How Do you Get Young Students Used to New Concepts?

img_8949Kepler Tech Lab and its middle high school students who take after-school engineering classes and workshops have had epic November and December of 2016! Wow, I cannot imagine it’s been two months teaching young students! It was an extraordinary experience to get young students with zero knowledge about engineering and tinkering things get started with experimenting and testing what technologies have to offer. Last two months of 2016, we enrolled and taught middle high school students for the first time and it was amazing to see how they were excited to build their own things, play around with Arduino kits, and try out the concepts of electricity using Squishy Circuits. From this experience of exposing innate innovators, I’d say, who cannot otherwise get a chance and an access to technologies without Kepler Tech Lab at the moment, I gained a better understanding of interactive learning and what it means for educators.

As defined by an instructor, Lindy Hatten, of the study.com, “interactive learning is a hands-on approach to help students become more engaged and retain more material.” Lindy added that “with or without a form of technology, interactive learning helps students strengthen [problem-solving] and critical thinking skills.”

Let’s get back to the topic; how do you get students acquaint themselves with new concepts? To share my experience, the rest of the article is about how no technological students have been experiencing Scratch, the MIT Media Lab programming language that allows individuals, mostly young students, create and tinker with stories, games, and animations, not forgetting physical computing. The week of 9 Jan 2017, we introduced Scratch to our students and we have had wonders if learners with little to no knowledge about using computers for programming or anything else can do something.

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Sample game of guessing numbers to show to students

I’d say, we were late to start because Scratch requires only critical thinking and then drag as you drop graphics without typing anything, except if the story contains written messages. As always, our students are interested in doing many things at once trying to catch up with what they have missed during their early ages. The lab staff, we only need to regulate what they have to learn, how much they can support, and what are our goals for them to get the most out of our concepts.

How we got started? Firstly, we realized that we cannot wait until our students are fluent in using computers. We helped them to navigate through Graphic User Interface of Scratch to get them understand how to pick a sprite, customize the sprite, change its style, make it move, add a message and add sound, just to list a few. Isn’t it enough for beginners? We use to have three sessions in a week with these young students and that was for day one. On day two, after understanding what they can do with Scratch, I gave them a homework about writing stories of their choice so that they can start day 3 with funny activities of making stories in a scratch. See what they have written and worked on day three. Do not try to read the first one from the right, except if you can understand Kinyarwanda. To provide you with a hint, it’s a love story of which a girl passed a long time with no see her lover and decided to let him go. A guy, in turn, visited a girl and started to sing for her. It’s a long story. I would love to share a full story once students are done with animating.

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Students’ written stories in brief.

The day three was about turning their written stories into animations using Scratch, still ongoing! The activity was not only about teaching them how to make animations but also to present to the whole class what they have made so that they can be able to develop technical communications.

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We still have a lot to do with Scratch and students’ smiling faces are promising that they are enjoying and learning a lot with Kepler Tech Lab.