Yesterday was day 1 of the enrichment class I’m teaching at my daughter’s elementary school. The class is elementary computer programming using Python, and has a total of six students, all fifth-graders. Actually, the first class only had five, because one went home on the bus by accident instead of staying at school for the extra class.
The first day is never the best day, because there are a lot of introductory things to get out of the way. In our case, I needed to show the kids some essentials for how to open programs, write and save files, find them again, and start up the Python program. This might sound really easy to you and me, but for fifth graders one needs to adjust the expectations. Not every child is comfortable with a keyboard, for example, and I couldn’t assume that every child had ever typed a document before just because my child had.
As it turns out, we really needed every minute of class to cover our material, which made me glad I didn’t overschedule the tasks in the class. We started with some basic information about what software is and why it’s important — that without software computers are basically as dumb as a box of hair.
The kids enjoyed this explanation; I demonstrated the difference between instructions for computers and humans by having one of the students walk down to the end of the room and back. I didn’t explain to him, of course, how to get up from his chair step by step, push his chair in, turn to the left, put one foot in front of the other, etc., etc. So that made a great example for how computers have to be told everything explicitly. This made it easier, later in the class, to have the kids understand why the computer gave them an error in certain examples I set up.
I was impressed with how quickly the kids picked up the GNOME 3 interface, even though it’s somewhat different than the computers they’re probably used to. Most of them figured out the overview and how to find applications very quickly — so I had to get them back on track once they found the games! They also had no problem moving, resizing, and closing windows.
The computers in the school lab need to be powered off at night according to school policy. It was a little tricky to show the kids how to shut down the systems, but other than that the transition was pretty smooth for most of them.
One child was uncomfortable enough at the computer that I suspect she hadn’t much experience at all. She seemed worried about doing things wrong or breaking the computer, so I tried to go a little out of my way to give her some positive feedback and tell her she was doing a good job!
We got all the way through the ending exercise, which was to let the kids fire up Python 3 and have the computer do some math problems for them. I even managed to tie into one of the kids’ current math lessons, which is on order of operations. They were really impressed the computer knew how to do their homework for them!
I’ve put the day 1 labs in my Fedora People space in case you’re interested in seeing what we covered. I would also be remiss if I failed to thank my employer, Red Hat, for giving me the flexibility to take on this extramural project.