Help setting up high school computer program / club.
April 4, 2017 10:10 PM   Subscribe

Two high schools in my community have fairly modern computer centres. I'd like to help setup a program that would increase the use of these computer centres to help kids improve computer skills and lead some to careers in web/software development.

The computer centres are are hardly utilized as there are no trained staff, no program to follow, and limited access for the kids.
The administrators are open to new ideas.

Some relevant factors:
- Most kids won't have computers or internet access at home.
- Kids will only have access to the lab when an adult is present.
- Staff may not have much computer experience.
- There are ~30 clients running off 2 servers with Windows Multipoint Server.
- Assume no persistent storage, so all work saved should be online.
- The internet is filtered in some way, though I'm not sure of the method.
- Some of the kids have done a 12 session intro to Scratch programming, though we can assume no experience for most.
- This is in South Africa.

What has worked in your community/school, and what hasn't?
What resources should I look at?
Any tips from experience?

Some specific questions I'm pondering:
1. Should the students need to qualify in any way before joining a program (i.e. to confirm interest), or allow any students to come in / out?
2. How much should we follow a set program vs allowing the kids general computer time where they could be encouraged to follow their own learning path, or even just play flash games.
3. How to make the program self-sustainable?
posted by Gomez_in_the_South to Education (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I can't speak to the need for a qualification test, although my instinct would be to make it open--if students don't have access to computers at home, any experience on the Internet and with a computer will be somewhat positive, even if they're just goofing off. And students will goof off--I would see people in my community college browse random sites right in front of me, as I was lecturing.

Since your students won't have persistent storage, if you want to encourage development skills you may want to look into cloud-hosted coding services that are often used for education. I've used Python Anywhere with my classes at the local university, and Glitch looks very cool. Many of my students have used Cloud 9, but it's pretty technical. Any of these would let students build things that they can share with other people, which is always a fun toy.

Self-sustainable is also a tough question to answer, but it might be worth looking into creating a mentorship program or some way for advanced students to guide other students. My experience is that it really helps people learn when they are in an environment where they can produce something quickly and show it to other people--where their progress is immediately visible. So I would lean towards something like Glitch, because it's very friendly to that kind of instant feedback loop.
posted by Four String Riot at 11:18 AM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hi, I have no experience with South Africa, but I run a bunch of after school programs like this in urban middle schools in the US. Here's my thoughts:

1. I think allowing youth to kind of try it out is important-- you'll get a lot who come in on a whim or because their friend is there and then discover that they're really interested in it. I think the bigger question is whether you want to make it a time limited program (like April- June) that a group signs up for and starts/finishes all on the same schedule or whether you want it to be more drop-in drop- out throughout the year. I think you're likely to have better luck with a session model that starts and ends with a specific group so that everyone is sort of on the same footing, but if the program was sufficiently self directed the latter might work and there will be less admin work involved.

2. I think this is dependant on your goals but I would probably lean toward a model where the kids work through a program at their own pace for the first half with an instructor circulating to help and have time to play games or just use the computers to get comfortable with them in the second half if they typically have limited access to the lab.

3. This is tough. I think there's always going to need to be a person around who will feel like they are in charge of making sure the program continues, even if they aren't involved on a day to day basis. I think the best bet for sustainability is to get the support/buy in of people in the school-- teachers, admin-- and to get them involved if possible. Also, some sort of jr educator/intern teacher system could be handy to keep the participants who were most enthusiastic around-- but I don't think you can depend on them to keep the program going. But they could be really valuable next year if your staff has all turned over and doesn't have a good background on the program you're using. Plus, it can be a valuable experience for a more advanced student.

Another thought re:sustainability is If there are universities or tech companies that might be interested in partnering on this and doing some of the admin work and possibly sending volunteers ( who can be more work than help sometimes, but in a well- designed program might be very valuable and be models for pathways to tech careers).
posted by geegollygosh at 5:37 PM on April 5, 2017

Yes, wider support will be necessary to get the lab open for greater lengths of time. I'd love to see it open mornings before school starts, after school for a few hours as well as on weekends. A scheduled program could then take place a couple of times a week, leaving other time for self-improvement and more general use.

I'm a little wary of over-committing / starting something that will not continue. I anticipate that a similar problem exists at many other schools, so it would be great if it could be expanded without a corresponding increase in manpower needed.

geegollygosh - at the schools you're involved with, do the students have access to the labs anytime, or is it always in a supervised environment?
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 6:08 PM on April 5, 2017

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