Teaching kids about computers...

Evan evan at snarc.net
Wed Nov 21 10:23:00 CST 2007

And don't forget Lego Mindstorms!  Doesn't teach the hardware but it is much more fun than I ever had in LOGO back in the fourth or fifth grade ... I forget which.

-----Original Message-----

From:  Michael Lee <mikelee at tdh.com>
Subj:  Re: Teaching kids about computers...
Date:  Wed Nov 21, 2007 11:17 am
Size:  3K
To:  General Discussion: On-Topic and Off-Topic Posts <cctalk at classiccmp.org>

This is actually one of the topics I'm most interested in.  I gear my 
collection towards teaching and showing kids, as well as the nostalgic 
adults.  Over the years, I've been surprised by some of the reactions, 
so I found it best to adapt to the interest level of the audience. 

For fundamental computing and electronics, it seems to be best to go 
back to the basics.  A lot of the books available either go too much 
into the history of computing, or get into topics/details that quickly 
lose the interest of a kid.  It seems to be best to relate something 
they are used to in modern day and work back to the origins.  For 
example, a xbox, it's basically a computer, it has a CPU, hard drive, 
memory and then other "blocks" such as graphics processing, networking 
etc.  Those are easy to relate back to "how it works."  Basic I/O, what 
is actually on the game disk, how and what makes "online" work, and what 
the machine is doing in the background.  This easily then can lead to 
small projects and some programming.  From there it can be basic logic 
functions (AND/OR/NOT) and the simple concepts of programming and making 
things happen.  Depending on the interest and geek level of the kid, 
there are many hobby books that explain this well.  I don't know if 
"vintage" computers is the best way to start as I found a lot of kids 
(esp. 9yo) are turned off by "it's just old crap"  But can easily lead 
into more of the origins.

Something "new" is good to start.  There are a good number of hobby kits 
like the BASIC STAMP now that can teach both the electronics and 
computing aspect, which then can lead into other things.  A little 
simple micro-controller kit, with a little instruction on logic, 
electricity and electronics can go a long way.  Making stuff, and making 
stuff happen is always a plus, so a soldering iron lesson with an 
interesting kit always works too.  But once again, all depends on the 
interest level.

Mike Lee
Geek Museum

A funny story with where things might lead:  I got a rotary dial phone 
in my collection to use with an acoustic coupler.  A four year old sees 
this, and has no problem with the phone, nor the rotary dial.  He 
understood the concept it's just a different user interface, but what 
got him was that it was wired down.  He had never seen a phone handset 
with a cord attached.  So this lead to interesting show and tell about 
telephone technology to a four year old.

Jules Richardson wrote:
> So the boy (9yr. old) was asking last night about how computers 
> work... any recommendations for good books for learning the basics 
> from? I think I started out with a Sinclair Spectrum and its BASIC 
> manual, but I really don't recall now where I found out about the 
> fundamental building blocks of [typical] computers and how a CPU 
> worked. There must be a good 'classic' "how computers work" type of 
> book which avoids going on about PCs and Xboxen...
> I figure I should find him one of those kids electronics projects kits 
> too (I think that was where I got my first exposure to logic gates 
> from at about the same age) and also some old 8-bit machine to play with.
> I can get a Spectrum / BBC micro shipped over in a few months, but 
> something US-built might be better; any thoughts? I did wonder about a 
> C64, but maybe it'd be better to start with something a bit more 
> simple? i.e. probably something Z80 or 6502-based (just because 
> there's more resources devoted to them), generic cassette data 
> storage, basic video abilities etc.
> (You know, I don't recall seeing a 'how to introduce kids to vintage 
> computing' thread on here before :-)
> cheers
> Jules

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