My six-year-old son, Liam, and I recently attended a One Laptop Per Child networking event at the Marie Murphy school in Wilmette, IL. The event was put on by Chris Brown as part of a teacher professional development day. He invited area XO owners to come talk about our computers as well as have the opportunity to network with others in the community. One blogged about it here.
About 10-15 laptops were present at peak. We gathered around a large conference table in the resource room and quickly got to work. Liam was beyond excited to have so many “friends” show up on his neighborhood view.
We quickly “friended” everyone (by hovering on their icons and selecting “add as friend”) we could from the neighborhood view, then looked at the Group view to see all the colorful XOs on our screens. Shh, don’t tell Anastasia I had her laptop out while she was at school.
Initially, I wasn’t sure about bringing Liam. He’s only 6, it was a regular school day for him that he would miss, he’s bound to get bored, etc. etc. However, I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to share what he’s been learning and doing with his laptop. I figured a community of teachers would like to see what first graders might do with this technology. Plus, he was excited about the idea of coming, even though it meant missing school (and, of all things, library day!)
To be on the safe side, though, the night before I had him pick out a few books, games, and other activities and packed those into his backpack next to his friendly green laptop. You know, just in case.
What was I worried about?
Within the first twenty minutes, Liam turned to me and said “Mommy – can we make this a long meeting?”
Confused, I asked for clarification. “You know, a long meeting. Can we stay a while? I don’t want to go!”
To bookend that comment, he asked me at least a dozen times on the car ride home and later that day if we could “set up another meeting, just like that. I want to do another meeting.”
What was so fun? Well, for starters, everyone else had the same machine. Adding friends to the network was neat. Then, as teachers are so excellent at doing – everyone who talked to Liam treated him as though the things he had to say were interesting and important. And last, lucky for them and us -- what he had to say was interesting and important, and he was able to contribute in a positive way to the dialogue at the table about ways to use the XO with school children.
He showed the principal of the school how he can test himself on his spelling words using the Memorize activity. I had programmed in his spelling list, with one half of a pair jumbled. He had to match the jumbled word with its correctly spelled counterpart. He played with the various tamtams for a while, composing music on the fly with tamtam edit, something we hadn’t played with at home before.
He also showed one of the teachers a few things we’d been exploring with Pippy. Pippy is a front end to the Python programming language that includes some mini sample programs. Liam and I spent about 20 minutes a few nights before playing with Pippy, talking about how the ordered lines of instructions tell the computer exactly what to do, and if you edit the instructions – well, the computer is only as stupid as you are. It’ll do exactly what you tell it to do. While I don’t have any expectations that he’ll be programming at age 6 and 7, all of these activities like pippy and turtle are beginning to expose him to the concepts that underlie all computer systems – a series of instructions, executed in a specific order, with different types of commands. Heck, there are many grownups who don’t know this much about how computers work.
Liam also had fun working with George on the Acoustic Tape Measure activity. They had to work together to figure out the right order of events – who would launch the activity, who would invite the other participant, when to start the measuring, etc. Liam would scurry between his computer and George’s, evaluating settings and trying to determine the right way to do things. While we’re not positive we ever got an accurate reading, they were both very excited when the machines bzzt’d at each other and numbers appeared on screen. We decided to read up more about the activity and try it again at home.
What made the entire day worth it for me was the moment when I suddenly saw my child the way others see him. You know how usually you view your child(ren) in your own cloud of love and pride mixed up with an awareness of all his/her strengths and weaknesses and the baggage you carry from how they pestered you non-stop yesterday for a second lollipop/more time on the xbox/another drink of water before bed?
For a beautiful moment at Marie Murphy school that cold, wet day in February, it all fell away and I saw an excited little guy talking with no fear or hesitation to a group of adults gathered behind him, answering their questions and eagerly pointing out features or components to explore with them.
My six-year-old was demoing.
These laptops are magic. Put a child in front of them and watch it flow.