I received an email late last week:
… I was inquiring to see if you would be able to find time either once a week or once every other week to explore and teach the boys some technology skills. Our schedule is flexible and I was thinking for about an hour. (I can pay you too. Or at least double a recipe to give your wife a night off from cooking!)
This was sent to me by a family friend, with two middle school boys. Neither parent are tech-oriented, so they asked if I could help1. This is an incredible opportunity! Naturally I jumped at the chance to do experiments with them.
This is quite a broad phrase.
The definition I’ll be using – practical, experimental approach to becoming familiar with principles of electricity and basic circuits, simple physics2, and an introduction to programming.
I am looking forward to solidifying my understanding of the first three and working on my ability to introduce people to the fundamentals of writing software.
I have been racking my brain and my coworkers’ to come up with something that would be a semester long “technology skills” project for a fifth and a sixth grader.
After trying to recall the interesting things I did in Middle School, High School and College, in addition to all the great suggestions from my brilliant coworkers at Vox Media, we came up with this list:
I needed to find a project that would be interesting to middle school boys, so I gravitated toward explosions and projectiles. 3
After thinking about this over the weekend, I’ve settled on a progressive buildout of a pneumatic potato gun. Each section4 we will read, discuss and hopefully build an experiment to explore the concepts.
The buildout contains six main sections with an introduction and a stretch goal — if we all still like each other at the end of this project. Some of these sections will be accomplished in one meeting, others might take a month to get through. 5
I am going to try and journal the progress of our small “Technology Skills” (TS) club and the development of our project right here on this site.
I have created a (currently empty) Spudnik repository on GitHub to contain each week’s lesson. I would love to write this lesson before I meet with the group, but I am guessing, and based on my past projects, I’ll procrastinate and end up writing the lessons after we try them.
I am dog fooding my own Educational Repository proposal.
— @banderson623 (Please get in touch if you want to contribute.)
For full disclosure, this family has a full on gym in their basement and have opened it up to anyone in the community who wants to work out. They patiently train a lot of flabby people – so this is the least I could do. ↩
Let’s be honest here, this is about all I understand of physics anyway. ↩
I love this stuff too – so it is a natural fit. ↩
I am not sure how long each section will take. I suppose that some sections can be accomplished in a week, some will take multiple weeks. I really don’t know what to expect here. There are some ideas that are complex, and others that are simple. But even with simple ideas, an experiment or build-out can take a lot far longer than 90 minutes I’ve allotted for each session. ↩
I’d rather the pacing be dictated by their appetite and curiosity than an predetermined schedule. ↩