An Uncommon Interface: Little Kids, Big Kids, and Computer Technology

A few weeks ago,  the children who attend McCutcheon High School’s pre-school class (Creative Corral) and the high school students in Computer Repair and Maintenance (CRAM)–the students who fix the computers for everyone else in the school–came together for a morning of activities the teenaged students called “Pre-TECH.”

Mrs. Arrika Yoder’s Early Childhood Education class at MHS meets every day. In the morning, the students work in the pre-school that is housed in the high school building. In the afternoon, they learn about careers in education, plan lessons, discuss issues, and gain as much exposure to the world of education as they can. These students are on track for careers as educators, day care providers, pediatric nurses, and child psychologists. Some will retake the lab portion of the class next year; some will become cadet teachers in our elementary and middle schools.

Mrs. Christina Bennett’s CRAM class meets every day in a classroom that, years ago, was the school’s only computer lab. Hers are the students who repair the Chromebooks and laptops that students at MHS carry with them from class to class and take home at night. The CRAM students are exploring careers in the computer technology industry: They will become our programmers, technicians, and web designers. They will be the individuals the rest of us will rely on to stay connected, current, and cybersafe.

The collaboration between these two groups really began a year ago when Mrs. Yoder asked the CRAM students to show the pre-schoolers how to use the apps on the iPads in the pre-K classroom. This year, the CRAM students, under Mrs. Bennett’s direction, decided to go giant steps farther and set up learning stations—a format the pre-schoolers would understand—to show the children more about technology.  Just like teachers would, the CRAM students spent one day each week for three weeks clarifying their learning goals and then designing and setting up their stations.

On the appointed morning, the preschoolers, accompanied by Mrs. Yoder and the Educational Careers students who are their teachers, filed into the CRAM room.  Tables had been set up for snacks, and various computer parts—a motherboard, a flash drive, a keyboard, a chip—were used as table decorations. As the children munched on their snacks, one boy explained the function of each computer part. “The motherboard is the heart of the computer,” he told them, and encouraged the preschoolers to play with the decorations. They immediately picked the items up and began manipulating them. 

One boy transferred the keyboard directly to his lap right away. He began moving his fingers across the keys in imitation of what he’d undoubted seen adults do. “What are you typing?” I asked him. 

“My password, “ he replied knowingly.

He didn’t share it with me.

After snacks, the students rotated through the five stations: Coding, Virtual Reality, Fiber Optic Cabling, Repair, and Customer Service.

At the Virtual Reality station, students donned 3-D viewers to experience 360 degree vision. The CRAM students in charge of this station had found a Virtual Reality roller coaster game for the students to view and play.

At the Repair Station, the pre-schoolers used screwdrivers to remove the computer cases. At Customer Service, they learned how to check in a computer for repair and then to check it out again. 

 

For the Coding Station, the CRAM students had gone to Code Academy to find a game that was user-friendly for pre-schoolers, age appropriate, and still would teach the children the fundamentals of coding. What they found was a game that used blocks. Using a simple set of instructions, the children moved the blocks around on the computer screens.

Most complex of all, though, was the Fiber Optic Cabling Station. There, the pre-schoolers encountered plates of jello squares with cookie cutters beside them.  The CRAM students illustrated the way light travels through a cable by directing a laser light through the jello. When the pre-schoolers cut the jello squares, the light was trapped by the twists and turns of the shapes. Even a knife mark on the jello altered the line of light. The effect was even more pronounced when the youngsters entered a tent set up under the table. The pre-schoolers were intrigued. They understood that a straight, stable cable with no impurities or kinks was needed to transmit information. They also noted that the orange jello worked the best, the green not so well.

Before the morning was over, the CRAM students conducted a mini-evaluation of their learning stations, asking the pre-schoolers to rank order the Pre-Tech learning stations. The Virtual Reality Station came in first: The pre-schoolers thought it was the most fun. The jello station came in second; Computer Repair, third.

During their time in the CRAM room, Mrs. Bennett took a Polaroid photograph of each pre-schooler in a photo booth that was decorated with discarded CDs. As they were leaving at the end of the morning, each child received a bag of favors.  Mrs. Bennett had saved the anti-static bags in which computer parts are transported; these became the treat bags. Inside, each pre-schooler found his or her photo glued to a discarded floppy disc, a computer coloring page, 1 big marshmallow and 8 little ones (1 byte = 8 bits), licorice ropes to remind them of cabling, and a few other clever souvenirs of all they had learned that morning. Undoubtedly, computer talk dominated dinner table conversations that evening! 

Later, when I interviewed the CRAM students, I asked what they had learned from the experience.

Zach told me that he was surprised by how much the pre-schoolers already knew about technology. I smiled, remembering the boy who had so quickly put the keyboard in his lap.  

Nikaya was amazed at the children’s reactions to the laser light. “They were so excited,” she said. “I was not expecting that.”

Malachi said he had learned how to interact with kids, and that prompted a discussion about the emphasis Mrs. Bennett has put on learning how to talk to people with different levels of understanding of technology and with people of different ages. “Your audience could be anyone,” she tells her students. “You have to be able to communicate with people with all different levels of experience in ways they’ll understand.”

Mrs. Yoder said that her high school students, who spend a lot of time designing and sequencing instruction themselves, were impressed with the lesson planning the CRAM students had done.  

Mrs. Bennett confirmed that and summarized the experience for the CRAM students this way: “They had a great time because the kids did.”

That’s the wonderful thing about this uncommon interdisciplinary collaboration: Not only was this a great learning opportunity for all of the students–the Educational Careers students, the CRAM students, and the pre-schoolers–it was a whole lot of fun as well!

At the Customer Service counter

 

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