting files, etc. Do all of this before you even start getting into games or programming like logo. A fundamentally educated group is much better than a group that knows how to do one task (launch a game and play it). The trick to all of this is keeping the kids interested and involved. So making it fun is the challenge.
  • by VoidOfReality ( 156286 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:33AM (#165608)
    Like it or not, graphics programming is what's going to get kids hooked on coding. It's relatively easy to do (assuming you're somewhat creatively inclined), and kids can start hacking and see immediate results from their changes. After playing with this for a while, kids will tend to get bored with doing just that and they will try and figure out how to do more stuff with the language they've used. Of course, there will always be some kids who find the whole thing immensely boring, but you can't win 'em all...
  • by Sir_Real ( 179104 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:52AM (#165609)
    Wordprocessing, spreadsheets, and databases? I'm going to assume that you didn't understand his question. These are inner-city elementary students. Programming should almost not even be broached at this point. Navigating a filesystem, executing programs, internet stuff (irc/ftp/google whatever), MAYBE help them build their own websites and show them how to add stuff to them. Without knowing the reading level of the students, this is about as much as one can offer.

  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @11:17AM (#165610) Homepage
    Forbid them from touching or even looking at the computer. Then leave them unattended. They should be experts by the time you get back.
  • by Sandlund ( 226344 ) <chris@sandlun[ ] ['dme' in gap]> on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:52AM (#165611)
    I'd suggest you touch base with several other organizations that are doing similar work around the country, including:

    The Bay Area Video Coalition [] in San Francisco, which is training adults for jobs in Internet industries. They will probably be familiar with local groups doing stuff for kids locally.

    Playing to Win [] A long-time New York organization providing computer training in East Harlem. Director Mara Rose is particularly helpful.

    The National Urban Technology Center, Inc. [] which has developed a curriculum for 4th graders to be taught at neighborhood computer centers in New York. Pat Bransford was the president last summer and very helpful.

    United Neighborhood Houses of New York, Inc. [] which is running a tech program at 8 community housing projects in New York City. Director of the information technology initiative is Michael Roberts.

    Also, you might as well go directly to the Borg. The Gates Learning Foundation [] was set up to fund efforts like this. They are probably an excellent source for finding groups that have already been working on curricula.
  • by tunabomber ( 259585 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:41AM (#165612) Homepage
    My first experience with computer programming was building cars and stuff out of legos and programming them with Lego LOGO. It was wayyy beyond cool to be eleven years old and get to build robots. What's more, it was really easy and I'm sure just about any kid could get the hang of it in a short period of time. Right now, the descendent of Lego LOGO are the Mindstorms robotics kits. If you can afford them, they are well worth it.
  • by banuaba ( 308937 ) <> on Friday June 08, 2001 @11:13AM (#165613)
    It is still around, [] has it for 14.99

    Also, googling for it [], I found an old journal [] from the version 1 of the game. It's pretty funny.

  • by gokubi ( 413425 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:48AM (#165614) Homepage
    I've been volunteering at a Seattle area non-profit called Technology Access Foundation (TAF) [] for 8 months teaching networking to high school kids. TAF is an amazing organization that is internationally acclaimed [] for its work to close the "digital divide."

    Working with ages 5-18, TAF starts out doing just what you are talking about--getting kids using computers in constructive ways. They just completed their first year of TechStart (a program for 5-12 year olds.) Check out their site--they're great people.

  • by notCNE ( 443816 ) <chris.uky@edu> on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:48AM (#165615) Homepage
    Several years ago I taught a web class for elementary school children for a summer camp. It was quite an experience.

    Here are some thought from what I have learned about teaching kids tech:

    • Keep Them Busy: I made the mistake that all the kids would be happily content with the simple lessons I threw at them. Several students were extremely fast and I could never keep them satisfied. I didn't plan on the kids to finish quickly. Making kids just surf the web to buy time didn't go over very well.
    • Web Pages: I was able to get the kids to work progressively on their own home pages. Gave them a primer on HTML, then we used an AOL GUI application to build the web pages. That application totally sucked, but because it was GUI, the kids pick right up on it. Also gave them a simple server/client explanation on how the web worked. The artistic/imaginative kids in your class will be swept up in making their web pages.
    • Careful When You Chat: Also gave the kids a impromtu course on IRC chat... then watched as some hooligans came in our seperate chat room and started cussing. The kids really enjoyed that... but their parents didn't...
    • Get Permissions and Trial Runs: Take the time to set up every client-based application yourself. Get early access to the labs if necessary. Also, tell those in charge exactly what you plan on installing on thier systems, and how to get it off.

    For just about anything you want to teach (HTML, IRC Chat, etc) you can find free stuff on the web. I was surprised how the kids took to using Also, be sure to be prepared when some kids just don't get whatever your teaching -- its difficult on the child when his peers are ready to move on.

    Christopher N Emmick
  • by night_flyer ( 453866 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:38AM (#165616) Homepage
    no, it really is a good idea, were talking about elementary school kids here, those that have probably never played on a computer. Teach them that they are all work and you will lose 95% of them. teach them that they can do many fun things and you will hook 95% of them... one suggestion is you may want to buy an old 386 and tear it apart for them so they can see what is under the hood so to speak... kids love to tear things apart :)
  • by night_flyer ( 453866 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:40AM (#165617) Homepage
    coding? im perty sure they are just trying to get the kids comfotable around computers, and to let them figure out routine tasks... I would be very suprised if anything other than basic operation is taught... especially in the timeframe listed
  • by tfreport ( 458641 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:32AM (#165618)
    What you should teach them depends on the age of the children. I would help lower elementary children first how to use a computer with simple games and maybe even a couple songs. As they get older add some lecture and give them more freedom in what they can do. The thing not to do is assume that they are children and do not know how to use a computer. At my high school we had this required computer class, it became the most pointless worst class anyone had to take. All the class consisted of was a semester of MS Word (all of the different tools) a few weeks of PowerPoint, Excel, Acces, and if you were lucky how to answer the telephone. Oh and unless I forget, the ever popular create a website using Word. Please be creative, they might be children but the last thing you want to do is turnoff the future of computing because you were boring and taught them nothing new. Good luck and I think you will find working with youngsters a lot of fun.
  • by arpad1 ( 458649 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:58AM (#165619)
    get them doing web pages.

    Start with a WYSIWYG tool to make it easy. You ought to have a scanner handy, that'll help. Get them to hit some of the graphics repositories to gussy up their pages. The kids will have quick feedback, the'll be able to compare results which will get their competitive juices going and if you're using one of the free hosting sites they can show they're web page to people outside school.

    Then have them get into the HTML, to make the connection between the HTML and what shows up on the browser. Modifications to the HTML using a text editor with side trips to Webmonkey and WDVL to show them where to find out more about HTML.

    Lay in some canned Javascript. Then get into modifying that.

    During all this they'll have to learn about directories, file formats, moving files around, editting files and debugging pages/scripts when they go wrong. That ought to keep 'em busy for a summer.

  • by matman ( 71405 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:49AM (#165620)
    What better way to learn about networks and computers? Get permission from parents to let the kids bring in games... then have them set them up and play against eachother... have them set up the ethernet network that they're going to play over, and teach them how it works. Most kids like playing video games :) They'll learn how to install software, what files are, what networks are, vaguely how networks work, and they'll do it having a lot of fun (which is the most important thing). When I was in elementary school, I hated sitting in acedemic classes - you've got to disguise the learning in fun :) I'll bet kids don't really care that an ASCII character is 8 bits, and which is different from a 16 unicode character... they won't care to know how to count in binary, and they probably won't care how to address memory in any programming language.
  • by Lahjik ( 181864 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:59AM (#165621)
    I am an elementary school Instructional Technology Resource Teacher. I was also director of a technology camp for 2nd/3rd and 4th/5th grade students last summer. Kids are VERY interested in learning about and using computers. It doesn't take much to keep them interested, just hands-on use of skills that you are teaching.
    From my teaching experience I can recommend a couple of approaches that I know work for kids!
    1) Multimedia Presentations: Kids tend to be expressive. Use PowerPoint, HyperStudio, or KidPix (depending on the level and availability) to create a presentation about their neighborhood, their lives, or whatever. Get a digital camera and document the world around them. This project lets them explore digital cameras, scanners, using audio clips, graphics, and fun fonts.
    2) Create a WebPage: Find a local organization or community aspect that you could create a web page for. Teach the kids basic design principles and some HTML code. Have fun laughing at some of the really bad web pages that are out there. Create a virtual zoo, a virtual rock garden, a virtual forest, or anything else.
    3) Hack: Get into the nitty-gritty of a low level programming language like (please don't laugh) PASCAL or LOGO. Kids catch on to these languages quickly because they can think through commands in English and then write in PASCAL. (Unlike, for instance, PERL).
    4)Explore: Take virtual field trips on the Internet. Go check out the National Archives Exhibit on When Nixon Met Elvis []. There are other neat sites that you can preview and then write scavanger hunts about.
    Just remember that the kids will need to see what you are doing. Showing them the task is an important step that you cannot skip. Also remember to show them that you love working with computers.
  • by arnie_apesacrappin ( 200185 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @11:08AM (#165622)
    This is very true. You need something that the students will be interested in. The local NSBE had an Engineer for a Day program, and I told them that I would run a room. I had mostly young highschool students, and 2.5 hours. We built a network (4 routers, two switches) and a web site. I had everything mapped out, and tried to give the kids all the info they needed, but make them put the info together to make the network work.

    But to keep the class interesting, I brought my digital camera, so that we could put pics of students on the web site they built. And I brought in MP3's of the latest pop music, but they had to use the network we built to get to them. By the end of the class, we had a fully functional network, an interesting web site (pretty good for kids that had never done that before) and a room full of laptops blaring MP3's.

    The kids enjoyed the MP3's and were supprised at how unhard setting up a network could be. The adults in the room had a good time too. And I got good contacts with the CEO of the company, so I was grinning.

    All in all, be engaging, and make sure the kids have a good time. If you get an idea for what they like to do, run with it. Oh, and take apart hardware if possible. It's usually a crowd pleaser.

  • by blamanj ( 253811 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @12:01PM (#165623)

    Stagecast Creator [] is a program designed expressly for teaching programming concepts to kids. It uses the concept of simulation rather than programming per se, but the characters, behaviors, and variables translate readily into the programming domain once the kids are familiar with the concept of "teaching the computer."

    Unlike Logo and Squeak, Creator does not require the students to wrestle with syntax. All programming is done visually. A short tour [] shows what it's like.

    It's written in Java so it should available on almost any platform.

  • This may be a bit too advanced for your students, but Mindrover:The Europa Project ( allows the player to create autonomous AIs without any real coding. These AIs then pilot robots that try to kiil each other. (Kids love robots and violence). The game look very nice as well.

    Another option - although this is also sort of advanced - might be for you to have the students make game levels. If this is too advanced, you could make a level yourself, and have the students change it. (Can you change this tile? What can you make the tank do?) Likewise, you could make the robots for them in Mindrover, and just have them tweak them. Neither of these ideas provides real job skills, but they could build a love of computers.

  • by raque ( 457836 ) <jimwall@mac . c om> on Friday June 08, 2001 @02:31PM (#165625)
    Hi! - I just did what you did except I joined a small school as its computer teacher and will be working with kids over the summer. There have been a number of great posts so far. The more detailed the post has been the better. Here are my set of points (repeating others at times)

    1)Have fun - if your not they won't.
    2)there is no such thing as "kids", instead there is a group of individuals who are kids. Each will have their own quirks.
    3)Have a very good idea what you want to do so you are not floundering - but be willing to chuck it all if it isn't working or something better pops up.
    4)deal with groups of 3-6 at a time and have them work in teams.
    5)realize you are there do deal with the kids not the computers, most of your time will be spent dealing with the teams - their interacting with each other, and individual kids with-in teams
    6)This is a summer camp - keep things on the lite side and focus on having them enjoy themselves.

    Ed. Points.

    Kids come in age groups and you have to deal with them in that way 3-6 year olds are almost a different species from 9-12 year olds. And starting at about 12 it comes clear that they are also from a different universe :)
    What I've done. Started out this way.

    all groups:
    what are the parts of a computer? everyone can give 1 or 2 answers.
    When you think of computers what do you think of? Again 1 or 2 answers per kid - game, net, etc are good answers.
    (This will give you a good idea of who knows what.) Answer questions

    **explain rules about how to use computers and how to handle problems, Everone, or every group, gets half hour or some such and if anything goes wrong or seems strange - stop and ask for help, etc ***

    This should take about 30 - 45 minutes per group of 3 - 6 kids. Your are spending a lot of time just learning their names. What I do is when ever you speak you have to say your name first. At this point there will be tons of calling out, kids cutting each other off, yelling or looking lost and glum. This will help show who will need to be sat on to control and who will require some drawing out.

    take a computer apart. I just dug out one of the schools old Mac LCIIIs and pulled it apart and let the kids handle the parts. Show them which parts are what. This is a hard drive, this is the CPU, etc. Answer questions.

    This is also good for 30 -60 minutes per group. Don't rush though, when their attention seems to start to waver it's time to move on.

    Here I started to split things by age. Kids 3-6 are not very good at handling abstractions, here stick to hands on and if you want this to happen do that. Move from the concret to the abstact.

    6-9 are better then 3-6ers at abstration but still not very good. They can deal with simple analogies, CPU is like a brain. In this age group I start to introduce some vocabulary, as in syntax and algorithm.

    9-12s can start to deal with abstractions so I start to use simple pancake diagrams to show the different levels of a computer and how software works and programming is done. source - assembler - binary - machine. And start them one working on the machines.

    12 + they start to be teenagers.

    You will spend a vast amount of time just manageing what happens and keeping order. if you need anything else you can post again or sendemails.
  • by Ian Bicking ( 980 ) <{ianb} {at} {}> on Friday June 08, 2001 @11:38AM (#165626) Homepage
    I really like Logo too. It teaches programming, but it also is very much about teaching mathematics, geometry, pre-algebra, and algorithmic thinking in general. Thus Logo can satisfy both the people who want academics (math), and people who want vocational aspects (programming).

    Some scattered thoughts:

    • You can use MSW Logo [] for free (GPL even). It's hardly the best interface or anything, but it will do. MicroWorlds [] is a very popular commercial Logo environment. If you have the budget, you might use it. HyperStudio, which they probably already have, has a Logo inside it too. But don't use that, as it's a really lame environment, not to mention a crappy implementation.

    • I would also like to reemphasize that you should do things in a hands-on manner. Start out right on the computer, and try to keep them working with the computer as much as possible. Try very hard to get a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio, even if it means kids get less total time on the computers. Of course this doesn't mean you should force the kids to stay at their computer -- if you are doing something fun, the kids will want badly to show each other what they are doing. If they don't want to show each other, you are doing the wrong project.

    • Against my previous advice, you should do physical practice with Logo turtle commands -- i.e., have the kids order each other or you around using Logo commands. Like, have the kids navigate you around the room by using just left, right, forward, and back commands. This amuses them, because they can make you bump into tables and walk out the door. It is useful, because they'll have an easier time imagining themselves in your place than they will have imagining themselves in the turtles place.

    • Of course, if you have access to Lego Logo stuff (which is expensive), use it. You'll probably enjoy that as much as the kids.

    • Don't start out too quickly -- just have them draw pictures at first. Kids are surprisingly easy to amuse this way. If you have enough time, kids might be able to make games too, but very possibly not :-( MicroWorlds would make game-making much easier.

    • Oh, and if you have older kids, Star Logo [] is a neat environment for experimenting with massively parrallel computation. And if you feel a bit more adventurous and have Macs available, maybe try Boxer [], a somewhat more visual programming language with the same goals as Logo.
  • by Chewie ( 24912 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:51AM (#165627)
    I'm sorry, but I see absolutely nothing in his tone or in his words to imply that, as you put it, "inner-city students just can't learn because they're too stupid or too black." Talk about jumping the gun. First of all, any concerns would seem to be made on a socio-economic basis, not on a racial basis as you seem to assume (who's prejudiced now?). The fact is that the term "inner-city" is most widely used to refer to poorer residents of highly-populated urban areas, and as such, they probably do not have the best facilities or equipment for learning. Now, someone who has grown up in an affluent neighborhood (or even a lower-middle-class neighborhood) has probably at least seen a computer in his life, whereas poorer students may have never experienced them, and the teacher needs to find a way to engage them, to get them to care about what he's trying to teach. Also, these kids are more likely from a very different social background than he is (again, not about race, but about socio-economic levels). He seems to be genuinely eager to help these kids, and jumping on him for something over-interpreted as racism isn't helping anyone.

    Personally, I think your over-zealous inference of racism is doing more harm than the author possibly could.

  • I'll preface everything by saying I've never given this sort of class and I'm not a professional teacher :)

    That aside...

    Two things I think you need to do. First off see where the class is. Some of them may have computers at home. Some may be hackers in their free time (you also make mention about age range). Some may have no exposure to computers (hard to imagine but true). Some may have programing background the others, nil (or NULL if you prefer ::grin::)

    The second, start with some basics.

    If nothing else, cover what the parts of the computer are, and how they work IN GENERAL. You don't need to get too specific but one or two quick overviews would
    1) allow you to have a basic knowledge to build on
    2) help ease many future tech support calls
    3) have some basic lesson that you can start with, while you are still deciding how much they know, so you know where to take the class.

    It would also depend on what sort of equipment you have available (1 computer per student, 1 per 2 or 3, 1 for the class).

    Beyond the basics of what computers are, and how they work, you could also work on both GUIs (ie, what they are and how they work), as well as some basic programming.

    For GUIs you could work with either Windows, Mac, Gnome/KDE, or any other. Try to teach the concepts they include (point and click, drag and drop, menu bars, etc.). Even for those people who use computers, a lot of the time they don't look at the GUIs. How many times do you stop and think about the functionality of the buttons and layouts? (or how much better it might be done?)

    For programming try a simple scripting language like Perl or Python. (depending on your preference). If you don't have computers available, you could also try the basic technique of having them write simple scripts and acting like the computers themselves (follow the instructions and see what happens).

    It all depends on the ago of the children. With kids you can try explaining programing as commands to make something happen (you want to tell the dog what to do, first go outside... but the door is closed, which direction should it go, etc). For GUI development you could work with a paint program (there are oodles of them for kids, and it might work well), for older kids I'd try a word processor and/or spreadsheet since its a valuable skill to have. Also, don't forget that many of them will already be familiar with Web browsers.

    If you have limited resources that might be another thought, teach them how to build web pages. This includes some creativity, some programming (okay HTML isn't programming per se, but Javascript could be), and some general computer skills (how do you enter the files? How do I use the internet, etc.).

    Sorry for the rambling.
    Hope these ideas help some. Let me know how it goes.

  • by pmbuko ( 162438 ) <pmbuko&gmail,com> on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:27AM (#165629) Homepage
    I had the chance to be a special computer guest for my teacher-friend. What I did was bring in a 3D graphics program. I showed them all some animations I had done and they were glued to the computer screen.

    I then sent them off to their own computers where I had pre-laoded the software and ran them through the basics. By the end of the class period, they were making some really cool scenes! And they were only K-2!

    Whatever you do, make sure it's something that's fun and involving. Kids are awesome and most of them pick up on things quick, so you have to keep it interesting.
  • There is a well written paper The Computer Clubhouse: Technological Fluency in the Inner City [] that I just found by doing a web search. It includes a list of principles to keep in mind when teaching kids.

    You might want to also check out Geeks into the Streets [] - "Geeks Into The Streets (GITS) is an opportunity for people who love computers to bring them to people who might otherwise not have access to them." Their primary project is House Agape [].

  • by Preposterous Coward ( 211739 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:51AM (#165631)
    I've helped teach (admittedly privileged) elementary-school kids in the past, and I've also done some work with a volunteer organization that helped wire New York City schools and gave computer instruction to teachers, so here are some observations I've derived from those experiences.

    The Prime Directive: Be as direct, and hands-on, as possible.

    Try to minimize the amount of time you spend on background material. While it's fascinating to techie types like us to know what's going on under the hood, the thing the kids will probably want most is simply to get their hands on the machines and play. Put as few obstacles in the way of that as possible, and encourage exploration. Get their hands on the computers on the first day! You can circle back and teach the "why" material later.

    Also, don't try to shove too much material into too little time. Save time for the kids to explore and have fun, not just plow through prefab lessons.

    Find out what the kids are most interested in, and teach them that.

    You want to keep the excitement level and sense of discovery high so that the kids will develop a lasting interest in computers, so I encourage flexibility rather than strict adherence to any particular course of study. The kids may not know enough about computers to even know what most interests them, but think about Web surfing (careful with what sites they can access, of course), email/IM, games, maybe even digital imaging if you can get your hands on a digicam or scanner. It'll be a lot easier to introduce word processing after you've gotten people hooked on email (which has a much higher fun quotient) than vice versa. Things involving graphics will also have a lot more appeal than those involving text, particularly since many of the kids may not know how to type or, in the worst case, may have limited literacy.*

    Encourage the more knowledgeable/experienced kids to help their classmates.

    The kids will learn at different speeds. Some will pick things up right away and others will agonize over it forever. Use this to your advantage and have the fast learners help out the slower learners, if you can do this without causing too much friction.

    Come up with lessons that convey the ideas that the kids will need to know for future success with computers -- but subtly and in the course of something they can relate to.

    Identify the basic concepts you want kids to understand when they leave. That probably includes something like:

    • The difference between working memory and permanent storage
    • Basic filesystem concepts (what's a file, what's a folder, what does copying and deleting/trashing do)
    • What an application is, how to start it, how to get information from one to another (i.e., the clipboard)
    • How to get on and use the Internet for e-mail, basic research (search engines and the like), etc.
    (Some of these might be overkill if you're talking early elementary school -- first-graders might not need to know about filesystems, for example, but fifth- or sixth-graders ought to be at least introduced to the concept.)

    Come up with a list of resources the kids can use after the class is over.

    Two things: First, where are places they can go to continue using computers if they don't have one at home. That could be places like public libraries. Second, what books, Web sites, etc. can they turn to if they want to learn more on their own.

    *--Note: the comment about limited literacy, in this context of teaching a summer camp that includes "inner-city" kids, is not meant to be any kind of coded racist reference. It's simply the sad truth that many kids in school in the U.S. who are not in affluent suburban schools (and probably quite a few who are, as well) are reading well below grade level. This is something you should be prepared for.

  • by Gruneun ( 261463 ) on Friday June 08, 2001 @12:15PM (#165632)
    I like network gaming as much as the next guy, but to say playing networked games teaches about networks is like saying, "I'm learning auto repair by driving to work everyday."

    By and large, the population of game players knows absolutely nothing about the console/computer/network that they use. If you want to include computer games in a class about computers, have the kids create a game. Kids like to be creative and see a product of their work.

    Maybe elementary school kids can't create a first-person shooter, but if you show them a digital camera and teach them to edit their it will spark their interest. That's all you need. They'll ask questions about the ASCII and binary subjects later.
  • by Dancin_Santa ( 265275 ) <> on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:24AM (#165633) Journal
    Text parsing and DB accessing are B-O-R-I-N-G. Get them doing "graphics programming" with LOGO or some other similarly easy-to-learn-with-quick-results language.

    Dancin Santa
  • by banuaba ( 308937 ) <> on Friday June 08, 2001 @10:48AM (#165634)

    Your daughter, Jamie, has just died from typhoid fever.

    You try to ford the river.
    12 horses and 42 of your children have died.
    Do you want to buy more bullets? (Y/N)

    God, I loved that game.


Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome. -- Dr. Johnson