Volunteering in schools is a great way to make a difference, but have you ever considered running a computer club to contribute to the school community? Unless you have technical knowledge and skills for working with computers you are probably thinking you don’t have the credentials. I thought that too, until I actually jumped in front of 30 kids and started teaching them programming.
Admittedly, I am an IT consultant and trainer with over 10 years of experience in the industry, and so I thought I was somewhat qualified to be running a school computer club. What I didn’t realise was, none of that was relevant to being able to run a school computer club.
A Different Approach to Teaching
During my very first week of computer club, I realised I was learning more from the children then they were from me. Kids are digital natives, they grow up using devices and are often teaching their parents and grandparents how to use their computers, smartphones and tablets. Unlike previous generations, children don’t fear technology, they embrace it and so their creativity is limitless.
This allowed me to adopt a different style of teaching to what I was accustomed to and the way it is traditionally done in classrooms. Instead of lecturing and instructing, I started facilitating and found that students just needed guidance to find answers and create solutions. A computer club is a great environment for encouraging students to collaborate with their peers and also provides another strategy for guiding students towards answers and solutions.
Children also respond well to challenges, so I start each new project or activity by showing students the solution or end result and then encourage them to dive in. Once students are unfamiliar with the tools they are using, I find an online video tutorial and play that before we start.
What Value Does a Computer Club Add?
My daughter was in prep last year and one day she bought home a curriculum plan listing the learning outcomes for each subject. For maths they were expected to be counting by 2’s and for English, learn 100 sight words.
Technology was making a jigsaw puzzle out of cardboard and this really concerned me. I understand the principles behind this activity which are design and problem solving, but the method is not aligned with using technology to solve problems in today’s world.
Running a computer club at primary school is not only a great way to contribute to the school community but it also arms students with skills that are key for success in the 21st century.
When students learn programming and other computer science concepts, they are not only developing technical skills, but they are also problem solving, collaborating, communicating, designing, creating and presenting. These skills are transferable across all areas of life and can have significant gains in student engagement and achievement levels.
Talk to a teacher or the school principal about starting a computer club. Here are a few things to consider to assist with planning:
Look at the learning spaces in the school that can be used for a computer club. How many students can be accommodated, what devices can be used, is there internet access and presentation facilities, and does the space support collaboration among students? This information will help to design activities and projects for the computer club that can be supported by the learning space.
Work with the schools tech support personnel to better understand more about the devices that can be used for student learning. Most commonly these will be desktop computers, laptops and tablets. Documenting the following specifications will make it easy to identify the programs and applications that can run on each device:
Targeting a specific age group will make it easier to select appropriate devices, projects and activities that all students in the computer club can manage. The following age groups can be used as a guide:
Talk to other members of the school community to see if anyone else is interested in helping to run the computer club. I’m also involved in CSIRO ICT in Schools, which is a national skilled volunteer partnership program that creates and supports long-term partnerships between primary and secondary schools and ICT professionals to enrich the ICT curriculum. What really appeals to me about this program is the flexibility which allows for a style and level of involvement that suits each participProjects and Activities
Once you’ve documented the devices that can be used for student learning, you will be able to source programs and applications that are compatible with the schools devices. There are some great tools available that have been specifically designed to teach kids computer science and most of them are free.
Tools for Tablets
Most of these tools come with free teaching resources that can be used as projects and activities for the computer club. The following organisations also provide free resources for teaching children computer science:
CS Unplugged is a collection of free activities that teach computer science without a computer.
Kids, Code and Computer Science Magazine is a bi-monthly online and print magazine about learning to code, computer science, and how we use technology in our daily lives.
Computer Science Teachers Association is a US membership organisation that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines.
When selecting and designing projects and activities for a computer club, I ensure that they are fun, interactive and challenging. Projects and activities that provide these three elements will keep students engaged and excited and will have you running a successful computer club.
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About the Author
Heidi has been an IT consultant/trainer for over 10 years and volunteers in schools and the local community to teach children technology. Heidi has recently founded BYTE MINDED to help primary schools increase school performance by giving students learning opportunities in computer science. She is passionate about arming kids with skills to succeed in the 21st century and believes all children should be given opportunities to be creators of technology and not just consumers. You can contact Heidi at www.byteminded.com.au or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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