The most amazing experience I've ever had talking about technology has been with a group of third graders. Not with engineers or developers. Not with so called technology evangelists. Not even with the sales guy at Best Buy. It has been with eight year old children.
Every year my daughter's school asks parents to visit the classroom and do a short presentation about their profession. Most people shrug it off and don't attend. But for me, this is an amazing opportunity to get real insight into the future. What people tend to forget is that this is the first generation growing up with a fully functional internet and social networks. This is new ground. There are things that will be invented by this generation that my generation will have never thought about.
Now, on the day of the presentation, I went in with an open mind. Rather than bore them by talking about my daily grind as a programmer, I decided to do a technology Q&A session. No question was off-limits. I stood up in front of a class of twenty eight students and asked what did they want to know about technology.
The first question, I kid you not, was just perfect: How do computers work? Imagine the surprise. Here I am, thinking they might ask some silly questions about robotics, and this eight year old girl asks me about the innards of a computer. I mean, what better question to start with. My answer was fully detailed. I did not hold back anything. Starting from binary numbers and ending with code and compilers. What amazed me is that they were able to follow and understand how it worked. These kids were understanding how a computer worked better than some college level students I know. Amazing.
A couple of questions later a boy asked: What is electricity? The teacher, in an attempt to keep things manageable, told the boy that the question was off topic. I asked the teacher if I could try and answer it and she agreed. My answer was simple: Electricity is the movement of electrons. Electrons are these little things you can't see that when coerced into moving generate electricity. His question to my answer was precious: Like Pikachu? To which I replied: Yes! Like Pikachu! I then went on and explained that electricity is what powers our world. Without it, we would pretty much be living in caves. He had a follow up question that was also amazing: How does electricity power a computer? Why do I need to plug it into the wall? I answered that electricity is what we use to switch transistors on and off. As we switch them in different combinations we are able to do computations. The whole class showed quite a bit of confusion after the word computation. So, I told all of them to raise their hands. Then I told them to lower their hand if they disliked Pokemon. Some hands went down. I then explained that the current state of their hands showed that we had computed the amount of people in the classroom that liked Pokemon. Their response was a class-wide burst of laughter.
Now, my favorite question was made by this really shy boy. He asked: What is a computer virus? My answer was pretty simple: A computer virus is a computer program or app, that is meant to give your computer a bad cold. When a computer gets a cold it tends to lose any or all information you may have on it. He then asked: Why would a programmer create a computer virus if its such a bad thing? I just told him that people do it to harm others. In the same way that the Joker is always trying to hurt Batman. His face lit up and smiled.
The teacher had scheduled fifteen minutes for my session. The kids kept asking questions and we ended up doing a forty five minute session. I was really tired by the end. It was like going to a Google interview, then a Facebook interview, then an Amazon interview on the same day. But it was absolutely worth it. The amount of things I learned was simply amazing.
I wrote this post for two reasons:
I want you to try and do the same thing. Make yourself available to answer questions. Let children learn about technology through you. We often talk about teaching kids how to code, but we don't really talk about how we can introduce them to technology. We assume schools or parents will do it. My experience with people that are not technical says that they cannot do a good job explaining it because they hardly understand it themselves. We need more experts to stand up and simply answer questions.
Another teacher at my daughter's school asked me to do the same thing with his class. This shows that there is a need for people to do the same thing. It also shows a need for educational products in this area.
Thank you for reading!